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July 12, 2018

Manmeet Devgun On How Performance Art Can Empower

Text by Meenakshi Thirukode

This Delhi-based performance artist finds it both challenging and exploratory to put herself out there in an unrehearsed act that happens in real time and space

Performance art is a powerful art practice. Manmeet Devgun, a Delhi-based artist, has used poetry, photography and live performances to engage in a lot of the issues. Using the body as an eloquent ‘language’ to communicate, she uses abstract gestures and phrases to bring out a set of emotional responses from her audience.

Can you tell us about your practice as a performance artist, and why you chose this particular medium? 
Can my performances be separated from my photography or posters or poems or paperwork? How can I separate it from my teaching or my experiences of being a single mother? It is all linked. Can it be defined as an offspring of situations experienced, denied, felt? It is my everyday life. They are not just performances that I do. Performance art is a very open medium. It gives me a lot of freedom in terms of material, space and time. I find it both challenging and exploratory. It is like poetry for me, it makes me comfortable and unnerved at the same time.

Do you think performance art is a space through which empowerment can take place?
Art in any form empowers us. Sometimes, it’s my poetry that inspires a performance, at times it’s an image. Coming to my work as a performance artist, I think putting yourself out there is quite a bold act in itself. It’s not a rehearsed act, where you have a script to follow. It happens in real time and space. To be moved by a performance, take back a thought or an idea — that is what’s empowering about a great art performance!

What are some of the political urgencies we are being faced with today and what does your work revolve around? 
We are facing several severe losses. Loss of freedom of speech, freedom to love, freedom of expression, freedom of choice — to eat, to drink, to wear, to step outside of the house. And as a woman, everything becomes more difficult. My work tries to deal with whatever I see in society that I can reflect upon or respond to. My posters talk about the male gaze, abuse and stereotypes. One performance I did recently talked about how the salt farms were destroyed by the government in Gujarat, another was a collaborative performance with a Swiss artist, about exploring sexual desires and my life as a single mother — I try and incorporate these themes as much as I can.

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