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Visual Arts

‘Care [is] the most needful action of now’: Q & A with Dharmendra Prasad

Farmland – under construction. University of Hyderabad – 2014. South campus.
Jute ropes, wood, bamboo, nails, discarded chairs.
Photo: Dharmendra Prasad

Dharmendra Prasad

Indian artist Dharmendra Prasad, and winner of the 2019 Emerging Artist Award, is currently on a home-not-alone residency with Pro Helvetia New Delhi. For his residency,  Dharmendra has been remotely examining Swiss agrarian practices alongside those in Buxar to see how agragrian knowledge of the past can be brought into the present. In this interview we talk to Dharmendra Prasad about his project entitled “Carebiosphere”.

“Oxen in the agricultural field are more intelligent and caring than human beings.” – Dhondha Chauhan, an elderly farmer from Nadaon village.

1. How is it to be on a home-not-alone residency?

I have been working in the village since my childhood and this organic privilege is extended by the home-not-alone residency this season. I start in the early morning and the encounter with ecological details and downfall sets the day for further observations. I travel every day to occupational sites (wild grass harvesting, fishing processes, fodder preparation, ploughing, etc.), elderly people, crafts persons, caring mango trees, toiling insects, ill soil, backyard material culture and reduced harvest sites for observations, participations, and conversations. I encounter children working with clay, and soil, and immediately destroying their work (a collective post studio situation, self-regulated iconoclast act in making). I travel with young farmers to see that how they take care of their paddy crops and field throughout their life. So this residency is turning out to be a travelogue in multiple times and sensitivities towards life.

2. How does it compare to a ‘normal’ residency?

Normal residencies look more academic. In the home-not-alone format the character of home becomes very important and the character of academic is very minimal. Which home is it?  Every geography and culture has its own idea of home. The Bhojpuri home has its own troubles, dreams and possibilities, which always offers interesting materials to make and think, by constantly producing care and by also becoming a time-eating machine. So, in this context it is challenging to view the Bhojpuri rural home as studio. In this home-not-alone residency the idea of studio is the process of navigation in time, memories and occupations, here the studio is beyond architectonic dimensions and the notion of making under the shelter. The idea of studio in this format is of cohabitation and flux. 

3. Tell us about your project “Carebiosphere” during this home-not-alone residency.

The title of my project “Carebiosphere” comes from the existing socio-ecological happenings and the long-term concerns sprouting around land, ecology and human dreams and knowledge. Knowledge as propagator of the anthropocene vs opening up possibilities of rethinking non-human species as sustainable partners.

When the notion of life arrives at its boiling point in the landscape of fallen ecologies, then the need of care sprouts with every season. In the new season, I revisited the home, the village, the fields and the aggressions to receive care. Since then I am here, and now, I am in the process of this residency which is titled as ‘home-not-alone’. This residency is like an extension of homeness and care in the context of fear, crime, mistrust, immobility, and new realities ploughed by the pandemic situation.

The project “Carebiosphere” seeded out from the tussle between the dreams of non-human species vs dreams of civilization; between the forests in relation to cultivation vs cleaning the crop of knowledge from human psyche; between the shift in the notion of human as a tiny participant in ecological happenings to the controller of it; between greed as the constant energy of present and care as the most needful action of now.

“Carebiosphere” sees itself as a series of possible unending gestures in time, and therefore, a work in process.

4. What is the inspiration behind this project?

The inspiration for Carebiosphere is the gap between our actual dreams and our actions. It is the tiny ecological events in relation to human control and greed that are remanufacturing our surroundings as ecologies of future. It is the long-term concerns and love for the seasons, land, trees, and rural which prepared the fertile undercurrents for this project.

In the pandemic in rural, wet eyes and dry dreamscapes, all these inspire me: the season as marker of events, a tree as vertical form of moisture and time. Agrarian mobility, concentration with materials, age, sub seasons of monsoon, virus and emergence of solitude as social energy and technology as temporal and illusive care-providing device.

Cracked seasons, dotted horizon, static winds, deteriorating soil, forests of dead tree branches, static irrigation methods, demonic structure of a rice mill, toil-less human body, disappearing sounds of birds and the shifts in the aim of agrarian practices from need to profit, are the most important images which fuelled the thought of the project.

5. How do you intend to go about this exploration?

A Cultivator’s note by Dharmendra Prasad

1. Ecological ignorance is fueled by myths, profit, religious beliefs, policies, and the history of law and order as an un-ethical and corrupt site.
2. A crisis becomes a crisis because of the form and shape of social history, institutions and their collective behavioural patterns.
3. Behavioural shift loaded with greed and control works as underlying pillars to prepare for the crisis.
4. Caste structures propagate ecological downfall in village.
5. A tree, a field, a water body and horizon in a crisis situation are the sites to hold on with and immerse into all these ecological happenings with emotion as crop of care.

Through conversation, observations and participation around occupational memories, spatial memories, ecological memories, memories related with caste practices in the process of farming, and memories around material culture. The attempt is to understand and reflect the hidden narratives in the village and beyond; to realise forms and methods from non-human positions that can have the language and character of situations that reflect and cultivate care.

A sub season on methodology-

In the village, spiritual beliefs and seasons still exist as effective forces to construct reality in contrast with notions of difficult time and machinic time. Waiting and patience become important characters in processing the project in time. I am in waiting, becoming a silent observer, and the attempt is to listen the ecological and occupational happenings and incorporate the emotional aspect in the process of research by navigating the context, time and memories from the backfoot position. I hope that this will lead to a form outside of the popular establishment.

6. What do you hope will be the outcome of this residency?

I hope to host multiple actions of care in the future in various contexts. A travelogue in time could be the model outcome of the research process, but the process is still very much open and the form is entirely depends on the outcomes of the findings.

For example –

To be a farmer without land and, to care –

Hari Chauhan, while cleaning his wheat grains, told about his one month sleepless nights and days because he used to plough the fields by day in the village, and by night he used to pull rickshaw in town to feed his family.

This experience of Hari Chauhan can take any form and shape and the intention would be to excavate the form from the story itself.


Follow Dharmendra Prasad on his instagram @unhorizoning