Architect Swati Janu’s temporary phone recharge shop in Delhi’s Khirkee Extension did brisk business late afternoon on Tuesday, the penultimate day of its operation. “It gets even more crowded in the evening, when I project films onto the wall opposite the shop,” Janu said. “Sometimes I play Congolese music to visuals from a Bhojpuri film.”
Here’s how her shop worked: internet recharge packages of Rs 10 to Rs 30 were sold at face value. For offline sharing of music and movies, a big earner for similar recharge shops in resettlement colonies and urban villages like Khirkee, Janu asked customers to barter songs or films on their phones for their choice of music and movies from her Lenovo laptop.
“I have a lot of Bhojpuri music, because of the Bihari migrant population in Khirkee,” Janu said. “But I also have Congolese and Nigerian music.”
Also in her collection were some Afghani songs, copied from a cheap pen drive belonging to someone who traded them for South African music, including songs by the band Motel Mari.
The hole-in-the-wall shop shut down on Wednesday. It was part of the month-long Coriolis Effect residency for Indian and African artists at nearby Khoj Studios, an experimental space that has privileged community engagement in art since it was founded in 1997. An exhibition of the projects developed during the residency starts on Thursday.
Janu’s phone recharge shop was a kind of social experiment, to understand people through the music they carry on their mobile phones and to test if they would be willing to listen to music from a different culture and language. The library of music and movies the experiment yielded over the past month is a rough cultural map of Khirkee, a melting pot of nationalities and ethnicities. When the Khoj show starts on Thursday, visitors can take or play music from Janu’s library in exchange for songs and movies from their mobiles.
Community engagement is a key aspect of Janu’s project, as it is for a lot of what Khoj puts its weight behind. The Coriolis Effect residency-cum-show itself grew as a response to an event at Khirkee Village. In 2014, Somnath Bharti, who was then Delhi’s law minister, led a raid on the homes of some Ugandan nationals in Khirkee Extension, accusing them of dealing in drugs and prostitution. That led to several conversations around racism at Khoj.
In 2015, the first year of the Coriolis Effect residency-cum-show, 11 artists built their projects around racial discrimination and the relationship between India and various African nations from the perspectives of history, present-day migration and the Non-Aligned Movement.
The focus of the Coriolis Effect residency this year was on the experience of migration and memories of home. Seven participating artists – Mahesh Shantaram, Janu and Malini Kochupillai from India; Chibuike Uzoma from Nigeria; João Orecchia and Lia Grobler of South Africa; and Andrew Ananda Voogel from the Caribbean – responded to experiences of migration and racial discrimination, as well as ideas of belonging, race, cultural exchange and assimilation through the residency that began on August 16.
Indo-Caribbean artist Andrew Ananda Voogel drew on Indian newspapers and private interviews with foreign nationals and Indians to create text- and textiles-based works about racial bias and the public gaze. In one work, the newspaper headline “Congolese youth beaten to death in Delhi” is embroidered against a printed cloth in blue, yellow and red – the colours of the Congolese flag. In May, three men killed a Congolese national named MK Olivier in the Vasant Kunj area because he got into an autorickshaw they wanted to take.
The seven artists explored the idea of belonging and otherness in different styles and media.
João Orecchia, a South African artist and a member of Motel Mari, recorded sounds on the streets of Khirkee and elsewhere in Delhi and mixed them to create an interactive sound art installation.
“For me, this residency is about movement,” he said. “I collect sound as material, just as many other artists work with found objects. I don’t control what gets recorded, but in a way (I control) what goes out. These sounds are about understanding the rhythms of movement.” Orecchia will do two-three performances using the recorded sounds on opening day. For the remainder of the show, vistors will be able to play the musical instrument he has devised using copper vessels.
Nigerian artist Chibuike Uzoma used photography and mixed media drawings in his exploration of belonging and otherness in this show. Each of his works is stamped, in the way that passports are stamped with the date of arrival in a foreign country. For the set of 22 drawings titled Rose Garden, Chibuike Uzoma created a special stamp: “The son of Uzoma Chibuike”.
“When I am abroad, I am seen as African,” Chibuike Uzoma explained. “When I am in Africa, I am identified as Nigerian. So on, till you reach son of Uzoma Chibuike. That’s who I am.”
Malini Kochupillai, a photographer from New Delhi, used the newspaper as art to make her work accessible and “unintimidating”. Her work comprises a 12-page newspaper called Khirki Voice in English and Khirki ki Awaaz in Hindi. It is a collation of stories and photographs taken over the years of African nationals living in India.
Kochupillai’s work is an obvious example of Khoj’s underlying commitment to engaging the community in art, in this residency as in almost everything that it does.
“There are two sides to this,” said Coriolis Effect curator Sitara Chowfla. “The visible aspects of the engagement and the invisible side.”
On the visible side are examples like Janu’s phone recharge shop and Kochupillai newspaper.
On the invisible side are the local welders, embroiders and printers who worked with the artists to create the artworks. One example of this is Voogle's embroideries. For Coriolis Effect, he worked with the embroiders of Khirkee on pieces like Staring Hurts, a crisp observation-cum-admonition written plainly on blindingly colourful synthetic cloth.
"We [at Khoj] are deeply embedded in this neighbourhood," added Chowfla.
Coriolis Effect: Migration and Memory can be viewed at Khoj Studios, S-17, Khirkee Extension, New Delhi, from September 29 to October 4.