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Brokenness of the Worker depicted in the form of Art: As imagined by Anupam Roy

By Rajesh Kumar

Considering himself a communist and propagandist, Anupam Roy is a member of the Communist Party of India (Marxist-Leninist), and through his artworks in his latest exhibition, ‘Broken Cogs in the Machine’ he interrogates and propagates the truth of the working class. For Anupam the artworks are questions rather than a statement to put forward.

The exhibition is on display at the Vadehra Art Gallery in New Delhi till August 5, 2022. Organised by the Foundation of Indian Contemporary Art (FICA) in collaboration with the Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia, the exhibition is a culmination of three years’ work that followed Roy being conferred the FICA Emerging Artists Award in 2018. The exhibition is a collection of artworks in different media such as painting, personal diaries, books and a TV installation.

Protest, the central theme of his artworks is displayed very vividly. It comes from his involvement in different political movements in and around India. ‘Broken Men’, as quoted  B.R. Ambedkar, are the Dalits (in Indian context) and the hammers and sickles, calloused hands and feet and indignant bodies are metaphorical representations of these broken working-class people in Anupam’s artwork.


Speaking with Abir Pothi, Anupam quotes a line from The Prison Notebooks by Antonio Gramsci, “The old is dying and new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appears”, that defines brokenness for him as distance or a pause in between. It follows a concept of ‘brokenness’ that addresses the experience of being part of a larger system, while retaining a sense of individual agency and personhood. “Like the cogs in a machine, we are trapped in a circle, the working class people for example a factory worker exploited by the factory to do work for it, yet survive in a state of separateness and are broken”, says Roy.


Anupam is interested in the Chinese and Russian revolution posters and the representation of the working class people as solid, bold and strong figures. He compiles stories through his artwork on the spot, at various political movements and captures the present time. A significant part of his works can be termed as protest site art. “I don’t have a studio where I can work. Most of my artworks are done on the site of movements and this is the reason why most of my artworks are destroyed on site. I have been practicing art in the party office, various artist community centeres and sometimes in my home”, says Roy.


In one of the works in the exhibition, a mountain peak is visible as being distinctly separate from two people walking on ground in the foreground, amidst a stormy atmospheric background. This is an allegory for the situation of a human in front of a huge machine that they are working for. The exhibition also comprises artwork that depicts violence imposed on mineral rich ecosystems such as Odisha, Jharkhand and Chhattisgarh and protests against it. Roy has showcased a miniature work made in the aftermath of the Rana Plaza tragedy that killed 1132 garment factory workers in Dhaka, in April 2013. Poems by Biren Dangwal and Omprakash Balmiki act as a perfect add on to the exhibition. A TV installation in collaboration with Sudip Chakraborty is also a part of the exhibition. It has been designed as a newscast with the artist’s visual work. Roy with a monotone tune represents the gunning down of Amadou Diallo by four New York City police officers who fired 41 shots at the victim. He showcases this information with chorus lines “41 shots, 41 shots” from Bruce Springsteen’s song American Skin (41 shots).


Anupam Roy was a part of the protests in Switzerland against the New Asylum Act in 2019 during his residency there. Some of his works done during that period are also a part of the exhibition. Anupam explains art as a practice that gives you a chance to learn while doing it and which also provides a platform to think together. “The artworks have become a backdrop for a certain formal or informal kind of discussion. One needs to listen to the other person’s point of view and put forward their own”, says Anupam. He believes that an artist’s role is to capture the present to showcase that present time in the future as the past.


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