A welcome edition: All That Blue magazine opens a door to the invisibilised

Since the turn of the decade, a thought has been pirouetting around Siddhesh Gautam’s head. He has wanted to build an art magazine dedicated to portraying the kinds of people and communities that are invisibilised.

A photograph from Millennia of Oppression by Arun Vijai Mathavan, a series on the people, often Dalits, who conduct post-mortem procedures at government hospitals. (Courtesy All That Blue)

Having been part of the mainstream art community for close to a decade, the Delhi-based artist says he is familiar with the “bindi-and-mooch” aesthetic that dominates the country’s booming art market, which is essentially a pastiche of the lives and cultures of privileged, urban communities and their understanding of the country and the world.

“I was feeling the void of a proper magazine that covers all kinds of art, including the variety of lives of marginalised communities. A critical art magazine that talks about all the things that this country is made up of, including caste, gender, marginalisation, and the kinds of everyday struggles that form the majority of our lives,” says Gautam, 32.

For three years, he stumbled about as people in the mainstream offered tepid words of encouragement but little material support.

Finally, last year, he decided to take the plunge. He has since founded All That Blue, with Bhumika Saraswati (a Delhi-based filmmaker), Jaisingh Nageswaran (a Chennai-based artist), Shrujana Shridhar (a Mumbai-based illustrator) and Anurag Banerjee (a Mumbai-based photographer) as co-editors of the inaugural edition. Out in April, it will bring together essays, photography, illustrations and poetry in a volume that the editors hope will stand apart for rawness, grit and diversity of perspectives. The plan is to finance the first edition themselves, then rely on pre-orders.

India’s art market is booming. Every year since 2020, new records have been set at international auction, by towering figures such as Amrita Sher-Gil, FN Souza and VS Gaitonde. International platforms, from the Venice Biennale to Documenta, are inviting young Indians to showcase their work.

But artists from marginalised communities form only a minuscule segment of this market, and often complain that they struggle to find a toehold in a world still heavily defined by personal connections and “artistic pedigree”. Work themed on critical ideas such as anti-caste resistance and the rights of sexual minorities, meanwhile, is still perceived as niche practice; the kind of art that can complement the mainstream, but not dominate within it.

It is such ideas that All That Blue hopes to challenge.

Inspiring the co-editors was a trove of anti-caste literature, but Saraswati says they were aware of the dearth of more visual mediums. “We recognise the lack of a visual-first print space, especially for those who communicate primarily through visuals. All That Blue strives to provide a platform for such visually driven stories, allowing them to speak in their own language,” she says.

In the process of creating the magazine, “there were several entries from various places, showcasing new voices — artists working in mediums of visual art and literature,” Nageswaran adds. “It was inspiring to witness their work. I believe that through these art forms, we will edge towards a new world.”

Among the 20-odd works that the editors will showcase in the inaugural edition is a visual essay by Delhi University professor Jenny Rowena and her collaborator Thoufeeq on Hany Babu, the anti-caste academic who is currently in jail in connection with the 2018 Bhima Koregaon case. Haunting images by Chennai-based photographer Arun Vijai Mathavan that will pull the curtain back on the people, often Dalit sanitation workers, who conduct post-mortem procedures in government hospitals. A surrealist interpretation by Maharashtrian artist Ajay Doke, of famed anti-caste spaces such as the Deeksha Bhoomi Buddhist stupa in Nagpur, where millions gather every year in remembrance of BR Ambedkar’s landmark conversion to Buddhism. And Pakistani artist Shehzil Malik’s illustrations of the Aurat March, the thousands-strong demonstrations for women’s rights in Pakistan that have been held annually since 2018.

“So blue here doesn’t only refer to caste, it means everything under the blue sky, all stories that were hitherto neglected, across countries and boundaries. Until we start taking ourselves seriously, no one else will,” Gautam says. “In the 21st century, doing this involves documenting… only things that are published are taken seriously. If that’s what the zamana (era) requires, that is what we will do.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *