Jan 02 2019


by Ophelia Lai

Portrait of TUSHAR JOAG. Courtesy the artist and Chemould Prescott Road gallery, Mumbai.

Indian performance artist and activist Tushar Joag passed away after suffering a heart attack on December 18, 2018, at the age of 52. He was known for his public interventions that interrogate contemporary sociopolitical issues and their manifestations in urban space.

Born in Mumbai in 1966, Joag received his Master of Fine Arts in sculpture at The Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda. In 1998, he co-founded the now-inactive, Mumbai-based, non-profit art initiative Open Circle, which developed exhibitions, workshops, seminars and public campaigns centered on local concerns such as pollution and slum demolitions. In 2004, Joag began presenting absurdist performances and public interventions under the banner of his fictional Unicell Public Work Cells organization, an ironic reference to India’s Central Public Works Department. A famous work from this project is Commuter Attachment Systems (C.A.S.) for Local Trains (2005), a door with a set of sculptural handles and a foot pedestal designed to alleviate train overcrowding by allowing travelers to cling onto the exterior of trains instead of being crammed on board. Also as part of the “Unicell” project, in 2013, Joag and a team of window-cleaners pretended to clean various public spaces across London to increase the visibility of marginalized communities in the city. The artist was also known for his endurance performances, including Right to Dissent (2011), in which he spent six days in a confined space, repeatedly writing “I will not lose faith in the Indian Judiciary and Democracy,” in solidarity with arrested public health specialist and human rights activist Dr. Binayak Sen. From 2013 until his death, Joag served as an associate professor at the Shiv Nadar University’s faculty of fine art, which he and his wife, the artist Sharmila Samant, co-founded.

Joag showed works in solo and group exhibitions internationally, at venues including the Guangdong Museum of Art, Guangzhou (2015); Queens Museum, New York (2015); Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, New Delhi (2015); the Zachęta National Gallery of Art, Warsaw (2011); and Mori Art Museum, Tokyo (2008).

Ophelia Lai is ArtAsiaPacific’s reviews editor.

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