Of beard power in Times Square, and video installation of orphanage in Kerala

Billboard ad for Dollar Shave Club at Times Square.

NEW YORK – Multi-media Indian artist Mithu Sen’s video installation ‘I have only one language; it is not mine’ is exhibited at the Thomas Erben Gallery in New York City, through February 16, 2019.

The 42-minute-long video installation is a project in collaboration with Chemould Prescott Road, Mumbai.

‘I have only one language; it is not mine’ converts a portion of the gallery into a lushly immersive, potent installation incorporating video, red-colored carpeting, tropical plants, drawings, and mixed-media sculptural objects previously used in performances by the artist. Installed in the path of the video projection and animated by a fan, these elements cast lively shadows, adding to the video’s vibrant visual language.

Mithu Sen’s video installation ‘I have only one language; it is not mine’ is exhibited at the Thomas Erben Gallery in New York City, through February 16, 2019.

Commissioned for the 2014 Kochi-Muziris Biennale, the installation wades into what Sen has called, according to a press release, “a fantasy film on a reality set… an experience of intimacy and trust, producing physical and emotional behavior, making all involved believe in an alternative world.”

The New Delhi-based Sen’s video makes use of a fictional character the artist developed prior to her visit to a government orphanage for young girls in Kerala—many of them victims of emotional and sexual abuse. Conceiving of a way to freely interact with the children, Sen developed Mago, a character she has described as “a seemingly homeless person who speaks her own language.”

Mago is playful and anarchic—a sneaky challenge generating channels of communication beyond language and its associations with trauma, institutionalization, and hierarchy.

Neither Sen understood the girls’ language, Malayalam, nor did the girls understand Mago’s non-language, resulting in an experience built purely on human interaction and mutual empathy. Sen inhabited Mago over three days in an unscripted performance that in many ways shared the role of guest, host, child, and adult with the girls, putting into practice the artist’s commitment to “radical hospitality”, “lingual anarchy”, and “guest-host-hospitality-tolerance” practice.

Mithu Sen’s video installation ‘I have only one language; it is not mine’ is exhibited at the Thomas Erben Gallery in New York City, through February 16, 2019.

Seeking to establish a situation of trust, the performance was documented by Sen herself, wearing a set of recording devices around her neck. The visual language of the video is thus shaky and sometimes out of focus, a quality that is emphasized in passages of the videos when the girls assumed authorship, playfully taking the camera and turning it back on Mago.

‘I have only one language; it is not mine’ carefully balances on the border of intimacy and distance, inside and outside, one’s self and not one’s self. This sense of invitation, extension, and changeability is echoed in the video’s presentation, which is enriched by a red line drawn by the artist around the gallery, outside the projection area.

Further still, the video is digitally manipulated with a red-hued, high-contrast effect, resulting in an imagery that resembles animated drawings. This effect ensures the girls’ anonymity while also invoking the very elements of Sen’s main medium: LIFE.

Seeking a dialogue outside the narrow alleys of comprehension, Sen/Mago and the children transform a reality of trauma and neglect into a space of possibility and hope.

Here’s an excerpt from Mithu Sen’s ‘(un)biography:

“Mithu Sen plays. She messes. She creates.

Her practice revolves around creating situations of impossible possibility.

She lets strangeness and strangers in, radically, hospitably.

In doing this, she questions the boundaries of hospitality; identifies them, embodies

them, inhabits them – and then

refutes and ignores them. Breaking them apart from within.”

Widely exhibited in India and internationally, Sen had a solo show at the Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum, East Lansing, MI (2014) and has participated and performed in numerous group shows, including at the Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg; Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, New Delhi (both 2018); Guggenheim Museum and Asia Society Museum, New York (2016); S.M.A.K., Ghent; Albertina Museum, Vienna; Palais de Tokyo, Paris; Gaungdong Museum of Art, Guangzhou (all 2015); Tate Modern, London (2013); Zacheta National Gallery, Warsaw (2011); Rose Art Museum, Waltham, MA; and Kunstmuseum Bern (both 2007).

International biennials include The 9th Asia Pacific Triennial of Contemporary Art, Queensland Art Gallery; FotoFest, Houston (both 2018); Dak’Art, Dakar, Senegal (2016); Kochi-Muziris Biennale; and Dhaka Art Summit, Bangladesh (both 2014). Since 2006, numerous solo shows took place at Chemould Prescott Road, Mumbai (including a 2016 Art Basel Art Unlimited presentation); Galerie Nathalie Obadia, Brussels and Paris; Nature Morte, Berlin and New Delhi; and Galerie Krinzinger, Vienna.

In 2015, Sen received the Prudential Eye Award for Contemporary Asian Art in drawing and, in 2010, India’s inaugural Skoda Prize for Best Contemporary Art.


Billboard ad for Dollar Shave Club at Times Square.

The first thought would be that it’s a social awareness campaign ad, to highlight the Sikh community, an effort to fight discrimination based on appearance.

However, a huge billboard ad at Times Square featuring an Indian American actor and model, Pritam Singh, 74, with a turban and beard, is a promotional for Dollar Shave Club, a California-based company selling hair grooming, trimming, and maintenance products.

The tagline to the ad, ‘Beard Oil Because for Some People Beards are Religion’, makes it apparent that it’s squarely aimed at religious minorities like the Sikh and Muslim communities, as well as South Asian diaspora, where keeping facial hair is a fashion style too.

Beards of late have been given a huge fillip by the recent successes of the Indian cricket team Down Under led by a bearded Virat Kohli, and his merry band of bearded Indian teammates.

Indian American actor Amandeep Singh, with his father Pritam Singh. Photo courtesy of Amandeep Singh.

The California-based Pritam Singh’s son, Amandeep Singh, is an actor too, who has appeared in an episode of Grey’s Anatomy.

Amandeep expressed his admiration for his dad by posting on social media a photo of the ad at Times Square, and wrote: ‘My dad and I worked together on a beard oil commercial 🙂 Here’s my DAD in a massive ad for beard oil in Manhattan, New York!!! That’s how we do!!! ????????‍♂️???? #turbanandbeard #beard #beardoil #commercial #dad #actor #actorslife #sikhactor #model #modelslife #sikh #sikhamerican #america #proudtobesikh #manhattan #newyork #ny #hollywood #losangeles #la #thathollywoodsikh.’

Last year, Amandeep had posted another photo of him with his father, after they voted in the elections. That time he had this to say: “Just voted with Paps!!! You go vote too!!! Gotta represent Cali!!! ???? #vote #govote #cali #california #election #election2018 #thathollywoodsikh #actor #sikh #america”

Beards are not only for the religious-minded, though. It’s for cool, sporty folks too.

(Sujeet Rajan is Executive Editor, Parikh Worldwide Media. Email him: sujeet@newsindiatimes.com Follow him on Twitter @SujeetRajan1)



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