Khoj: For art, by art

The work of art is rooted, while its industry deals in cuttings and transplants. The idea of ‘Khoj’ is to resist falling into that trap

Zachary Bushnell Delhi 

Khoj’s proposition: ‘a space for artists, run by artists’. Nestled in the cheek of Khirki Village’s Sai Baba Mandir mouth, next to Gati Dance Forum, the exhibition space-cum-residency houses local and international artists for projects that tend to inflect an aspect of community involvement. As a gallery and studio, it is an attractive space—a white, multi-storey haveli sporting a cobblestone atrium (with tree), an auditorium, the Three Windows Café and a dormitory—especially in contrast to the demolished apartment building across the lane, with its innards completely exposed and floors hanging from rebar in grotesque squares, far inner walls painted with pastel graffiti. On event evenings, the wreck is lit from below with floodlights, aestheticising the abject destruction of living space, making the view from the terrace cause for pause and reflection upon political and socio-economic implications, as well as the way of matter. In that very interlude, standing on the roof, with maybe a beer or a glass of wine, worlds away from those opposite rooms, one gets struck with complicity.

This is the conjugation that both sustains and complicates Khoj. It is a tautology to say that Art (capital ‘A’, i.e. the industry) proper is the peculiar domain of the leisure classes; that it is exclusive and excessive, and above all, unnecessary. It is equally aphoristic to claim that the work of art—its motivating spirit as well as its execution—is revolutionary, liberating, one true act of rebellion. At a gallery opening in Gurgaon last year, pins were distributed that read, ‘The artist will be defeated by the art world’—a line Khoj self-reflexively treads, to varying effect.

Its location alone is suspicious. Is it a gentrifying element or a respite from heterogeneous expression? Khirki Village has been a site of some contest over the past several years, with tensions erupting last January through night raids on the homes and kitchens of immigrant populations — immediately following which, the main Sai Baba Mandir lane was paved with concrete. Smaller raids preceded and succeeded these, and recently earth movers cleared the maidan across the street from the Saket District Centre mall complex of its livestock, unlicensed merchants and tenants. In an effort to remain embedded, Khoj hosts break evenings with local b-boys, theatre workshops, urban farming initiatives, urban planning symposia and documentaries depicting Delhi’s marginalised existences.

Zones of resistance may easily lapse into delusion and ignorance if they remain disengaged from their context. Situated in a low-income neighbourhood struggling with the friction between natives and immigrants, as well as between classes, an art gallery risks becoming inconsequential or, at worst, antithetic. We find here a paradox: it is these real antagonisms, these uncomfortable actualities that art is, in part, intended to reveal, insofar as it is an effort of disillusionment; the antagonisms themselves. Art draws on difficulties; the unscrupulous gallery feeds. The work of art brings to light sites of conflict so as to eradicate them through maintained awareness. The gallery, however, as a shopfront for the Art/Culture Industry, requires the maintenance of these sites of conflict for its capital. The work of art is rooted, while business deals in cuttings and transplants. In ‘a space for artists, run by artists’, are the practice and business of art commensurable? So as not to grow remote, a zone of resistance must resist even its own zoning.

This story is from the print issue of Hardnews: DECEMBER 2014