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Prabhakar Pachpute’s Biennale Work Throws Light on Farmers’ Plight

In Kochi
February 08, 2019

Coming from an agrarian background, Prabhakar Pachpute knows well about the plight of farmers in the country — and that is exactly what his artwork essays at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale.

The young artist banks heavily on charcoal, which is a major natural resource in his riverine belt of Maharashtra. Also using acrylic colours on plywood, Prabhakar has created large cutouts that represent farmer’s protests. The tall figures almost touch the ceiling of the exhibit space at the vintage Anand Warehouse in seaside Mattancherry.

The work, titled ‘Resilient Bodies in the Era of Resistance, for Kochi-Muziris Biennale’, has at one corner a large sculpture of a bull-like animal: its head a raised fist and the tail a plough.

The project is primarily inspired by an October 2017 protest in Rajasthan, where farmers half-buried themselves over the state’s plans to take over their land totalling 540 acres. “I am studying on how peasants use their bodies in very performative gestures as part of their stir,” says 32-year-old Prabhakar, who hails from the mining belt of Chandrapur in the eastern part of Vidarbha region that chiefly grows cotton, oranges and soya besides jowar, millet and rice. “I am into documenting their stories of protests across India,” says the artist who now lives and works from Pune and Mumbai.

Prabhakar’s works are a reflection of his childhood memories, too. It seeks to portray his experiences about mining communities by bringing to viewers the scarred landscapes and underground arenas that coal miners inhabit.

His own family was into agriculture not long ago. “I have seen farmers selling their land and getting into mining. I started listening to stories and began reflecting deeper. Hence my work,” the artist says. “The protests have been my concern since the beginning.”

The biennale work looks at the needs of farmers in the length and breadth of the nation. Prabhakar has layered the exhibit area’s walls with drawings, sculpturally arranged canvases and plywood cutouts, overwriting its history with the contemporary narrative surrounding what the space once represented. “The farmers use their bodies and produce in their protest actions. This is to bring greater awareness to the injustices they face,” he says.
The work also resonates with the history of the exhibition space — Anand Warehouse — “which at one time used to be a thriving centre for the trade of foodgrain and is now a derelict storage godown”.

Prabhakar has done a similar work in 2016. Titled ‘No, it Wasn’t the Locust Cloud’, it examines the effects of mining on humans and the natural landscape. There, the highlight is on the grievances of the country’s farmers who had around that time come together to organise protests.

Then, last year, India saw farmers from various parts of the country like in Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu coming together and demonstrating against the lack of government support in the face of declining income, crippling debt and corruption, adds the artist.

Several of these agitations happened in metropolitan cities like Delhi and Mumbai in front of large gatherings, but the artist feels an immense disconnect existing in society in terms of human values and priorities. “This divergence in our social structure creates tension and anxiety. It also makes one feel helpless,” he says.