September 21, 2023


Art For Everyone

Artists Replicate on Dalit Historical past Month

7 min read
Large Fats Bao, “Phoolan Birthday” (2022), digital illustration (picture courtesy the artist)

Through the month of April, thousands and thousands of Ambedkarites and caste-abolition allies have fun Dalit Historical past Month. Launched in 2015 by a collective of Dalit feminists, together with Thenmozhi Soundararajan and Christina Dhanaraj, Dalit Historical past Month is a participatory neighborhood historical past undertaking impressed by Black Historical past Month. It started as a grassroots-led effort, originating in US-based political and neighborhood organizations, and has now spawned a worldwide motion that encompasses story-telling, discussions, and paintings — largely powered by social media.

Caste is an historic system of oppressive social hierarchy that divides society into 4 varnas or classes. Dalit and Adivasi persons are excluded from the rating fully. It impacts over one billion folks at present. Ambedkarite is another time period to Dalit, that means one who follows the philosophy of beloved Dr. B.R. Ambedkar (1891–1956), an anti-caste emancipatory chief, revolutionary, theorist, thinker, human-rights advocate, and architect of the Indian Structure. 

Shrujana Shridhar, “Dalit Historical past Month” (2023), digital illustration (picture courtesy the artist)

Dalit Historical past Month is widely known in April as a result of it’s the beginning month of main Dalit icons reminiscent of Dr. B. R. Ambedkar, affectionately dubbed Babasaheb by many, and Jyotirao Phule, a Nineteenth-century anti-caste reformer, social activist, and literary chief. Whereas celebrations of those auspicious days predated the official creation of Dalit Historical past Month, Dhanaraj instructed Hyperallergic, “What this undertaking did was mainstream the month, make it extra public, and extra celebratory. We’re not simply speaking about victimhood, we’re additionally taking time to have fun the neighborhood’s resilience and resistance.”  

The arrival of social media has lent itself to a rising world Ambedkarite neighborhood and, one hopes, elevated consciousness of anti-caste actions.

“If it wasn’t for social media, I might not be the place I’m at present,” shared Shrujantha Shridhar, artist, illustrator, and co-founder of the multimedia digital undertaking Dalit Panther Archive. “I don’t have any of the assets, connections, and contacts that come from caste-privileged networks. It’s a medium to provoke, create tradition for the Ambedkarite motion, and set up illustration.”

Large Fats Bao, “Banubhai Yalve: Dalit Historical past Month” (2023), digital illustration (picture courtesy the artist)

Off the again of social media, the month has taken on a lifetime of its personal, particularly within the arms of artists like Shridhar, Large Fats Bao, Siddhesh Gautam, Osheen Siva, and Rahee Punyashloka. Whereas Dalit Historical past Month has come a great distance, with Washington changing into the primary state to formally have fun it and California’s Senate currently pending SB 403, a invoice to ban caste-based discrimination, the US has an extended option to go by way of allying with caste abolition actions. This turns into much more urgent given the rise of fanatic pan-nationalism and sweeping ethnoreligious edicts throughout the Bharatiya Janata Occasion (BJP) state governments which have culminated in countless atrocities.

The modern socially engaged artist carries the burden of historic consciousness. Is it their duty to teach the lots? 

Shrujana Shridhar, “Water & Caste” (2023), digital illustration (picture courtesy the artist)

Large Fats Bao, a caste-abolitionist, illustrator, and researcher based mostly in Mumbai, India, and I mentioned her April 13 Instagram post, a kaleidoscopic digital mosaic celebrating Bhim Jayanti, Babasaheb’s birthday. It garnered one of many strongest social media responses she has skilled. We puzzled how many individuals could also be studying the title Babasaheb and encountering his imagery for the primary time. 

Nevertheless, elevated visibility for Dalit-Ambedkarite activists and artists on social media comes at a value. As Bao’s community and attain grows, so does her publicity to internet-based harassment, discrimination, and oppression which she handles with grace.

Large Fats Bao’s Instagram submit celebrating Bhim Jayanti, Babasaheb’s birthday (screenshot Hyperallergic)

In 2018, Thenmozhi Soundararajan, one of many first overtly Dalit girls on Twitter and originator of the viral hashtag #DalitWomenFight, and 6 girls journalists met with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey in India to debate the vitriol they have been dealing with on the platform. On the finish of the assembly, they gifted Dorsey a digitally illustrated poster designed by Soundararajan, snapped a gaggle picture, and posted it to social media. The poster depicted a girl in opposition to a blue background holding up an indication that learn “Smash Brahmanical Patriarchy.” 

The submit went viral and Twitter unraveled with (largely) caste-privileged folks, also called savarnas, accusing Twitter of endorsing anti-Hindu sentiment. 

Dalit activists and journalists met with Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey in 2018 to debate the vitriol they have been dealing with on the platform. (screenshot Hyperallergic)

“One thing so simple as a poster bought the complete web to take a seat nonetheless. As a result of for in the future, Twitter bought the sensation of what it was wish to be a Dalit lady,” mentioned Soundararajan.

The poster was designed by a collaborative group at Equality Labs, “a Dalit civil rights group devoted to ending caste apartheid, gender-based violence, Islamophobia, white supremacy, and spiritual intolerance.” Equality Labs commonly collaborates with and amplifies Dalit-Bahujan artists.

It has been 5 years since the Twitter incident, however the hate-mongering continues, particularly for activists on the political frontlines who endure focused and arranged cyber-attacks. In an April 11 assertion released by PEN America, the group condemned the relentless on-line abuse marketing campaign waged in opposition to Soundararajan, her colleagues, and allies. 

The Dalit Panther Occasion Archive

Cowl for the Dalit Panther Manifesto (1973) (picture courtesy Ramesh Shinde Archives and Dalit Panther Archive)

Based by poets and writers Namdeo Dhasal, Raja Dhale, J. V. Pawar, and Arun Kamble, the Dalit Panther Occasion (DPP) (1972–1977) was impressed by the Black Panther Occasion. The Dalit Panthers Manifesto labeled “American imperialism” in the identical class as “Hindu feudalism.” The Occasion rallied at atrocity websites, organized marches, boycotted elections, and propositioned direct militant motion in opposition to their dominant-caste aggressors — direct cues from the Black Panther Occasion. 

Although the group fractured and finally disbanded attributable to dissenting ideologies, their legacy lives on partly because of the work of the Dalit Panther Archive.

Shrujana Shridhar, “Dalit Panthers” (2023), digital illustration (picture courtesy the artist)

Established in 2018 by Shridhar, the Dalit Panther Archive is a multi-media digital area that “examines and evaluates the aesthetic qualities and design selections of assorted Little Magazines related to the Dalit Panthers motion,” as Tanya George reported in Fontstand News. The Instagram archive permits artists to check and rearticulate the male-led motion, ushering it into an more and more feminist area.

In 2017, Shridhar started the tedious and meticulous work of visiting the private collections of Satish Kalsekar, Ramesh Shinde, and J. V. Pawar. She listened to their tales and punctiliously photographed, scanned, and translated the fragile supplies, which included ebook covers, magazines, posters, and pictures.

“It modified me as an artist,” Shridhar instructed Hyperallergic. “It taught me how I need to view myself as an anti-cate Ambedkarite Dalit feminist artist at present. The place do I see myself? How do I find myself within the historical past of the world? What’s my position? It’s not nearly current politics and reacting to these politics. If it will probably do this for me, what can it do for others?”

At Satish Kalsekar’s Dwelling (2017) (picture courtesy Shrujana Shridhar)

Rahee Punyashloka, an Ambedkarite multi-disciplinary artist, agrees: “Had it not been for Shrujana’s digitizations, I might not have identified about this complete creative register. These are artists who’ve created iconography that we will construct on.”

Punyashloka’s current physique of labor, Ambedkarite Blues, is a sequence of summary digital illustrations and text-based graphics that reimagines historic literary texts and celebrates modern and historic figures with an emphasis on feminist leaders. He revives historical past by giving it a brand new breath via a definite blue-and-white visible conceptual strand. 

Rahee Punyashloka, “The Dalit Panther is an Elusive Beast #1” (2021), 13 inches x 13 inches, digital print (picture courtesy the artist)

The blue is an homage to Babasaheb who liked the colour, associating it with the vastness and freedom of clear skies. It turned the colour of the flag flown by the Ambedkar Scheduled Castes Federation in 1942, in addition to subsequent Ambedkarite-led organizations.

The Dalit Panther Archive additionally permits researchers and artists to investigate the design choices of the booklets and texts. The DPP’s strategy to design was largely self-taught, evident of their disregard for formal design guidelines. The Occasion struggled to entry printing assets, adapting their designs to suit the dimensions of recycled paper, touring as much as six hours to Alibag to make copies by way of cyclostyling, and utilizing minimal shade to attenuate prices.

In her current article for The Futuress, Large Fats Bao breaks down how the Indian design trade is traditionally caste-based, exclusionary, and Eurocentric, traced to the long-standing vocational hierarchy codified within the four-tiered caste system that locations Brahmins (clergymen and academics) on the high, Shudras (laborers, craftspersons, and artisans) on the backside, and Dalit folks outdoors of the rating fully. 

Dalits have been lengthy pressured to work in “impure” and labor-intensive occupations, together with handbook scavenging, dying cloth, and weaving. The latter are thought of folks crafts and outdoors of fantastic arts. A historic denial of entry to schooling exacerbates the hole between know-how entry and social mobility. The entire artists I spoke with for this text shared their endurance and legitimate frustration in navigating hegemonic educational areas, accessing creative assets, and apprehension in proudly owning the id of “artist” versus “designer.” 

“Celebration comes from deep-seated apprehension in regards to the world past us. If we don’t have fun with one another, maybe nobody else will,” shared Punyashloka.

Regardless of these challenges, it’s the resilience charged by millennia of resistance that impresses me and the generosity of spirit that humbles me. 

These persons are only a few out of hundreds of artists, activists, thinkers, and leaders who’re standing on the shoulders of anti-caste revolutionary leaders. Now’s the time for caste-privileged people inside and outdoors of the South Asian diaspora to look at their very own caste places as they amplify and have fun anti-caste actions and leaders. 

Jai Bhim! 

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