Decoding Nizamuddin Basti

Art project

Tushar Joag explores art in the public sphere. He also acts as an interventionist and inventor of mock corporate identities; he suggests that art is responsible for maintaining cultural
continuity.

His art installation at Publica, an exhibition of public art installations and is a collateral event of the India Art Fair, is one such experiment. It is called ‘Peeling the onion in the Nizamuddin Basti’.

The installation is supposed to be looked at from the top, to see a rare constellation of points of cultural significance in Nizamuddin Basti. In an open wooden box measuring 4x4 ft there are various levels of glasses, having numbered dots connected by pen marked on paper. The dots that intersect each other resemble an imaginary constellation in the sky.

“This piece is the end result of a larger experiment with the Basti women. An experiment which intended to rekindle feelings for culture and heritage in the hearts of
bastiwallahs,” Joag tells Metrolife.

A 4x4 ft hand-drawn map of the Nizamuddin Basti was given to the bastiwallahs by Joag, where they marked “locations of cultural expression” to their individual liking. Landmark areas were measured on social, economic, cultural, emotional, aesthetic value.

Each aspect of Nizamuddin Basti was explored through this. One map held one aspect of Nizamuddin, for example, food, sports, areas of learning, places of religious importance.

“The food map explores various known and less known food joints in the area; the sports map exposes areas where people enjoy kabutarbaazi (pigeon race) with friends. Likewise, other aspects of Nizamuddin’s cultural heritage is done on different maps. From these points one can discover the home of the qawal who sings at the Dargah on Fridays to where the
community bands like ‘The Painful Rockstars’ and ‘Shaitan Boys’ play,” says 49 -year-old Joag.

Joag says that there can be as many maps like this, people can discover their own area of cultural significance, it depends on the individual.

When the points of cultural expressions were joined to each other, each aspect
developed its own topography. The maps were then peeled off by a group of women who specialised in lace work, to form strategic areas of the Basti – the site for schools,
culture, living, praying were then coded and demarcated.

Each detailed and intricately cut map is fixed on to a square glass, placed at a distance (inside a wooden box) over one another. Hence, the bottom-most map was visible from the top. There was no longer just one trajectory but multiple constructions, each carrying their own weight and each overlapping or crossing into the other.

According to Joag, the name of the experiment is inspired from Sufi philosophy. “You have to peel an onion continuously to reach its core. So, through this experiment we also reached the core of Nizamuddin Basti, by peeling off the individual points from one main political map,”
Joag adds.

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