'Censitive' narratives

Clashes between the censor and the nation, We’ve had a tough time since their creation; As creatives, let’s reach a point of vantage, And adopt the censor to our advantage. We can apply censorship to illustrate censorship itself, Taking examples from the recent news shelf,Palindrome between the past and the present, From carnal temples to the bans that we resent.”

These lines greet you on the Tumblr page of visual artist Akshita Chandra. Scroll further, and the page takes you through the recent issues of censorship that highlight the constant battle between people and the moral police – be it the ban on lingerie-clad mannequins in Mumbai, the hotel raids by the Mumbai Police in 2015 in which more than 40 couples were taken out of their private rooms and booked for “public indecency”, or when channel Romedy Now blurred out clothed cleavages since they were too “obscene”. And together they form ‘Being Censitive’, her art project that tries to explore what is considered to be obscene and what is acceptable.

The idea behind the project, which draws inspiration from the temple art of Khajuraho, is to juxtapose the past with the present and see what dialogue is created in doing so.

“I took a course in my seventh semester of college, called Project Past. It required us to pick a point of interest in history and work with it. I knew I wanted to make it contemporarily relevant and had been thinking about moral policing or censorship for quite a while then. So I worked backwards, and through a lot of research found Khajuraho temples as the historical context,” says Chandra, a student at Srishti Institute of Art, Design and Technology, Bengaluru.

Explaining, she says the project “celebrates the celebration of sexuality in our country in the past and views it through the lens of censorship on grounds of obscenity”. “It talks about the battle between censorship and people and how, as creative practitioners, we can try and reach a median point by using censorship to our advantage to create something dynamic to tell a story. Temples are seen as an extremely pious place, and nudity and sex has been associated with irreligiousness and guilt. It is this juxtaposition also that I wanted to bring forth in the project,” she adds.

Allahabad-born Chandra continues that she wanted to make forms which invite some amount of interaction with the viewer with tactile elements to help ‘uncensor’ the pieces; to reveal what’s underneath and resolve to some understanding of censorship, which is left open-ended for the viewer to form.

This play of concealing and revealing can be experienced in works showing the lingerie-clad mannequins which are revealed in the nude after a layer of transparent paper is removed from over them, or in the piece which talks about clothed cleavages being blurred. This work shows three illustrations, taken from the temple art of Khajuraho, of women going about their daily routine of getting ready, and whose breasts can be blurred using a movable strip.The artwork is set inside a television screen.

After being digitally created with her Wacom tablet, the artworks were then printed, cut and assembled by hand, with patience and precision. She says it took her four months to complete the series – which includes research to implementation.

“Being Censitive is a pun on the words ‘censorship’ and ‘sensitive’. All the artworks created are censored in a way that they invite the viewer to help uncensor them and reveal what’s underneath. This way, I tried to create something that is not extremely salacious or completely hidden, but exploring a mid-point between the two,” says Chandra, who names illustrators David Carter, Jean Jullien, Orijit Sen and Christopher DeLorenzo, apart from the temple art of Khajuraho, as her inspiration.

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