Performance as Research Working Group 

 Proceedings of the meeting at the IFTR (International Federation for Theatre Research) conference, University of Hyderabad, India 6.-10.7.2015. 

Towards Democracy: Ethico-Political Horizon as Chora in PaR


Manola K. Gayatri


Unlike many extant usages of the terms postnational, we do not use it to refer to a sociological-empirical condition, where one kind of sovereignty (that of the nation state) is already replaced by another (say, that of Empire, a la Antonio Negri and Michael Hardt), or alternatively, where nation state-based politics is to be increasingly and inevitably replaced by some kind of “cosmo-political democracy” or global governance”.... We do not believe that the postnational is merely another name for “globalisation” and “the global” (Mary John, Nivedita Menon, Aditya Nigam). To us the postnational emerges as a distinct ethico-political horizon and a position of critique – from a serious ongoing interrogation of nation states and the souring of its great dream of (abstract) citizenship (M S S Pandian, Nivedita Menon) to de Alwis’ to rethink a feminist critique that resists received notions of the political.

de Alwis et all, The Postnational Condition.



watch video here

Video 1: Veil of Kashmir: short performance film made in collaboration by Mat de Koning from edited footage of filming of my three-day performance Veil/ Wail/ Vale of Kashmir at different sites around Dal Gate in Srinagar, Kashmir (2010).


Veil/ Wail/ Vale of Kashmir: Two artists encounter a landscape that has in the imaginary been marked as a violent battleground of fractured identity and political struggle. The presence of gun wielding men every few metres not withstanding, the Kashmir that greeted the body of the performer was ebullient in its natural beauty and the warmth of personal interactions.  Acknowledging an inability to enter another articulation in the short visit and discomfiting subject locations, the artists chose the streets, lake, and hills around Dal Gate, it's most tourist spot, to allow for the encounters of touch with the veils, wails and vale of Kashmir.

        -Performance Film Synopsis at the Kozi Bienalle 2015, Kochi, Kerala.




Reconciling the fantasies of democracy with the realities of a nation state appears almost impossible when one examines the different histories of nations and their processes of becoming nations. Revisiting the origins of different countries demonstrates, time and again, the violence used to ‘clear out the land’ of existing communities, or to supplant an existing rule to make space for the newly arriving power. A cursory glance at the troubled birthing of India as a nation state, unfortunately, reveals a similar use of force and violence to gain its sovereignty. The forceful accessions of certain regions in particular like the North East, Kashmir and Hyderabad saw, (and as in the former two cases continues to see), military action that had all the markers of a war.  When the then Nizam of Hyderabad, for example, was still deliberating which would be the best way forward for his principality (where joining Pakistan was one option, even as his request to rule as a sovereign state under the United Nations was denied by the then British Government), the then Indian Government forced submission by a violent occupation of the region where over 100000 people were said to have been killed1 in what was termed a ‘police action’ but as many reports later indicate was a military action (Noorani:2001). In these cases, one is hard pressed to find one of the underlying principles of democracy i.e. people have a right to choose their governance. 


It is the unjust nature of these histories that have led scholars, such as those that came together to propose the ‘postnational condition’, that may well pave a new path towards democracy. In their introduction to a series of essays on the ‘postnational condition’ that appeared in the 2009 March issue of one of India’s leading social-science journals, The Economic and Political Weekly, De Alwis et all describe that their work signals ‘an intellectual condition, a position of critique and a new horizon of intelligibility beyond that constituted by the nation state in it’s hey day’. They further go on to say that to them ‘this does not necessarily mean that the era of the nation state is over,’ but pay due attention to how the ‘emancipatory potential once embodied in the nation state as a political community of citizens is no longer so evident”. In a sense this scholarship represents an intellectual tradition that has negotiated constantly with the notions of national belonging and the function of the citizen critically but with an underlying faith in democracy and democratic processes. Infact the critique of the undemocratic nature of the State is grounded in a deep value for democracy as a concept and a practice. 


Their particular conceptualising of the postnational as an ethico-political horizon is also tremendously powerful for the potential of movement that it suggests. The ethico-political horizon offered by these scholars is also interesting for contingent to this horizon is directionality. Their horizon is that meeting point of ethical concerns and political realities that we move towards. Borrowing from their conceptualisation of the postnational condition as a horizon, it becomes possible to look at other appearingly static categories as processual too.  If horizon as that which we journey towards indicates that the postnational condition is processual in nature, it becomes possible thus to also look at democracy itself as not static but processual2. What also is of key interest in their identification of the ‘souring of the great dream’ is the category of citizenship as “abstract”. Is it then possible that the insertion of a more an embodied experimenting of citizenship into this discourse can recover some ground in that journey ‘towards’ democracy? From my own analysis of the theoretical frame of the offer made by this group of multi-disciplinary social science scholars from South Asia, there are two important things that have great potency for me as a PaR inclined researcher: 


1) the ethico-political horizon that we may journey ‘towards’ as a conceptual space that meets political thought with ethical practice in movement, and


2)  a critique of ‘abstract’ citizenship suggesting somehow that theorising through embodied experiences may potentially offer a different direction.


As a ‘citizen’ of India coming from a part of the country that is not fighting a separatist struggle and is not a militarised zone, my problematic location as a travelling artist in Srinagar forced me to engage with the realities of State identity and citizenship in ways that are not as evident to me when I am in mainland India. While my own experiments in performance did not begin with a reading of the work of de Alwis et all, coming across it later, I find it particularly helpful to articulate the particular dilemma of belonging. It was just such a dilemma that I experienced travelling in Srinagar as a researcher and artist compelled to own up to the burden of a citizenship that in this context made me part of a hegemonic power. Yet this is only a starting point. Taken further through performance as research, it opens up many more nuances of how to navigate relationally with the other. Indeed the performance forces me to look at how the question of subjectivity and subject poses an important challenge to the notion of the universal citizen. 


Tactile Responsivity of the Artistic Researcher


It is May 2010, and the Art Karavan3 has travelled through 7 cities so far with all of us performers, photographers, installation artists, dancers, film-makers living and making work together as we travelled across one part of the country. The 8th city before we come into Delhi our final destination, is Srinagar. We have made our way from Shantiniketan climbing through Jammu to get here. By the time we arrive across the Jammu-Srinagar border, we have been on the road for over three months, experiencing various phases of enthusiasm, cabin fever, intimate togetherness, shared understanding, sharp splits, some fractures as a community of travellers and a few exciting revelations of inter-mediality and some incomprehension with our different artistic experiments with each other. My own on-going collaboration with photographer Priyadarshini John, has made me sensitive to a new relationship between my body and light. Priyadarshini’s photographic aesthetic is driven by the cameras’ relationship to natural light. Working with her means we mostly shoot outdoors.  Up until then all performance work I had done was in auditorium spaces, but working with her lens I find myself in the sunlight discovering unusual collaborators. In Shantiniketan I found a tree that spoke to me, in Calcutta Priyadarshini found cement hoops, in Ranchi the rocks and heat called, in Lucknow a corridor strip with patches of light as doors opened into it. Driving into Srinagar, with army patrols every few metres, I am uncomfortable about entering Kashmir, but I also cannot suppress the excitement of entering Kashmir. Friends I know in Delhi are part of Azad4 struggles. The Art Karavan co-ordinator is himself living in exile after his house was burnt. Another close friend, a Kashimiri Pandit5 has lived in exile for many years and finds her eyes welling up every time she hears someone mention Kashmir. I am forced into muteness often. At other times I speak too much. Each smile, warm gesture and invite to visit strangers in their home moves me to shame. The army personnel are friendly with the Karavan artists. As they inspect Kashmiri people on the bus they move past us with friendly cringe-worthy nods. We’re obviously Indian or foreign tourists. We are not suspicious. This makes me more uncomfortable. I do not want be on the acceptable side of these guns. But my most relevant identity here is, not Christian, not Anglo-Indian, not lesbian, not South Indian but simply and only Indian i.e. mainland Indian. And somehow I cannot voice other struggles of identity here and I cannot speak about the Kashmiri struggle. I am too aware it is not mine. Yet with all the subject locations and representations of privilege, of being outsider being insider raging in my mind, the immense beauty of the landscape quietly shines against my skin. I cannot deny this euphoria of light. I want to offer it to my friends in exile.


The Karavan stayed in Srinagar for less than a week; three of those days were spent with the de Koning’s camera and my site-specific performance happenings in and around Dal Gate, a central tourist location. One of the marked shifts that happened while on the Karavan was a ‘coming out’ of myself in outdoor performance, responding through my body’s reactions to objects, light, landscapes etc. Travelling into Srinagar after three months on the road, the sudden beauty of the land and the light immediately seemed to bring in a new energy. It is this journeying towards that artistic research inhabits. Irigaray differentiates the chora from the cave for it’s tactile, embodied responsiveness. It interacts materially and is responsive. In the veil of Kashmir it is my responsive body in movement across the scape of Srinagar that becomes chora. In my own experience, artistic research such as this is particularly valuable because the subjectivities that is nascent and in turmoil can only benefit from an inter-relational modality that is capable of holding the ambiguous and even perhaps the insensible. One might even describe such a space to have the quality of the chora in that there is a tactile sensitive reciprocity. It is reciprocity that allows for the birthing of inter-subjective encounters that may allow for a path for building solidarity across deeply fissured subject locations. 




Jessica Benjamin (1998) points to the question of the subject that has become so important to feminist theory and differentiates this from the self. For her the emphasis on identity in philosophical and critical enquiry is a response to the self or ego’s need to be everything that there is and therefore tries to assimilate everything and deny difference. In I Love Towards You, Luce Irigaray seeks to find a relationality with the other that allows both their survival in difference. The adding of to or towards emphasises that love can be a movement towards the other rather than a dissolution of the self in the other or the other in the self. To me this discussion of love between the two is significantly important to understand the dynamics of appropriation and exterminating the other that in its most intense extremes results in the most hostile appropriation of another’s identity within the image of the self. 


Very close to Irigaray’s own proposition of I Love Toward You Benjamin proposes ‘a symmetry of connection and separation that must remain in balance’. She emphasises ‘the need for both the self and other to own the burden of subjectivity and says we need to not only recognise our tendency to destroy but we must also survive for the other and the other must not only take on the onus of being subject but survive our destruction’. While Benjamin’s psychoanalysis focuses on self and the other, in work such as ‘Collective Trauma and Cultural Complexes’, “the experience of trauma and the formation of complexes is analysed not only at an individual level but also in the psyche of the group.” My own work partly premises itself on such Jungian understandings of this relationship of the individual to that of the collective. In each site, I entered into silence and found myself witnessing to a certain historic sense of being present in Srinagar at that time. In each site that spoke to me, I would pause for a minute dipping into an inner quiet before moving. My own movement ‘technique’ was affected by my exposure and personal work with active imagination and authentic movement6. My desire to be present on location and respond to the space through this created an almost meditative absorption in the process that people surrounding us were encouragingly enough respectful towards.


While shooting at different sites across Dal Gate, crowds often gathered asking about the process and what we were doing. But only after the camera stopped rolling. On the first day of shooting on the streets I received encouragement from people, when they asked what we were filming and I said I was trying to hold in the work other images of Kashmir besides those of brutality. These interactions often led into discussions by the suddenly made group that had formed about various aspects of life and struggle and invariably ended with us being wished well for the film and once even a round of tea. 


The second day of shooting on the hill and reaching for air had us being followed by three children from Dal Gate, who acted as young guides helping us up the hill. Having explored the streets the previous day I was keen to go up the hill and play with the element of air. Mat de Koning, who was filming also only in natural light, came half way up and being satisfied with the takes we’d had, had decided to rest. When I continued on my way up the hill, it was he three children that accompanied me. I was touched by the protective kindness of the three young boys Anwar, Rishad and Jamal as we climbed. On the third day, our crew had dropped to just Mat and me along with a boatman who agreed to take us across the lake. He remained again a quietly encouraging presence and I was moved by the respect with which he treated our work, and if he was startled by the dive into the lake and then came aboard later and changed into dry clothed, he steered the boat towards a boathouse that served hot tea to help me overcome the shudders off having dived into a very cold lake. Few words were exchanged but new relationships with the other emerged while on location in Srinagar.


I still remained tentative about the reception of the final work but was not prepared for the comments I received when the film was allowed into circulation on the web. When an initial cut of the film was circulated on youtube the two comments that came in from the general public seemed angry and hurt by the film. I was merely called a ‘crazy bitch’ by one, while another said that ‘the fat, ugly slut should do something to her face’. Even while I was aware of the nature of comments on the internet, I was deeply impacted by these comments and froze for a long time unable to show the film to anyone, unsure myself of how to make sense of the experience of those three days of performance and unprepared to take on other people’s responses to it yet. I was aware that the montage of movement sequences that make the film in circulation on the Internet moves through a very different register of comprehension from my physical presence in movement on site at the location. This is obvious. Packaged as a short film with the name Veil of Kashmir it can easily be perceived as yet another so called art-work that has capitalised on the pain of a people and their struggle. Infact the use of Kashmir in the title itself cannot divorce itself from the inevitable cultural capital that it comes with. The first person I finally showed it to was the Kashmiri friend who has been in exile. She was moved and touched by the work. 


I remain hopeful that the sensitive and responsive nature of artistic practice can sometimes open up a space of dialogue and conversation about emerging subjectivities that the rule of law and the language of legal citizenship are yet unable to do. But what is the relationship of the subjectivity of artistic exploration in relation with the other? As artist Sheba Chachi speaking at the Khoj Symposium on Art as Schizoanalysis says about her own experiences with working with women in Kashmir in the 1990s, it is the relational mode of allowing the art work to emerge from the space she identifies as inter-subjectivity that perhaps hold the key to this question. Through artistic practice-as-research the possibility of a new intelligibility between the two may allow for the forging of new relationships across difficult subject locations. The three days of embodied performance that happened across Srinagar, opened up dialogues and a sensing of each other in uncommon ways. It is one that continues.  




In this paper I try to open up the possibilities of a new relationality towards the other that opened up through artistic practice and how perhaps this may be a way towards the other and through such a sensitive interaction being held in an ethico-political chora, journey towards the horizon that is democracy. Yet as I write I struggle between two modalities of comprehension and making sense. Each time I write or return to the performance work, a different opening up of memories and reflections begin to unravel. I remain unsure of how to contain these in a work that also tried to journey through that experience within a discourse around citizenship and democracy. While I had an insight into what I named as the ‘ethico-political chora’ that performance-as-research can inhabit as it makes tentative journeys into difficult political terrain, (through the embodied performance researcher as the embodied citizen); I also feel that the impact of the performance and what it stirs in body, memory and for those around, has it’s own powerful unravelling that can ever remain disruptive. 




The performance film may also be accessed at:

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 2 Political Scientist, Dr. Anupama Roy herself comments on the emergence of ‘democracy as a process’ as a thematic rising from the papers of an inter-disciplinary comprising of Political Studies scholars and Performance Studies scholars in a Young Scholars Colloquium at JNU, New Delhi.

3 The Art Karavan was a three-month experimental performance journey made by over 25 artists coming from from across India, Belgium, Serbia, USA, Ireland, Ukraine, Germany and Australia. While I was initially part of the hosting team, most of the artists came together as a reposnse to a call made over the internet by Inder Salim, inviting artists to move through centres and peripheries.

4 The Kashmir Azad Movement is a struggle to allow the people of Kashmir to self- determine their belonging. 

5 In the 1970s, Kashmir pandits were targetted by extermists claiming that pandiviolenve within Kashmir-



Benjamin, Jessica. (1998) Shadow of the Other: Intersubjectivity and Gender in Psychoanalysis. New York and London: Routledge Taylor and Francis Group.


De Alwis, Malati and others. (2009). ‘The Postnational Condition’ in EPW, Vol 44 No 10; pp35 <>  

Irigaray, Luce. (1985a). The Speculum of the Other Woman. (Gillian C. Gill, Trans.). Ithaca; New York: Cornell University Press. 

Irigaray, Luce. (1996). I Love Towards You: Sketch for a Felicity Within History. (Alison Martin, Trans.). New York; London: Routledge.

Lionnet, Francoise. (1991). Race, Gender, Self-Portraiture. New York: Cornell University Press.

Menon, Nivedita and Aditya Nigam. (2007). Power and Contestation. Hyderabad: Orient Longman.


Singer, Thomas and Catherine Kaplinsky (2004), ‘The Cultural Complex’, in The Cultural Complex: Contemporary Jungian Perspectives on Psyche and Society, ed. Thomas Singer and Catherine Kaplinsky; Hove and New York: Brunner-Routledge 2004. pp. 1-25.