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Sajan Mani (born 1982 in Kerala, India) is an Indian contemporary artist based out of Kannur, Kerala. Mani’s artistic oeuvre includes performance pieces drawing on his post-colonial black Dalit identity to highlight issues faced by marginalised societies across India. Mani has exhibited his work across the world, including the Vancouver Biennale, Kampala Art Biennale, Dhaka Art Summit, Kolkata International Performance Arts Festival, Sensorium- Sunaparanta Center for Arts, Goa, Musrara Mix Festival, Jerusalem and in various residencies including New Art Exchange, Nottingham and Delfina Foundation in London,Heritage Hotel Art Spaces,Goa.. Mani now lives in Berlin, Germany.
|Occupation||Artist, Contemporary Artist, Performance Artist|
|Known for||Contemporary Art, Performance Art|
Sajan Mani was born in 1982 in Kunnoth, near Iritty in Kannur District, Kerala, India, to a family of rubber tappers. His dark complexion also led people to label him “African” as a racial and caste slur , experiences which were later to inform his artistic practice.
In 2004, Mani graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature and Journalism from Kannur University. In 2011, he earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree in Applied Art at the Karnataka State Open University in Mysore, Karnataka. In 2019, after several years of practice as an artist, he graduated from the Weissensee School of Art in Berlin, Germany, with a Masters in Spatial Strategies.
After graduating with multiple degrees, Mani left for the Middle East and took up different jobs, including a migrant labourer, and travelled extensively. His break as an artist occurred with the launch of the first Kochi-Muziris Biennale in 2012, where he worked with Bose Krishnamachari, whom he referred to as his “mentor”, and Nikhil Chopra. “The 2012 Biennale was like a university for me, where Bose Krishnamachari mentored me and Nikhil Chopra guided me in the nuances of performance art,” he would later say. Mani later worked on the editorial board of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale.
Mani would later go on to showcase his work at the Vancouver Biennale, Kampala Art Biennale, Dhaka Art Summit, Kolkata International Performance Arts Festival, Sensorium- Sunaparanta Center for Arts, Goa, Musrara Mix Festival, Jerusalem, Serendipity Arts Festival, Goa. Speaking of his art, India Art Fair director Jagdip Jagpal said, “I first saw Sajan perform at Chatterjee & Lal, Mumbai, and later, at the Dhaka Art Summit. I admire the simplicity and bravery with which he is able to make strong social statements about modern India. ”
Mani has also participated in several art residency programmes including the New Art Exchange, Nottingham and Delfina Foundation in London and Heritage Hotel Art Spaces, Goa.
Sajan Mani’s artistic oeuvre is centred on the idea of caste as an everyday lived reality in India as well as part of the history. As the artist himself says, “I want to push the boundaries of performance art and prompt viewers to question the existing social norms.". Mani insists that history is based on “fake information” and each of his performance pieces are based on extensive research relying on old police reports and visual encyclopaedias.
Citizen Ship Burn It Down!
Mani performed “Citizen Ship Burn it Down” for the 2014 Vancouver Biennale wearing a black dress covered with black paper boats and walking six kilometres from the Roundhouse Community Centre to Stanley Park. The performance, while sticking to the Biennale’s curatorial theme “Open Borders/Crossroads Vancouver”, is also a tribute to Martin Luther King’s “I have a dream” speech and commemorates the 1914 incident when a ship full of refugees from India was turned away at Vancouver.
At the 2016 Kampala Art Biennale in Kampala, Uganda, Mani performed a 50-hour performance piece titled “Liquidity Ar” that showed him paddling a red boat on the grass, wearing a long red hat and a boiler suit made from a traditional kerala mundu with the word ‘Suspect’ written on the back. The performance was a comment on the state of limbo and dislocation prevalent among marginalised peoples.
A two-hour performance piece probing the politics of food and its relationship with the body, Secular Meat was performed at the 2016 Sensorium Art Festival in Goa, India. Mani made use of 200 eggs, five whole grilled chicken and three colours of paint for the performance.
Politically Incorrect Bodies
“Politically Incorrect Bodies,” a 24-hour long performance piece at the Musrara Mix Festival, Jerusalem, in 2017, showed Mani exploring the politics of food, the connections between humans and animals and how certain types of animals and humans are considered impure and therefore derided.
Specters of Communism
Mani also participated in “Specters of Communism: A Festival on the Revolutionary Century," held by the Haus der Kunst in 2017 to commemorate the hundredth anniversary of the October Revolution . The program, conceptualised by Nigerian curator and then director of the Kunst Okwui Enwezor, also saw participation from Raqs Media Collective, an artists’ group based in Delhi.
Art will Never Die, but COW?
Performed at the 2019 edition of the Indian Art Fair, the two-hour performance installation showed Mani dressed as a human-cow hybrid tied to a noose. The piece was a comment on increasing violence and repression in India under the guise of protecting the cow, an animal venerated in Hinduism.
Some of Mani’s pieces involve public intervention. In 2013, he stuck posters all over Fort Kochi and Mattancherry with the word “Missing”. The performance was later repeated in 2014 at The Kolkata International Performance Art Festival. During the 2014 edition of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, he poked fun at artists bragging about their artistic pedigree by putting up banners saying “my grandfather is not an artist” across Fort Kochi and Mattancherry