Cognitive Processes
Imagining ecological democracy

Navjot Altaf
Solo exhibition 

The Guild

9 July to 5 September 2022 

  . VIEWS              . ARTWORKS             . PRESS RELEASE              

The Guild is pleased to announce Cognitive Processes: Imagining Ecological Democracy, an upcoming solo exhibition of Navjot Altaf’s recent works, and becoming the third of our silver jubilee year exhibitions. 

The show will preview at our Alibaug location on the 9th of July from noon. 

On this occasion we will also be releasing the long awaited two volume book on Navjot Altaf titled 'Navjot At Work', with a foreword by Geeta Kapur, essays by Grant Kester, Leon Tan and Elena Bernardini; the second volume is comprised of 'Artist's Notes' on her various projects. 

The book will be launched by Nancy Adajania, noted cultural theorist, art critic and independent curator. Do join us in celebrating this momentous day. 

Covid-19 had brought the world to a ‘pause’, halting the juggernaut of globalisation, disrupting production and supply chains, and making countries go into lockdown. Every fatal disease foregrounds the existentialist aspect of human life in its absurdities; the pandemic has defined how human health is deeply connected to neoliberal consumption, while reiterating sharp questions about unsustainable developmental policies. 

In the light of such existentialist crisis, what might be a different political subjectivity or an alternative democratic model that one may frame amidst increased authoritarianisms? During the ‘pause’ that the pandemic created, there has been an equal clash of subjectivities and raw situations that we have witnessed on our television and digital screens. The latest series by Navjot Altaf evolved from her responses during home confinement in the Covid crisis - photographing events and situations from the TV screen or found imagery on the Internet, and delving into her personal archive. Coming together as photo-montages, these works underline Altaf’s ideological position in ecofeminism – a turn which occurred from the early 2000s in her adjacent practice with Adivasi artists and communities in Bastar, and to the more recent interest in understanding ecological democracy that is kincentric in form and critical of unsustainable development. It offers us to rethink of life-worlds that are inclusive of the rights for all species. 

As clashing signs across history, geography and time, these montages in their cognitive layering critically examine the interdependency of human and non-human life, while pointing to the intersectionality between natural systems, terminology, and community growth. We also discover that a ‘sign can never have a definite meaning, for the meaning must be continually qualified.’ The crisis of liberal institutions has developed from within liberalism itself, with the fallout being the social costs of climate change and impending displacement of people, apart from developmental induced rupture. Ecological democracy may thus offer a metaphor of non-hierarchical alliances, or to imagine ways of expanding multispecies living within revitalized participatory democracy. Exploring this, Navjot creates sculptural renditions of soil and gut microbiotas that are similar across all species on the planet. Through this visual sign, she draws our attention to the field of ‘multispecies ethnography’ that takes into account the existence of non-humans that are related to the complexities of human life, politics and cultures. 

Apart from photo-montages, miniature sculptures, audio and video, the exhibition comprises of an installation of flags in open-air that evokes the farmers’ protests (2020-21) as a site of civil resistance and dissent. 

- Amrita Gupta


About the Artist

Navjot Altaf (b.1949) is a transcultural artist, whose inventive multi-media work reflects political and aesthetic concerns that have been informed by dialogical ways of working. Her practice is located in the metaphor of flow – across materiality and theory, across place and people, and in finding a transdisciplinary perspective where inquiry and self-inquiry intersect. Her ideological positions move from Marxism in the 1970s, to feminism in the 1980s-1990s, and eco-feminism from early 2000 onwards, critically examining the intersectionality between natural systems, community growth, and development.

With a sustained engagement with indigenous cultures, local knowledge systems, ecology and social justice, her intellectual trajectory, like her creative process, has been shaped by life experiences and theoretical readings. It has been marked by complexities, conflicts, and imaginative turns. From a formalist training in Western modernism, her quest has been to find a conceptual and artistic language through forms of “critical emplacement” or experiential belonging in various locales. This has prompted her to work in Bombay and Bastar, to engage with an Adivasi life-world, Adivasi artists, as well as artists and researchers from other parts of India and beyond. 

Her extensive dialogues with Adivasi communities and artists led to the co-founding of the Dialogue Interactive Artists’ Association (DIAA, 2000) in Kondegaon, Bastar, which focuses on enabling an inclusive and experimental platform for equal aesthetic rights, while probing systems of knowledge production. Her engagement through research and practice has been to understand the relationship between deep ecology, sustainability, and spirituality with an emphasis on environmental philosophy.

In retrospect, she has envisioned inquiry as an ongoing process in dialogue with diverse modes of creative thought. – Amrita Gupta


About The Guild

The Guild was established in 1997 with an aim to function as a semi-institutional space within the bustling art-hub of Mumbai, India. Since its inception, it has been providing a platform for discursive practices, innovation and experimentation in contemporary art. The Guild has been recognised as a pioneering gallery with its important roster of artists of diverse generations who have brought in robust dialogue within and across the disciplines. It believes in promoting critical ideas and artists who are engaged in cutting-edge practices in distinctive mediums reflecting diverse perspectives. The Gallery has held major retrospectives of important artists: Navjot Altaf, Sudhir Patwardhan, G. R. Iranna. It has collaborated with premier national art centres. It has been promoting its artists to various international cultural institutions, art fairs through exhibitions, residencies and workshops. 

For over two decades The Guild has nurtured artistic production as well as the curatorial practices in India. It has contributed extensive scholarship on contemporary art through academically and critically rigorous publications authored by well-known academicians, art critics, art historians and artists – on artists and their practices. This publication ‘Navjot At Work’ is one of the second major books being published by The Guild this year. A comprehensive volume on Sudhir Patwardhan’s retrospective was released recently. Another substantive publication on Navjot Altaf’s retrospective is under completion and will be ready soon. 

In 2015, The Guild opened its new premises in Alibaug, an upcoming art district near Mumbai with a large exhibition space, expanding its relevance outside the urban spaces, and continues to vigorously serve the field of visual arts in India. 

The Guild celebrates its twenty-fifth anniversary in 2022. For this silver jubilee year, The Guild is organising a series of critical curated exhibitions marking the trajectory the gallery, its artists, and the Indian art world has taken in the past twenty-five years. 


For more details, please contact us at:
theguildart@gmail.com, teamattheguild@gmail.com




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