Baaraan Ijlal is a self-taught artist based in New Delhi (India). She is interested in exploring anonymity as essential to individual liberty. She seeks to enable listening and creating witnesses to unacknowledged stories. Her medium includes acrylic paint, sound, video, light, and resin installations among others.
Art Dubai, Dubai, UAE
Art Singapore, Singapore.
India Art Fair, Delhi, India
9th edition of Change Room at ’Threading the Horizon: Propositions on Worldmaking through Socially Engaged Art Practice’ 5 Nov 2022 – 20th February 2022
Forestial Flock, group exhibition, Shrine Empire Gallery. Curated by Adwait Singh, 26th August – 01 Oct 2022
‘Woman Is As Woman Does’, Jehangir Nicholson Art Foundation, CSMVS, Mumbai. Curated by Nancy Adajania, 16th Aug – 16th October 2022
India Art Fair, Delhi, India.
8th edition of Change Room at ‘Living Lightly: An Exhibition on Pastoralism’ 24th – 27th March 2022.
7th edition of Colomboscope, Colombo, Sri Lanka. Language is Migrant, Curated by Anushka Rajendran, 2021.
Solo exhibition, Shrine Empire, New Delhi, India.
Delhi Contemporary Art Week, Shrine Empire/Bikaner House April 2021
Group exhibition, Hub India: Classical Radical, MAO Museo d’Arte Orientale | Residues & Resonances, Italy.
PRAF presents: Seeds are being sown at Prameya Art Foundation, New Delhi, India. Curated by Shaunak Mahbubani.
India Art Fair, New Delhi.
6th edition of sound installation Change Room, (audio installation) at Chintretsukan Gallery, Tokyo University of the Arts, Tokyo,Japan. Curated by SGFA Tokyo.
5th edition of sound installation Change Room, (audio installation) at CREA Reconference, Kathmandu, Nepal. Curated by CREA Team.
4th edition of sound installation Change Room, (audio installation) at India Art Fair, New Delhi, India. Curated by Prameya Art Foundation.
3rd edition of sound installation Change Room at Bhopal Literature and Arts Festival, Bhopal, India. Curated by Meera Dass.
Installation ‘Coal Couture’ at World Health Organization (WHO)’s First Global Conference on Air Pollution and Health at the WHO headquarters during the UNFCCC’s 24th Conference of Parties.
2nd edition of sound installation Change Room at TENT Arts Space, Kolkara, India. Curated by Divakar Venkatraman.
1st edition of sound installation Change Room at Conflictorium Museum of Conflict, Ahmedabad, India. Curated by Divakar Venkatraman through an Artist Residency.
Installation of Bird Box at Oddbird, New Delhi, India. Commissioned by Sadbhawna Trust and American Jewish World Service (AJWS).
Installation of Silent Minarets Whispering Winds at Chatrapati Shivaji International Airport’s Terminal 2, Mumbai, India. Curated by Rajiv Sethi.
Installation of House of Commons at Alliance Francaise, New Delhi, India. Curated by Sanskriti Foundation through an Artist Residency.
Exhibition of two canvasses each from Trouble with Red Is and Baghdad Café series At Women, Art & Resistance show, American Centre, New Delhi, India. Curated by Georgina Maddox.
Exhibition of two canvasses from Trouble with Red Is series At Sri Multiple Feminisms show, Gallery Beyond Kala Ghoda, Mumbai, India. Curated by Myna Mukherjee.
Exhibition of two canvasses from Trouble with Red Is series At Sri Multiple Feminisms show, American Centre, New Delhi, India. Curated by Myna Mukherjee.
Queering Making I At Gallery Engendered Space, New Delhi, India. – Curated by Billy Stewart, Jose Abadi.
Queering Making II At Gallery Abadi Art & Creative Communication, New Delhi, India. – Curated by Billy Stewart, Jose Abadi
Paintings and installation titles ‘House of Commons,’ ‘To Be Continued’ and ‘Stitched Wings’. Gallery Seven Art Limited, New Delhi, India. – Retellings, Curated by Deeksha Nath. 2010
Sanskriti Kendra, New Delhi, 2013
Conflictorium Museum, Ahmedabad, 2018
Painter, Oral Historian, Archivist
Everything Baaraan Ijlal makes is an act against forgetting. She finds a witness to vioence in the cycles of the moon, the dailiness of things, the gentleness which allows fabric to fall just so on a coat-hook or shoulder, the moonlight to slant its way to the clock-hand where someone waits for herself. Baaraan records what requires urgent witness, the sacred in the mundane. A self-taught artist, Baaraan works with acrylic paint, sound, video, light, and resin installations among others. In lieu of an artist’s statement, she offers two couplets as the ‘genesis’ of her work. The first by Ijlal Majeed:
Achanak khulega kisi aik din, wahan kya hua tha kisi aik din,
wahi phir se hoga kisi aik din, kabhi jo hua tha kisi aik din
(Suddenly it will be revealed one day, what had happened there one day,
it will happen again one day, what had already happened one day)
And, by Rajinder Manchanda Bani:
Kaise log the, chahte kya the, kyun wo yahaan se chale gae
Gung gharon se mat kuch pucho, sheher ka naqsha dekho tum
(What were those people like, what did they desire, why did they leave this place
Don’t ask questions of mute houses, look towards the map of the city)
These verses evoke the recurring nature of history, displacement and the possibilities presented by deconstructing the flawed map of the city. To Baaraan they were instructions on how to proceed. Through her body of work — large painted moody and surreal canvases reminiscent of miniaturists and informed by oral histories and research, to audio-testimonies from anonymous women — she leaves a trail of sugar for those who care to seek answers. Looking at her work is like being sucked in through a portal. Where to look first? What if you miss something? Relax, you will miss many things. It is guaranteed.
Baaraan grew up in Bhopal, a sleepy town best known for the world’s deadliest industrial disaster. She was seven when it happened. “When we woke up, the trees were drooping and the papaya tree had turned yellow. The school bus didn’t come,” she remembers. On the streets lay dead bodies and swollen carcasses of cows. Her extended family in Old Bhopal, closer to the site of the leak, was hit harder. Hundreds of surveys, and journalists over the years asking the people of her city questions seemed to change nothing.
How do such events affect the psyche of people living through them? Where does this anger get stored? These are questions she was left with. She feels that when trauma is left unaddressed, it is handed over to the next generation. In 1992, there were riots in Bhopal. That same house in Old Bhopal was a haven. Eventually Baaraan moved to Delhi to work as an illustrator. Meanwhile she painted her childhood memories. This became her first gallery show in Delhi, ‘House of Commons’ in 2010.
Thirty 11-inch aluminium cupboards were modelled on the trusty Godrej almaris typical of middle-income households. Inside and on the doors, she painted her memories of the circus in its off-hours. Viewers were encouraged to unlatch the cupboards and look inside playing with notions of inside and outside, privacy and invasion. “I have a vivid memory of an old caretaker and the tiger in the cage beside her lounging like mirror images. I began to have this sense of everybody as animals — caught in these power structures, not knowing what to do with ourselves,” she says. This shift permeates her subsequent works which are populated by hybrids.
Most of the last decade for Baaraan has been about managing anger. If anger is a generative force, art is a container for play and protest. In 2014 when half of her grandmother’s house was sold to a builder, she began obsessively photographing its remains and the streets of the surrounding old city. This spilled into disappearing sites in other cities and their disappearing inhabitants. So began a years-long journey that became her magnum opus: Hostile Witness.
The series is a profound archiving against erasure. Literally, through paintings of fragile buildings (in Bhopal, Delhi, Lucknow, Kolkata, Mumbai and Banaras); also their inhabitants, now chased out by time, bureaucracy, development — all the violence inherent in the plan of the city. Baaraan considers the site-locations as crucial to their stories of erasure — neglected and fetishized, these are places whose histories are easy to erase and too unimportant for the city archives. To crystallise what all this means, she and sculptor Moonis Ijlal invent a symbology — Jaabir, Zaagh-e-zaman, rifle-headed suits who are the henchmen of Jehel, Peshrau. The viewer is invited to reconstitute public history, using these symbols as tools, to find a way into minor histories of the country.
Of minor literatures Giles Deleuze and Felix Guattari write that may provide an escape, and spring from the desire to affirm an alternative. Hostile Witness is a staggering feat of minor literature. Each canvas dismantles the parts of a site, and rearranges them, with additional recovered parts and narratives, around the building’s physical facade. The idea is to reveal patterns in the formation of the site and self, and understand its often violent functioning. All the context of a weaponised state and an individual is restored to plain view and brought to the witness stand. ‘Hostile Witness’ is the embodiment of Baaraan’s journey from fear to fighting erasure.
Dozens of notebooks document her pilgrimages over the years to the sites. An entry from June 2017 which informs the canvas ‘Palace Talkies’ reads: ‘First came the fluttering of wings in my ears for some minutes once in a few days,’ chronicling a woman named R who believed that she was a bird. The accompanying page is occupied by a bird with a dusty pink dress, grey feathers, steely gaze and bent beak browned by dust. The journals also document genocides and ecocides, an archive of the moon marking the lunar phase at the time of various erasures (like the burning of a library, an incident of caste-based violence). Phool Bano (2022) rests alone in her unruly garden of dreams. In those pictures, she draws herself giving permission to rest, loiter, loll, lay in bed.
Currently Baaraan is exploring new iterations of ‘Change Room’, a travelling sound-installation that has been live since 2018 and exists as digital archive and on-site experiential installation. It is predated by Birdbox (2016), a bioscope on the inner lives of North Indian village girls. Change Room is an organic progression from Hostile Witness where she literally hands over the mic to people she would have painted. Similar questions: What do you fear? What do you desire? .
Since February 2023, she has been recording people singing songs when they feel alone or lonely. Baaraan is thinking for intimate reasons, about how a song can become a space to inhabit when your literal home is denied. The project “Library of Separation” intends to preserve song-stories of people separated from or failed by their land.
Baaraan’s way of seeing is integral to understanding many disparate threads that have brought India over decades to where it is now. Mostly, it is driven by her longing to see who will join her in taking the time to stop and listen.
—-Written by Riddhi Dastidar