Noopur Desai

[en]countering from a distance




To counter is being in opposition, to contradict or to take an action in response to something. But, it could also mean an encounter with something that may lead to something new. Through my recent introduction to theoretical texts from Asia, Africa and Latin America, I am exposed to a wide range of ideas that enabled me to see counter-narratives challenging my existing world views and perspectives. While my training primarily focused on western ideas and perspectives in social sciences and visual arts, my exposure to these theoretical texts provided an alternative vision of looking into the arts and culture. Drawing from these texts in the context of Hakara’s current edition, I would like to ponder upon two aspects: translation and visuality. I consider translation is an act that allows oneself to encounter the other, establish interrelationship between texts and come up with alternative world views. Visuality refers to ways of seeing and naturalization of perceptual understanding.

While building a counter-narrative, scholarship from the global south (Oyewumi 1997) recently emphasized two points: the act of translation which interrogates the social construction of gender and the aspect of visuality that is instrumental in the assertion of subjectivity.

Translating text

Various categories such as gender, patriarchy, visuality have been looked at critically today and are being countered from various disciplinary perspectives. One of the areas is to revisit translations that have contributed in formulating our ideas about the non-western cultures in recent times. Drawing upon the colonial translations of narratives from Yoruba culture in Africa, the discussions on African Studies challenge the understanding of cultural practices from the feminist perspective of the West. The western translations misrepresented the culture and its gender-free language as they comprehended these practices from Western understanding of patriarchy and feminist studies. These new (en)counters have helped me revisit or re-look at the philosophical and political undercurrents present in various textual and visual material. Translations may reinforce set notions about culture and society and revisiting them can become an act of countering them. It would take place through confrontations and exchanges between languages, cultures, beliefs and values. These confrontations not only transport the texts across linguistic and cultural boundaries, but also, lead to the emergence of challenging narratives in the form of a poem, a play, a short story or a visual work. And, sometimes they bring about awareness of something that may have been overlooked until now.

Here, I would like to refer to three pieces from हाकारा । hākārā’s fifth edition, /भिडणे | /counter.  First, the Marathi translation of Abhishek Majumdar’s Hindi play, Kaumudi conjures up the tradition of argument and counter-argument from the Sanskrit epic into a contemporary narrative. The story woven around the relationship between a father and a son is set within the context of vernacular theatrical practices. The play, in the form of a modern commentary, is a conversation about many other conversations that addresses complex unanswered questions and proposes alternative views. Another layer is added through its Marathi translation by Kaustubh Naik. It re-locates the text’s Sanskritised Hindi vocabulary in the form of performance in the Goan context of traveling theatre companies through the act of Marathi translation of Kaumudi.

Second instance is a section from Ashlesha Gore’s translation of To Kill a Mocking Bird. Interspersed with the accounts of young protagonists Scout and Jame, the translation brings out confrontations between the individual and society as well as social structures and judicial systems in early 20th C. In the backdrop of great depression and racial discrimination, the kids come across social anomalies, raise pertinent questions and act in most unusual way in order to make sense of their reality.

Third, Sanika Dhakephalkar’s translation of Marathi poems written by Chhaya Koregaonkar, an Ambedkarite poet, confronts the reality of subjugation around her through her poems. Coming from her own life experience, the poems are reflections on her vision for the future rather than merely sharing the experience of oppression. The non-ambiguous nature of these poems is foregrounded with the layers of meanings added by Sanika’s translation with its encounter with another language.

Countering visuality

The other aspect that I would like to bring to notice is that of counter-visuality (Mirzoeff, 2011) that not only challenges the dominant ways of seeing and processes of image making, but most importantly the authority to produce meaning. It counters the dominant view of reality by unfolding alternative visual practices. The idea of counter-visuality refers to aspects such as visual image, spatial arrangements or human body. A complex interplay between various formal elements leads to alternative ways of visual imagination. In Hakara’s current edition, we come across these alternative ways (en)countering each other from abstraction to figurative and from documentary photography to popular imagery.

Chetan Mevada’s geometrical representations of urban spaces indicate towards three dimensionality of these spaces with the use of folded papers. The surface of his prints carry anatomical and architectural forms with multi-point perspective. His vivid use of structural patterns flattens the surface while directing every object and shape towards the viewer. In contrast, Obayya Puttur’s pictorial surface is filled with multiplying human bodies engaged in everyday acts of cleaning, traveling, walking or praying. These human figures shift from monochromatic towards vibrant colour blotches creating narratives of masses depicted in a repetitive mode.   

The discussion around the aspect of visuality countering the normative ways of seeing and perceiving, whether it is the human body or pictorial image, is crucial in case of Divya Pandey’s art practice. Here, it demonstrates that the ways of seeing are different, but at the same time, the emphasis given to visuality is different in the West and in Asian or African cultures. For example, the body as a site of seeing in Indian context. Divya Pandey, in her series Everyday is a Holiday Somewhere, employs mythical narratives and layers them with playful female imagery. Referencing from multiple sources like ancient sculptures or popular prints, Divya’s gaudy palette and female figures with multiple arms or legs are employed to visualize movement and dynamism. These headless figures posing like reclining Vishnu or Botticelli’s Venus come across as quirky representations of artist’s self that contrasts the preconceived notions of female representation and femininity.

Several contemporary artists such as Asim Waqif, Prabhakar Kamble, Amol Patil, Prasanta Ghosh are working towards reconfiguring visuality through acts of paintings, performances, dialogues and other innovative art forms, imageries and materials while counteracting conventional ways of seeing and art production. Unsaid, a series of photographs and interviews by Prasanta Ghosh, brings forth the cultural and caste practices that have remained invisible until now. Interpreting the death ritual in a visual narrative through Unsaid, the viewer encounters a community and their everyday life on the fringes of the human civilization. Though there is an absence of discussion of caste in the review of Wasteland exhibition, it does touch upon the alternative ways of looking at ‘junk’ or converting the non-material into the medium of art making. Through recording the everyday acts of cutting, stitching and mapping in a conflict zone in her video works Home/Front and Lakeer, Shruti Mahajan situates herself within fragile landscapes of memories and geographies while inquiring the idea of nation and nationhood.

These artists and their artistic engagements have contributed in shaping new visual vocabulary by diverging from schematic visual motifs and bringing the art works out of the sacrosanct aesthetic spaces. The process involved countering and questioning the older ways in order to create new ways of visual imagination. In his critical piece Bol ke Lab Azaad Hain Tere: Locating the Counter, Vikki Nanda observes, “counter, though apparently negative, since it has sense of negation in it, is profoundly positive in that it reveals that part of human, which must be defended”. This repudiation of ideas and arguments may lead to newer ways of ideating and thinking as could also be seen in the Marathi translation of the conversation between two British philosophers, Terry Eagleton and Roger Scruton. They come from opposite ideological positions, but with rigorous understanding of argumentation that shapes a discursive space in public sphere for culture and tradition. With हाकारा । hākārā’s current edition, our attempt is to create such a discursive space in an online format where various acts of counter and encounter take place in the form of visual as well as written texts.



  • Nicholas Mirzoeff, The right to look. A Counterhistory of Visuality, Duke University Press 2011
  • Oyeronke Oyewumi, The Invention of Women: Making an African Sense of Western Gender Discourses, University of Minnesota Press 1997

Image courtesy:

Cover page: Divya Pandey, Obayya Puttur and Anju Chandran

Section images: Naeem Mohaiemen, Ranjita Singh, Prasanta Ghosh, Aaditi Joshi, Shruti Mahajan and Divya Pandey

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