“Decay is a type of preservation”: Asim Waqif

Textual content by Anish Gawande. Pictures by Asad Sheikh.

Asim Waqif in his Delhi studio.

I present up at Asim Waqif’s door in Vasant Kunj in Delhi, solely to be advised that he’s at his “workshop” within the constructing reverse. Struggling to comprise a chuckle — I’ve by no means heard of an artist’s studio being known as a workshop earlier than — I stroll over. I’m not the primary to make this error this morning; Verve’s photographer Asad Sheikh had additionally proven up at his residence a couple of minutes earlier (earlier than being promptly escorted to Waqif by his youthful daughter).

As I enter the residence — the third and smallest area he’s operated out of after the pandemic — it turns into clear why “workshop” could be a extra applicable moniker for Waqif’s studio. A large assortment of objects are strewn throughout the 4 rooms, with works in various levels of completion stacked up on tables and in opposition to partitions. Lots of of instruments are stuffed into drawers, mendacity on chairs and occupying delight of place on counter areas. Crowbars and hammers, screwdrivers and indistinguishable items of flat steel all come collectively in a melange that provides a revealing glimpse right into a trademark dwelling, respiratory model cultivated over the past twenty years.

Sheets of steel strewn round in Waqif’s studio.

Maybe it’s apt that Waqif thrives in such a setting. He studied on the College of Planning and Structure in Delhi after which labored as an artwork director on movie units and as a documentary filmmaker earlier than lastly taking up the mantle as a full-time “artist”. His follow spans a variety of disciplines — from artwork and structure to design — and has pushed conversations round what constitutes public area and the way we occupy these. He’s additionally fairly good at what he does: the rationale I’m right here is as a result of Waqif is the recipient of the primary Asia Arts Pathbreaker Award being offered by the Asia Society India Centre in February.

As we meander throughout rooms, he tells me about how his first job after school was as an apprentice at an old-school carpenter’s workshop the place he was “taught the way to keep instruments earlier than being allowed to make use of them”. I ask him what his instrument of alternative is. The reply comes right away: “Knives!” With a gleam in his eyes, he pulls out a formidable assortment: scythes historically used to hack by way of fields or forests, curved saws to chop the rounded edges of bamboo, pruning shears with shorter blades however longer and sturdier handles. They’ve been collected from all around the world and utilized in all kinds of initiatives over time. His favorite? A fragile, extremely sharp Japanese knife. “That,” he assures me, “is for sushi.”

Glimpses of the artist’s assortment of knives.

Waqif is greatest recognized for his work with bamboo. After his first set up baans (2005) — as a part of a residency at Khoj Studios and prompted by the Delhi-based arts organisation’s director Pooja Sood — he has gone on to make Durga Pujo pandals out of intricate bamboo mesh in Kolkata and (most just lately) a spectacular bamboo shelter for the Hayward Gallery terrace in London as a part of the celebrated Bagri Basis Fee. His most formidable venture, nevertheless, is a bamboo plantation in Sylhet, Bangladesh known as Bamsera Bamsi. Supported by the Samdani Artwork Basis, the plantation — now coming into its seventh 12 months — is a dwelling sculpture that Waqif returns to periodically to mould and form into newer varieties, crafting bridges and constructions and shapes right into a grove that retains getting denser.

Finally, what occurs to all these large-scale installations? “My installations take actually lengthy to place collectively — after which they’re disassembled and offered to scrap or secondary markets. I like working this fashion, it’s higher than making one thing that lasts without end and ever,” says Waqif.

Left to proper: A steel sheet that has been reshaped through repeated knife thrusts on its floor; A prototype of an set up.

A contentious negotiation with the fabric he makes use of is on the centre of Waqif’s work. As an architect, he frolicked visiting a wide range of stepwells throughout Rajasthan — a ardour that’s continued, albeit in a morphed type. With bamboo, Waqif has been on the forefront of a analysis venture began in 2005 that appears on the “prototyping of non-chemical bamboo-seasoning methods based mostly on vernacular practices within the North-East of India”. Bamboo, Waqif explains, could be pure — however the poisonous merchandise used to deal with it to forestall it from decaying have a major adverse impression on the atmosphere. The ecological sensitivity intrinsic to his follow, then, calls for an moral dedication in direction of discovering an answer.

There’s no bamboo round proper now, nevertheless. “Please write about that,” Waqif mumbles, including, solely half-jokingly, that he’s “bored with being known as a ‘bamboo artist’ in all of the items written on me”. The dimensions of the residence, and the monumental scale of most of his works involving bamboo, imply that Waqif’s installations are all site-specific. The workshop, as an alternative, is full of battered sheets of galvanised metal sporting shades of azure blue.

Cyanotype photograms on galvanized metal — Waqif’s signature work with steel.

Created in collaboration with an area trunk maker in accordance with paper fashions common by Waqif, these sheets are a part of a brand new physique of labor that he’s enjoying round with. As soon as bent into form, these sheets — resembling origami mountain folds — are then formed utilizing Waqif’s assortment of instruments earlier than getting colored utilizing a outstanding photosensitive cyanotype course of within the darkroom throughout the workshop. The result’s stunning sculptural varieties washed over with putting, virtually fluorescent tints. In fact, as with all the things Waqif does, the aesthetic exists primarily on the service of the political. With bamboo, Waqif turns to the politics of sustainability. With rubber waste, he’s making a press release on consumption. He remarks playfully, “Folks with extra privilege create extra trash. So, I need to see if I can put some trash again of their houses in some form or type — that’s what I’m attempting to do with the sculptures.”

Waqif is deeply troubled by consumption and jogs my memory that tuberculosis was as soon as known as consumption as a result of the illness noticed the physique eat itself. Within the fashionable world, this analogy runs deeper: we’re consumed by what we devour. His work extensively reuses supplies that will in any other case be thought of nugatory — Bordel Monstre, his first exhibition in Europe on the Palais de Tokyo in Paris, used bits and items left over from earlier exhibitions; All we go away behind are the reminiscences, offered on the 8th Asia Pacific Triennial of Up to date Artwork in Brisbane used reclaimed timber from demolition websites throughout town; and Fairly Wrecked on the Chicago Structure Biennial used discarded rubber tubing from the Chicago Useful resource Middle.

Left to proper: Waqif together with his youthful daughter; A henna drawing made by his daughters and their cousins on his left hand.

The dialog now shifts to the lounge of the house that we now have walked over from. Faculties have been shut due to the biting chilly and Waqif’s youthful daughter’s Zoom class has simply ended. Her doting father — whose most prized art work is a henna drawing made by her in cahoots together with her older sister and cousins on his hand — has been summoned again.

Sipping on a cup of chai that’s simply been supplied to me, I ask whether or not Waqif has learn the ebook I despatched over once we first spoke a number of weeks in the past. He hasn’t. The ebook in query is E. M. Cioran’s outstanding A Brief Historical past of Decay, written after World Struggle II, and I’m curious to delve deeper into Waqif’s aesthetic and theoretical engagements with the tortuous, advanced methods wherein supplies come aside at their seams.

“Decay and destruction often have a adverse connotation in individuals’s minds. However if you wish to construct one thing, you must break one thing. Breaking and demolishing can really be constructive processes,” Waqif muses. “To me, decay is a type of preservation — like fermentation. It can save you issues by rotting them.” This fascination with rot informs Waqif’s work in Delhi, which — with its consistently shifting demographics and structural transformations — presents a super canvas for each statement and creation. As one a part of town falls into disuse, one other takes on a brand new lifetime of its personal, igniting the artist’s curiosity in deserted areas. We share our experiences as two migrants to town — him, an older one from Hyderabad, and me, the newer entrant from Mumbai.

Clockwise from high left: A framed assortment of bugs. An animal bone collected throughout Waqif’s treks. Honeybee hives from Waqif’s residence advanced; the oil portray (under) is by Meenal Singh, Waqif’s classmate from the College of Planning and Structure in Delhi. A bamboo rhizome, together with rocks from rivers, are positioned on an outdated Enbee speaker refurbished by Waqif.

Animatedly, Waqif factors to how zoning laws in Delhi (launched in 1961) prohibiting blended land use had remodeled the character of historic markets. Whereas beforehand shopkeepers used to reside above their shops, a ban on industrial institutions working in areas marked for residential use reconfigured dwelling and dealing patterns within the metropolis. These laws had been overturned in 2006, leading to one more churn — the newest amongst an extended litany consistently reshaping town over centuries, every obscuring however not completely erasing the one which got here earlier than.

As we wrap up our interview, I pause to ask how his perception in regeneration and reuse seeps from the creative and theoretical into the private. Waqif admits that he’s a hoarder, however insists that he has no sentimental attachments to the issues he hoards. In reality, he tells me that over the course of transferring to the smaller workshop after the pandemic, he gave away dozens of kilos of fine details to the kabadiwala. At this level, I sense that parental obligations are tugging Waqif away from our dialog. I ask my last query: what’s the one factor he’s given away that he nonetheless misses?

“As soon as, I exchanged a pair of sneakers for a sheepskin, on a trek. I then used that sheepskin to make a sculpture — and offered it. I miss that sheepskin.”

Anish Gawande is a author and curator. He’s additionally the founding father of the Dara Shikoh Fellowship, an interdisciplinary arts residency, and Pink Record India, the nation’s first archive of politicians supporting LGBTQIA+ rights.

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