Artist Sajan Mani, a native of Kannur, has won the prestigious Berlin Art Prize for visual arts, becoming the first Indian artist to win the honour. He has been studying and practicing art in Berlin for the past four years.
The Berlin Art Prize is an independent award for contemporary art, open to all Berlin-based artists. Every year, a select five-member jury from Berlin’s art scene awards the prize using an anonymous jurying process. All nominees are presented to the public in a group exhibition accompanied by a program of public events, including readings, performances, discussions, and workshops. The Berlin Art Prize is awarded to three of the nominees, who receive an invitation to a residency, award money, and a trophy designed on the occasion by a Berlin-based artist. Four Berliners, all cultural producers themselves, launched the Berlin Art Prize in 2013. From the beginning, they aimed to create a community-oriented award, beyond the pre-existent art world economy.
Sajan Mani is an intersectional artist hailing from a family of rubber tappers in a remote village in the northern part of Keralam, South India. His work voices the issues of marginalized and oppressed peoples of India, via the “Black Dalit body” of the artist. Mani’s performance practice insists upon embodied presence, confronting pain, shame, fear, and power. His personal tryst with his body as a meeting point of history and present opens onto “body” as socio-political metaphor. Several of Mani’s performances employ the element of water to address ecological issues particularly related to the backwaters of Kerala, as well as to the common theme of migration. His exhibition last year at the Nome Gallery in Berlin titled ‘Alphabet of Touch >< Overstretched Bodies and Muted Howls for Songs’ was noted for the multi-layered narration of his personal history interspersed with the intangible history of the Dalits spoken about by poet Poikayil Appachan. His earlier works consider the correspondence between animals and humans, and the politics of space from the perspective of indigenous cosmology. Unlearning Lessons from my Father (2018), made with the support of the Asia Art Archive, excavates the artist’s biography in relation to colonial history, botany, and material relations. Sajan has participated in international biennales, festivals, exhibitions, and residencies.
“Everything is performance. For me, the line between art and life is so fluid and indistinct. Caste, which is a historical truth and everyday reality for most in India, is the subject matter of most of my works. I want to push the boundaries of performance art and prompt viewers to question the existing social norms”, the artist had quoted about his art practice. Sajan Mani had gone to Berlin, after completing BFA, to do MA in spatial strategies at Weißensee Kunsthochschule. After the completion of the course, he decided to stay back on a freelance artist visa. It is indeed an honor and such avenues for Indian artists is a cause for celebration. PhotoMail wishes the artist more success and recognition.