Artists at Alchemy

Sunday, May 1, 2016 - 10:27

The most exciting artists from South Asia and the UK gathered in 2016 for Alchemy.  Introducing India’s Nikhil Chopra, Pakistan’s Mahvash Waqar and Mawaan Rizwan, from the UK… 

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Emerging from a thriving Indian art scene, Nikhil Chopra creates performance art using different personae. They are often connected to a place and its history and explore his own desires and struggles – he explains, ‘I become a big mash-up of personal and collective memories’. 

Nikhil Chopra

Could you tell me about the character who will come to Southbank Centre, and the ideas they will be exploring in your piece for Alchemy, The Black Pearl?

In London, I am thinking a lot about the South Asian community and how Britishness has redefined itself over the past 50 years. I am also thinking about my Punjabi roots, and how Punjabi culture blurs the boundary between India and Pakistan. The persona I play at Southbank Centre will probably evoke the Punjabi in me... 

Your work takes a long time to create – how long will you be in residence at Southbank Centre? 

I am planning a 78 hour-long performance. I will spend 24 hours on a boat meandering through the canals and end up at Southbank Centre, where I will spend the next two days making drawings on the building’s large glass façade.

The art you make examines the colonial relationship between Britain and India. Why is art a good tool to use when thinking about history and society?

Images are powerful and as the colonized gentleman I have often played, I have felt as if I were reclaiming the way in which we think about history. I grew up in quite an anglophile home. Learning to speak English properly was more important than learning Punjabi. These performances have given me the means to exorcise my demons and confront ghosts from my past. 

Do you have any tips for audiences who have never experienced performance art before?

Come back. Once will not be enough. 

Performing vocals in progressive band Laal since it was founded in 2007, Mahvash Waqar is also known as a radio jockey in Pakistan. Her tastes ranging from Whitney Houston, to The Doors, to Pakistani artists Zeb and Haniya, she has been called a ‘human encyclopedia of music’. 

Mahvash Waqa

Laal creates music based on revolutionary poetry by socialist writers such as Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Habib Jalib and Ahmed Faraz. Could you tell me about some of the social, political and economic issues that inspire you?

The band concentrates on issues that affect well-being and living conditions. We want to uphold the tenets of democracy, civil rights, tolerance of religion, culture and class, and progressive thought. We feel these issues contribute to the advancement of a just and free society. 

What does each of your bandmates bring to Laal?

Taimur composes most of the songs and uses his theatre background to add the drama and oomph to our performances. Haider brings the haunting sounds of his bansari, or flute, to our songs, and I like to believe I bring a feminine softness to our otherwise all-male ensemble… 

From a private hobby, music became your profession. How does it feel to sing on stage to so many people?

For a shy person like me, it took a bit of getting used to. I still feel a little nervous, especially when there are only men in the crowd and I seem to be the only woman in the venue! But seeing the audience respond so wholeheartedly to our performance makes me ease up. Plus the fact that we all have so much fun performing and have been together for all these years helps me feel comfortable on stage and concentrate on what I’m there to do – make music!

Originally finding fame as the creator of a popular vlog series on YouTube, comedian Mawaan Rizwan is in residence for Alchemy. He  appears with his show Gender Neutral Concubine Pirate, and hosts cabaret salon The Weirdo’s Ball. 

Mawaan Rizwan

We’ve never met a gender-neutral concubine pirate before – can you explain what we should expect?

It’s basically me wearing a sparkly pirate dress and glam-rock makeup, kicking some shit about on stage.

It’s a mixture of stand-up and clowning. It’s physical, playful and surreal with some dark and confessional anecdotes. Also, I get through an entire packet of baby wipes in a single show. Enough said. 

Tell us a secret – what’s the best way to make someone laugh? 

The willingness to be honest. Honest to the point it hurts. It’s vulnerability and humility that connects us all as humans. But if that doesn’t work, I find wearing a mankini helps. 

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