Adivasi and Dalit struggle for dignity and recognition has been accompanied by an effervescence of cultural production. This panel explores 'art' as a semiotic and political intervention that refigures existing relations of exploitation generating new meanings, political identities and connections.
The growth and diversification of social movements and civil society activism for empowerment among those historically marginalised and subordinated as 'untouchable' (dalits) or 'tribal' (adivasis) has been accompanied by an effervescence of cultural production. Visual art, music, dance forms, artefacts, religious or heroic iconography and mythic representations all connect to a politics of recognition and of rebellion. Assembling semiotic elements (artefacts, images, dance, mythologies) in reconfigured settings — special events and new audiences — specifically decontextualizes them from former relationships of exploitation and caste or gender subordination. As 'art' these performances break the nexus of social relationships and ritual structures, generating new meanings and changing the semiotic process itself in ways that the panel will explore. Dalit or Adivasi 'art' then becomes a field of meaning, authorship and political intent. The processes of cultural production are differently oriented among Adivasi and Dalit groups and have different social effects, which the panel will consider. Common to all is the production of 'art' (in the broadest sense) as a means (intentionally or otherwise) to forge new non-local relationships, to connect to power through works that travel within national and increasingly international fields of consumption, as well as within local social activism. But if 'art' is a means of forging effective political identities, it is also implicated in the complex internal group and gender dynamics of Dalit and Adivasi movements in ways that have been subject to ethnographic description.