Kush Badhwar

Archival and Museum Fellowships

Grant Period: Over one year

Kush Badhwar is an artist/filmmaker based in Mumbai, working across mediums including, but not limited to photography, video and community art practice. He is interested in shifting definitions of traditional mass media, collaborating with unorthodox actors and using artistic interventions for improvised and informal political engagements. Examples of his work include reinterpreting mythology, folk tales, etc.

Kush’s interest in working with Gaddar’s (pseudonym for the charismatic poet and political activist for Telangana) archives grew as a result of his Word Sound Power project (WSP). WSP formed in 2010 is a New Delhi based collective that constructs multi-media collaborations with South Asian artists on issues of social justice. Armed with a mobile studio, WSP travels across South Asia recording sounds and songs of resistance and creating new music with revolutionary singers. Every project culminates in a musical album and documentary and the whole process is filmed by Kush Badhwar.

The first project of WSP’s called Bant Singh (2010), was a film on the iconic Dalit Sikh singer, CPI-ML member from Mansa, Punjab. The second, called Blood Earth (2011),was shot in Kucheipadar, a Khonda tribal village in South Orissa, where large deposits of bauxite was discovered in the mid 1990s. Blood Earth explored the relationship between music, struggle and cultural responses to violence through word and sound. The third in the series, which never got started, was a film on Gaddar, the revolutionary folk singer who has sung for the upliftment of the Dalits in Andhra Pradesh and in favour of a separate state for Telangana. Kush who had filmed the earlier two projects with WSP, now wants to work on an independent project with Gaddar.

Gummadi Vittal Rao (1949) took the name Gaddar from the pre-independence Gaddar party (that opposed British colonial rule) in Punjab in the early 1900s. Self imposed in exile, the Telegu Balladeer Gaddar began spreading the need for a separate Telangana state through his songs at political rallies from the 1960s. He came into prominence through his association with B Narasing Rao, a director, composer and producer of parallel films in Andhra Pradesh. It was Narasing Rao who encouraged Gaddar to combine literary text and music as a medium for social justice and resistance. His song Amma Telanganama Akali Kekala Gaanama has been selected as the state song of Telangana.

‘Live performance’ is the primary mode of Gaddar’s practice, as he draws on folk traditions of the region and appropriates them for revolutionary purposes. Travelling, meeting, connecting and singing for people face to face, has made recording and documenting his work a secondary concern. Gaddar’s nephew however, inspired by his uncle’s blend of creativity and ideology began documenting his work, and over the last 30 years has built a significant archive of audio, video, photographs, books and pamphlets of the art forums, movements and political struggles that Gaddar has been a part of. This archive now exists as a hugely important, yet completely unknown realm of knowledge around Telangana as a region, culture, movement and struggle.

Kush hopes to work around this private archive, together with the material that B Narasing Rao has collected over the years. Kush’s intention is to enlist Narasing Rao’s help in gaining access and navigating the archive, as well as translating the material for him. Kush will use Gaddar’s nephew’s archive as a starting point for exploring other archives that relate to the subject; as well as thinking/meditating on larger concerns around ‘archives’ and the ‘creation of archives’. Some of the questions he will dwell on during the course of his research are –

  • What are the different definitions of an archive and what factors does one consider when envisioning an archive?
  • Is the form of an archive determined by the material one finds?
  • How does one ‘read’/interpret an archive? Can ‘reading’ in itself be a preparation for thinking about archives?
  • Do archives have different personalities? Do they bear personal traces of the archivist who has put the archive together?
  • What form can Gaddar’s archive take?
  • How will the nature of Gaddar’s archive change, once statehood has been achieved for a separate Telangana?
  • Is it possible to remain an ambivalent archivist when dealing with such an ideologically invested subject such as Gaddar?

Kush hopes to engage with this archive artistically, and the interventions, he says, could be documented in the form of photography, text, video, recorded audios of political discourse, conversations & interviews ; or, it could take the form of a self -published book that will reflect the time spent in the region. He then hopes to re-introduce the archive created by him into the original archive to see the possibilities of reading it differently post his intervention. Kush’s ultimate aim, he says, is to re-learn the process of film-making through this engagement.