Bird, and other body events: Sonia Khurana, supported by Kiran Nadar Museum of art

Bird, and other body events: Sonia Khurana, supported by Kiran Nadar Museum of art

Sonia Khurana’s work has broken new ground by placing the body in an oblique relation to feminist aesthetics of the counter-spectacle, performative resistance and exploratory self-articulation.


Working with video, photography and performance, text and voice, her work is also a record of intimate gestures and actions in everyday life that would otherwise be lost in the slippages of accelerated time dictated by the logic of production and capital.


Khurana moves through the world’s spaces exploring her singular formulation of the melancholy of alienation and displacement, dereliction and abjection, space and time, memory and the body: a body that sings and dances, walks and lies down.

Through what she calls ‘corporeal eloquence’, she draws our attention to the psychic life of the embodied subject.


Khurana’s presentation at the Kochi Muziris Biennale juxtaposes her early Chaplinesque aspiration to flight in Bird [1999], with vignettes from what she broadly terms: body event [2006 to 2018] that traverse from flight, horizontality to finally, installing sleeping bodies on a vertical axis.


Bird [1999], one of the two installation by Sonia khurana, on view at kochi muziris biennale, shown in Coir godown, in Aspinwall, is her most iconic video wok. Filmed on Hi 8, processed in the early days of digital image production, ‘bird’ was made while studying in London but first shown in Delhi, where its form and its transgressive use of the naked female body was brought to the scene of contemporary Indian art.

 Bird is part ‘irreverent’, part hysterical and part abject. Artist’s naked body perches on a pedestal, tries to take flight, but loses footing. It is an enunciation of un-belonging and an assertion of post-colonial identity against the authority of Modernism, especially its sculpture tradition and use of the pedestal.


Sonia Khurana’s second work in Kochi biennale, shown on the ground floor of the admin block, in Aspinwall, multi-channel installation: Body Event II [2018], is a survey of a few of the iterations of her action of lying down, that has been performed in various spaces, and in different modalities around various cities, between 2006 to present.


Since the late nineties, Sonia has been exploring the poetic and political agency of ‘being’, navigating the overlapping boundary between the interior self and the outside world. Through the performative mode, she engages with constant negotiations between body and language. She works on the axis of a speaking with as well as of the placing of herself as embodied subject in a sphere where it can become a transformative gesture.


What we see is a traversal of artist’s prone body, from public spaces to the intimate interior, and the radical shift in axis from horizontal to vertical.

The gravity and pathos of Logic of Birds [2006] one of its earliest iterations of the lying down project in Barcelona, makes way for the political potency of the speaking-with-the-body-action in lying down on the ground [2006 to 2018] and the poetic turn of its recent modality of ‘lying down : ephemera’: a simulacrum of artist’s prone body as ‘residue’; reflective forms that spills out, to claim these spaces

 and mark absence at once.

In the text-based video, the movement of thought and language speak to both the processes of art and art’s action in public space, which is the space of encounter between the aesthetic and the political.


In the innermost section of this arrangement, the  installation: ‘and the one does not stir without the other’ [2013] Sonia’s long-term interest in psychological interiority and subjectivity is morphed through voice, text and moving image, into a reflection on two states of the mind and body-psyche. In a piece of text she wrote over several years, dormancy and vigilance are examined through sleeping/not sleeping.

Sonia Khurana works primarily with lens- based media, and draws upon diverging practices: photo, video, and the moving image, performance, text, drawing, sound, music, voice, and installation. Her art practice attempts to draw critically on references to cultural and gendered identity, and the psycho-social domain. Working with a discourse of power that is deliberately tangential, she structures the self through states of strangeness, alienation, displacement and embodiment. She strives to engage with constant negotiations between body and language, the self and the world. Through these deliberately poetic intimations, she tries to persistently explore and re-define the space of the political. 

Sonia studied art in London at the Royal College of Art, where she completed her Masters in 1999, and earlier in Delhi, at the Delhi College of art.  In 2002, Sonia did a two-year Residency Programme for practice-based research at the Rijksakademie VanBeeldende Kunsten in Amsterdam.  She is based in New Delhi.

Her works are in notable public and private collections, and have been shown widely and internationally since the late nineties; notable in seminal exhibitions such as ‘elles@ Pompidou’ (2009/2010), ‘Global Feminisms in Brooklyn (2007), Aichi triennale [2010], the Busan biennale[ 2004], Gwangju biennale [2008], West heavens, in Shanghai [2010], Liverpool Biennale [2010], haus de Kulturen der welt [2003] among several others.


Awards and recognition include: Research grant, Ministry of Education, The Netherlands, Research Grant, Werkleitz, Germany [2006],2003 Josine De Bruyn Kops Fonds for Artists, the Netherlands, INLAKS Grant for Royal College Of Art, in London.

Recent talks and teaching include at Museum of Modern art, New York, Austin University, New Castle school of Art and design, U.K., Kala Bhawan, Shantinketan, Drik/Pathshala, Dhaka, Shiv Nadar University, New Delhi, Whitechapel Gallery,  Courtald Institute, The Paul Mellon Center for British art, and Royal college of art, London, Heidelberg University, Rhode island School of art and Design, Providence.

She lives and works in New Delhi.

“Sonia Khurana’s practice is distinctly pronounced towards the affect and the intensity

of being, touching upon the intangible sensations and psychic energies of human life.

For her, transgressive acts such as lying down on the ground in public places become

ways of negotiating the presence of the self in the world, simultaneously releasing the

fear/anxiety that underlies the instability of existence. Thrown into these unanticipated

situations, amidst her spectators too, there is a certain social anxiety about how to

behave, whether to laugh, gaze or leave..

For Sonia these small, private acts transform public and social spaces, through silent

acts of protest and symbolic resistance. Especially in cultures where the presence of

women remains subdued and restricted in public spaces, her performance may be

perceived as a deviant act.

The workings of her mind reveal her proclivity, for instance, to achieve the economy

of form. Perhaps the need for a gestalt or constellation of works arises from the

sparseness of the quintessential image.

Over the years, her predilection towards abstraction and the need to pare and prune

the chosen image has become a predominant and marked attribute of Sonia’s

practice. This can be traced back to her initial years of training as a painter, where

Sonia was more inclined to evacuate the painted image, taking out from the figure, so

as to work with its symbolic trace or residue. This temperament is revealed in her recent

works as well, and aligns itself with her hesitation to say things in a one-line statement,

preferring to speak in a circle which is less didactic, and allows for several vantage

points, leaving the work open to inferences.”

Roobina Karode: excerpts from essay: Sonia Khurana: Bringing Worlds into the World for the book:

Seven Contemporaries, published by Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, 2013



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