The Black Pearl: The City from the River

Alchemy, Southbank Centre, London

May 2016
Duration: 60 Hours
Costume Design: Isha Alhuwalia
Make up: Priya Lisa Gonsalves
Photography: Shivani Gupta

Performance artist Nikhil Chopra brings his unique style of storytelling to Southbank Centre this month with a major new commission, The Black Pearl: The City to the River. Chopra takes up residency at the Royal Festival Hall, where he will spend 98 hours living, sleeping, eating and working in costume in an open set, as visitors observe the live creation of a large-scale artwork. The glass façade of the 5th floor of the Royal Festival Hall acts as the canvas for an extensive drawing made from oil pastels and lipstick that will be visible from the street and river below. Audiences can watch the artwork unfold from Thursday 26 May to Monday 30 May and the commission will remain in place until 1 September 2016. The event is free to attend.

The Goa-based artist will arrive at Southbank Centre by boat, following a 24 hour journey along London’s waterways in which he will capture the sights and sounds of the city through drawings, photographs and recordings. These elements will form part of the final artwork, which will also be influenced by Chopra’s personal experiences and the cultural history of his homeland. Themes such as the colonial relationship between Britain and India, how Britishness has redefined itself over the past 50 years and the influence of Chopra’s Punjabi roots will come together in a fascinating fusion of ideas.

Throughout the duration of the event Chopra will blend live art with performance, playing the character of a ‘Punjabi aunty’. The performance artist – whose artistic practice ranges between live art, theatre, painting, photography, sculpture and installations – is known for his use of characters to express ideas about times, places and identities. For his Southbank Centre commission Chopra’s persona is called ‘The Black Pearl’, a title that has historically been given to people for their exceptional talent, while also referring to the colour of their skin. The performance will materialise in slow, considered movements, adding another layer of intrigue for audiences watching the spectacle.

The Black Pearl forms part of Southbank Centre’s Alchemy festival, the biggest celebration of South Asian culture outside the subcontinent (20-30 May). Other visual art highlights during the festival include a free exhibition that tells the story of home-grown British Asian phenomenon Desi Pubs (16- 30 May). For over 30 years, the Black Country’s ailing pubs have been salvaged by the Asian community and reinvented to combine the classics of the English pub with Punjabi food and Bhangra music. As well as bringing the venues back to life, ‘Desi’ pubs have created a new type of social space for Asian communities. Held in the Central Bar of the Royal Festival Hall, Desi Pubs showcases the work of six artists and six pubs. Additional free exhibitions include: Marigold, a series of pop-up art installations by Geetika Alok; Towards Marg, featuring photography exploring South Asian LGBT identities in the UK’s political and cultural scenes; RPM, a digital exploration of Karachi and its charged urban landscape using photography, video and music, presented by Salt Arts; and the UK premiere of Burka Avenger, the hit Pakistani animation series about Jiya – teacher by day and superhero by night whose weapons are books and pens.

-From the Press Release

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