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Shot in a city on the outskirts of New Delhi, India, Death at a 30 Degree Angle is a fictional vignette shot in the atelier of Ram Sutar, an octogenarian sculptor who is renowned in India for monumental statues of politicians and national heroes. I came across Mr. Sutar in the summer of 2011, while scouting around for locations to shoot the video.
In the original version a small time politician commissions a statue of himself and can't decide how he wants to be represented. He experiments with different costumes and postures while consulting his cronies who stand around him, ever ready to prop up his sense of self. What was intended to be a purely fictional work eventually became a dialog between the aspirations of this fictive upstart, a seasoned sculptor's ideas about portraiture and the engulfing presence of the entire pantheon of Indian political figures that surround them in this vast museum like atelier.
Today, statues of erstwhile leaders, rulers and heroes lie scattered in graveyards and public squares all over the world. Communist leaders of all sizes, colonial explorers with hands thrust forward in righteous motivation, glowering facsimiles of African dictators made in Korea, fists, boots, disembodied heads, all lie relegated to remote tourist parks or to overgrown backyards of palace museums. These are objects that once controlled and impressed upon public space and imagination, but overnight became mere proxies, subjected to torture, ridicule and public vengeance.
Inspired by The Emperor, a seminal account by Polish journalist Ryszard Kapuściński on the rise and decline of the court of Ethiopia’s emperor Haile Sellasie, I have long imagined creating my own ‘Big Man’ and imbuing him with particular insecurities. The one, which is most intriguing to me, is his obsession with posterity. His preoccupation with the monumental edifices and self-portraits he wants to leaves behind.
This premeditated attempt at creating history of a spectacular nature has had its most recent manifestation in the activities of a state minister of one of the poorest states in India. Mayawati, who comes from a working class Dalit family, rose to power in a short period of time and recently commissioned over 50 statues of herself and her mentors to be erected all over the state capital. Her widely publicized point of contention with the sculptor has been the inclusion of the handbag she carries, in her stone avatar. Dozens of her statues were recalled when upon unveiling them at a public ceremony, she was horrified to see her trademark handbag missing. For the past 10 years Mr. Ram Sutar has been the primary architect of Mayawati’s fantasies.