A contemporary performance artist, Nikhil Chopra uses his art to examine postcolonial identity and sense of place through costume design, drawing and painting, as well as performances that usually portray one or more archetypal fictional characters inspired by the socio-political history of South Asia.
Chopra was born in Calcutta (now Kolkata) and received a BCom from Narsee Monjee College of Commerce & Economics, Mumbai, in 1995, before receiving a BFA in Painting from the Faculty of Fine Art, MS University, Vadodara (formerly Baroda), in 1999. He graduated with a second BFA from the Maryland Institute College of Art, Baltimore, in 2001, followed by an MFA from the Ohio State University in 2003. He was a performance art resident at Khoj International Artists’ Association, New Delhi, and spent a year in Berlin as a fellow of the Interweaving Performance Cultures programme. In 2014, he founded HH Art Spaces with his wife Madhavi Gore and French artist Romain Loustau.
Among Chopra’s earliest performance works and personas was Sir Raja III (2005), a figure based on the Orientalist stereotype of decadent Indian princes. Another character, introduced in 2007, is Yog Raj Chitrakar. As Chitrakar, Chopra wears nineteenth-century Western attire and draws large-scale images of cityscapes and seascapes inspired by the context and location of the performance, reinventing the archetype of the colonial-era traveller-artist.
For durational performances, such as The Black Pearl at the Havana Biennale in 2015 and Lands, Waters and Skies at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2019, Chopra often changes outfits and makeup as he goes through different personas while going about his daily rituals of bathing, sleeping and eating. He chooses to include these activities in the work as a way of contextualising the minor timeline of ordinary individual lives within a major historical narrative.
His work often critiques what he considers heteronormative and gendered social conventions. Many of the personas Chopra portrays are women, such as Jhansi in his performance Give Me your Blood and I Will Give You Freedom (2014). For Drawing a Line Through Landscape (2017), his work for documenta 14, Chopra’s performative nomadism became literal as he undertook a road journey from Athens to Kassel in a van while camping outdoors in a tent.
He made his debut in 2003 with the solo show, Sir Raja III. He subsequently participated in the group show Contemporaneity, International Video Art in Kyrgyzstan (2004) and three group shows in New York in 2005, 2006 and 2007. Chopra has also exhibited at Serpentine Gallery, London (2008); the Yokohama Triennale (2008); Whitworth Art Gallery, Manchester (2009); the Venice Biennale (2009); and the Goa Open Arts Festival (2020). He is represented by Chatterjee & Lal.
As of writing, the artist lives and works in Goa.
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