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Nikhil Chopra

Indian Contemporary Artist
Born 1974, Kolkata
The artist lives and works in Mumbai


Nikhil Chopra is a performance artist who actively collapses the boundary between theatre, performance, painting, live art, sculpture and photography. Using personal and collective cultural history, Chopra tries to contest the role of autobiography, politics of posing, self-portraiture and identity formation.



Master of Fine Arts, Ohio State University, Ohio, USA


Bachelor of Fine Arts, Maryland Institute College of Art, Maryland, USA


Faculty of Fine Arts, Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, Vadodara, Gujarat, India


N. M. College of Commerce & Economics, Mumbai

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Live performance is critical to his practice

Nikhil Chopra’s art defies being strictly categorised. His practice involves elements of theatre with him assuming different roles and characters with elaborate sets and costumes, changes done in full public view, enacting everyday activities like washing, sleeping, shaving and dressing, while drawing and sketching. These props, set design, and the costumes, left as remnants of the performance, resemble still life paintings. Again photography is used as a medium of documenting the memorable transformations in his performance art.

Nikhil Chopra, Yog Raj Chitrakar: Memory Drawing X, Part 2 (installation detail), 2010, graphite drawing and pastels on canvas, vintage dress; showcase containing toilet articles and charcoal pencils; inkjet prints on cotton paper, dimensions variable.

Costume change in full public view. Documentation of Sir Raja III visits New York City, 2008, Chatterjee & Lal with Thomas Erben Gallery, New York, July 2008.

Everyday activities in slow, deliberate movements become ritualistic in his performance

Nikhil Chopra’s execution of everyday mundane tasks suggests a ritualising of behaviour, exemplifying the symbolic and spiritual in it. For instance, the very act of shaving the head is associated with the death of a family member and has mystical associations with the shedding of the ego.
All the characters that the artist dons, they engage themselves in a common activity of drawing—sketching on paper, on the wall or on movable boards, as a form of measure of time.

The obsessive charcoal drawings in his Blackening series, 2012, emphasise the studio as a place where an artist's internal anxieties and struggles are confronted and resolved. Charcoal as a medium incites associations with death and mortality, for it is essentially dust on the walls.

Nikhil Chopra, Yograj Chitrakar Memory Drawing II, 2007. Performance view.

Nikhil Chopra, Blackening II, 2012. Performance view, GlogouAIR, Berlin. Photo: Johnny Amore.

His site-specific performances respond to the cultural history and architecture of the space

Very often, the history and politics of the location impacts the artist’s execution of characters though costuming, gesture, and action while drawings take on new meanings and functions according to the site where it is created. In his performance at Carriageworks in Sydney in 2012, he references the place’s industrial past as the rail yard building through the employment of charcoal as the medium to draw on movable boards.

While Yog Raj Chitrakar: Memory Drawing IX, 2009, is inspired by the sociological changes that stirred the city of New York in the 1920’s; the panoramic wall drawing of Brussels in Yog Raj Chitrakar: Memory Drawing VI, 2009,is a sharp commentary on the city’s politically and culturally fractured division with the Flemish on one side and the French on the other.

By claiming the space and time of the performance in Yog Raj Chitrakar, 2010, performed at conflict-ridden space of Lal Chowk, Srinagar the performance took a subversive quality in the politically volatile state.

Nikhil Chopra, Yog Raj Chitrakar: Memory Drawing IX, 2009, live performance, 72 hours over 5 days. Performance view, Performa, New Museum, New York, November 2009.

Nikhil Chopra, Yog Raj Chitrakar: Memory Drawing IX, 2009, live performance, 72 hours over 5 days. Performance view.

Nikhil Chopra, Yog Raj Chitrakar: Memory Drawing VI, 2009, live performance, 96 hours. Performance view, Kunstenfestivaldesarts, Brussels.

The spectator shares space and time with the artist through gestures and silence

Through the processes of drawing, disguise and installation, the audience witnesses the process of creation rather than only the end product of artistic creation. The artist, taking upon the character of a Queen, draughtsman, wanderer or gentleman walks across the gallery space, exits into the street, spilling and extending the performative boundary of the physical space, the audience is free to follow him or stay put. Chopra does not verbally interact with his viewers and chooses to remain in a solitary space. The relationship between the viewer and the artist where each is aware of the other’s gaze is fraught with tension over a possible breach of boundary between them.

In the Yog Raj Chitrakar series, 2012, carried at Sydney’s Carriageworks the artist drew, washed, shaved, ate, rested and even cooked for an eighteen-guest dinner party with fresh produce that he had bought himself but refrained from any advertent verbal interaction with the audience. Similarly in Yog Raj Chitrakar: Eating, the viewers spoke amongst themselves over the course of the meal while the artist chose to remain at the periphery.

“Silence becomes a way to take our obsession away from textual to visual narrative,” he says – the tension forces observers to “chat to each other and piece together what they're watching”.

Nikhil Chopra, Blackening IV : Bay 19, 2012, duration : 36 hours, Carriageworks, Sydney

Nikhil Chopra, Gedankenfreiheit, 2011, live performance, 22 hours. Performance view, Kunst + Projekte, Sindelfingen, German, November 2011.

He dramatises various personages from India's colonial past and his familial ancestry

Chopra’s characters, though semi-autobiographical are not fixed in time and space and are neither historically accurate. To Nikhil Chopra, the characters he plays of a monk, pilgrim, warrior, painter, adventurer, dandy or clown are personae or extensions of himself. “Yes, I am a product of India’s colonial past. But this is recounted more in personal experiences, possibly around conversations at the dining table or in photographs,” he says.

The character of Yog Raj Chitrakar is loosely based on the artist’s grandfather, Yog Raj Chopra, who was a plein-air painter of Kashmir. Chitrakar, meaning picture maker, has many faces— explorer, draughtsman, cartographer, valiant conqueror, soldier, prisoner of war, painter, artist, romantic, dandy and queen. The narrative around Sir Raja, Chopra’s second important persona, is woven from personal memory, old family photographs and family stories. In Blackening V, part of the KNMA’s Inhabiting the Museum series, Chopra slips into the guise of a kurta clad, moustache brandishing, austere North Indian farmer.

Nikhil Chopra, Yog Raj Chitrakar: Memory Drawing VIII, 2009, live performance, 18 days, 4 hours each day. Performance view, Marina Abramovic Presents, Manchester International Festival, Whitworth Gallery, Manchester, July 2009.

Nikhil Chopra, Yograj Chitrakar Memory Drawing II