The gestures of participatory art

By Sruti Bala

The gestures of participatory art


  • Hardcover
  • eBook

Book Information

  • Format: Paperback
  • ISBN: 978-1-5261-4812-4
  • Pages: 168
  • Publisher: Manchester University Press
  • Price: £20.00
  • Published Date: April 2020
  • BIC Category: Literature, Theatre studies, Performance art, ART / Art & Politics, ART / General, PERFORMING ARTS / Theater / History & Criticism, The arts / Performance art, The Arts: General Issues, The arts / Theatre studies


Winner of the 2019 ASCA Book Award

Participation is the utopian sweet dream that has turned into a nightmare in contemporary neoliberal societies. Yet can the participatory ideal be discarded or merely replaced with another term, just because it has become disemboweled into a tool of pacification? The gestures of participatory art insists that the concept of participation must be re-imagined and shifted onto other registers. Moving from reflections on institutional critique and impact to concrete analyses of moments of unsolicited, delicate participation and refusal, the book examines a range of artistic practices from India, Sudan, Guatemala and El Salvador, the Lebanon, the Netherlands and Germany. It proposes the concept of the gesture as a way of theorising participatory art, situating it between the visual and the performing arts, as both individual and collective, both internal attitude and social habitude.


'This provocative book prompts new ways of thinking about the political dynamic between participation and performance. Taking the political metaphor of the gesture, Bala elegantly weaves together an argument that challenges old certainties that participatory art is a sure route to emancipation and equality. Grounded in clear and insightful case studies, she offers a new angle on familiar concepts, inviting us to think afresh about the complexity of practice in public spaces and communities. Reading this book is exhilarating, and its emphasis on placing participatory performance in today's social, economic, political and cultural climate means that its analysis is urgent and pressing. Bala's compelling argument will inform debates for years to come.'
Helen Nicholson, Royal Holloway, University of London

'In an in-depth and fascinating analysis grounded on actual examples, this book proposes a new conception of participatory practices in visual art, theatre and the performing arts, going beyond formal definitions and direct meanings. Bala problematizes the relation of art to society, offering alternative ways of comprehending participatory practices through small and unexpected gestures. The book is an invitation to every reader to participate.'
Rabih Mroué, Theatre Director, Visual Artist, Writer, Berlin/Beirut

'Bala's book is exciting as it is timely because it provokes a reconsideration of the idea of participation in performance, theatre and visual art. It reminds us that participation functions at many registers and is not always emancipatory. It compels us to think about the politics of art-making via a new conception of gesture. Based on detailed case studies, Bala's elegant writing and fine analysis will engage readers for a long time to come.'
Dr. Anuradha Kapur, Visiting Professor Ambedkar University Delhi, former Director of the National School of Drama, theatre-maker and teacher


1 The gestures of institutional critique
2 On the inconvenient means and ends of participation
3 Unsolicited gestures of participation
4 Vicarious gestures of participation
5 Delicate gestures of participation
Conclusion: between image, act and language


Sruti Bala is Associate Professor in Theatre Studies at the University of Amsterdam

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