Lesson: Nikhil Chopra: Performing Memory

  • Grade Level: High School (9-12 grades)
  • Subject Area: Theater, Film, Performance Theory, Psychology
  • detail of "Yog Raj Chitrakar: Memory Drawing IX," 2009detail of "Yog Raj Chitrakar: Memory Drawing IX," 2009
  • detail of "Yog Raj Chitrakar: Memory Drawing IX," 2009detail of "Yog Raj Chitrakar: Memory Drawing IX," 2009
  • detail of "Yog Raj Chitrakar: Memory Drawing IX," 2009detail of "Yog Raj Chitrakar: Memory Drawing IX," 2009
  • detail of "Yog Raj Chitrakar: Memory Drawing IX," 2009detail of "Yog Raj Chitrakar: Memory Drawing IX," 2009


Written by Joseph Keehn II

Nikhil Chopra combines strategies associated with theater, portraiture, landscape drawing, photography, art actions, and installation to chronicle the world through live performance. As the Victorian draughtsman Yog Raj Chitrakar, Chopra haunts bustling market squares, forgotten old buildings, city streets, and museum galleries to make large-scale drawings. Within the performance, daily actions—washing, eating, drinking, sleeping, dressing, shaving, and observing—are transformed into ritualistic spectacle. While an ambiguous past collides with an unstable present, Yog Raj Chitrakar reveals the process of documenting what he sees while exploring self-portraiture, autobiography, history, fantasy, and sexuality.

This lesson will introduce students to Richard Schechner’s Performance Theory as a departure point to discuss the contemporary artist Nikhil Chopra’s practice, in particular the work “Yog Raj Chitrakar: Memory Drawing IX” (2009).


Two forty-five minute class sessions


Students will be introduced to performance by reading about Richard Schechner’s performance theory. Students will look at a contemporary artist’s usage of performance and compare his practice with Schechner’s performance theory. Students will investigate memory’s role in performance by examining their own daily rituals.


Memory is the power or process of reproducing or recalling what has been learned and retained.

Narrative is the representation of a story.

Performance is the execution of an action.

Set time is an arbitrary amount of time of an event, in which the event begins and ends at specific moments regardless if the elements/actions to carry out the event are completed.


Images from Nikhil Chopra’s exhibition “Yog Raj Chitrakar: Memory Drawing IX”

Nikhil Chopra’s report in 2007 on his residency with KHOJ

Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954)

Richard Schechner’s Performance Theory

Suggested Procedures

  1. Set up a video camcorder in the classroom at the most panoramic angle and record the class period. Have your students sit or stand somewhere in the classroom without moving any of the objects. Tell them that they are going to watch you for a set time (at least thirty minutes), and then you will have a conversation about their experience. Take this time to “perform” your role/duties as a classroom teacher, such as the maintenance, administration, and research you engage with while students are not around. This might include straightening the desks, reading a chapter in the next day’s lesson, eating a snack, or cleaning the chalkboards. Write out a script of what you anticipate doing. This will be referenced later on in the lesson. Spend at least half the class period “performing” your teaching duties without interacting with the students. Once the set time has expired, have students describe in detail what you were doing in narrative. Have students document the events on the board.
  2. Give your students your script and have them compare it with what they wrote on the board. What are the differences/similarities? What does this tell us about planning vs. implementing?
  3. Have your students watch the video recording of the class period, in particular the section of you “performing” your duties. While watching students should compare/contrast their notes on the board with the video documentation. Ask students to consider memory. What does this comparison illuminate about our abilities to remember?
  4. Introduce your students to Richard Schechner’s Performance Theory by having them read the first and third chapters and answer the following questions:
    1. Schechner outlines seven activities that comprise the public performance activities of humans. What are these activities? What do they share with the others? Have students define theater, ritual, play, games, sports, dance, and music.
    2. What are the differences between set, event, and symbolic times?
    3. Have students define drama, script, theater, and performance. How do they relate to one another?
  5. Divide the class into three groups and have them look at the documentation of Nikhil Chopra’s exhibition “Yog Raj Chitrakar: Memory Drawing IX.” Group A will investigate the work through the lens of the seven activities Schnechner outlines. Group B will look at the documentation in terms of Schnechner’s three modes of time. Group C will analyze the documentation using Schechner’s performance model (fig. 3.1; p. 71). Groups will share their findings. Referring back to Chopra’s work, have students list out the elements of the work.
    1. In what ways do the elements of Chopra’s work support Schnechner’s performance theory? In what ways do they challenge it?
    2. What do you think the title has to do with this work, in particular “IX”? What does the Roman numeral suggest about this work? About Chopra’s practice? Ritual? Memory?
  6. Have students read aloud Nikhil Chopra’s report in 2007 on his residency with KHOJ.
    1. In what ways does this new information reaffirm or change your understanding of the work? Cite specific entries of the report. What new insight does this report bring to your understanding of Chopra and Yog Raj Chitrakar?
  7. Watch Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954).  At one point in the film, Stella tells Jeff, “We’ve become a race of peeping Toms.” What did Stella mean by this? What connotations does “peeping Tom” imply? How are you a voyeur in this scenario? How does this voyeuristic attribute relate to ritual, memory, and repetition? Have students compare/contrast Rear Window with “Yog Raj Chitrakar: Memory Drawing IX.” 
  8. In investigating the interconnectedness of memory and daily ritual, students will script their morning routines. The next morning students will follow their scripts exactly and share with their peers what they discovered about their memory and daily rituals. Is one dependent on the other? Why or why not?

Lesson Plan: Nikhil Chopra: Performing Memory