Monday, September 26, 2016

Think Before you Paint a God: Indian Artists’ Gods and the History of their Evolution

(Krishna, in a miniature painting)

In May 2014, when Narendra Modi became the 14th Prime Minister of India with absolute majority for his party, BJP in Parliament, I had noticed how several of my artist friends changed their track of thinking. For some reason, I was staying with a friend of mine and he was euphoric about Modi’s ascension to power. He thought India would change for good and it was going to be a superpower. Without a roof above my head, I knew it was difficult to get into a political discussion with him for the simple fear of getting kicked out of his home in the middle of the night for telling what I really thought about the BJP and the Prime Minister. Slowly, as an act of survival I realized how I too was changing my track while nodding in agreement with him about India’s future development and appreciating his absolute faith in the new Modi regime. The picture of Narendra Modi sitting under a tree, wearing a pair of very expensive jogging shoes and impeccable clothes, with a book half read in his hands, sporting a benevolent smile and conveying friendliness through his undecipherable eyes covered with a pair of gold framed specs that I saw in an English weekly (I remember it was in the Outlook) kept coming back to my mind each time my friend mentioned his name and his own optimism. Things were not going to be easy for the artists under his rule, I knew, but I refused to tell this to my friend.


(Narendra Modi, Indian Prime Minister)

I did not stay with him for long. However, while staying here I had gone out in the evenings to catch up with some exhibitions that were on in a few Delhi galleries. To my surprise I noticed one of my friends who was an avowed secularist and humanist suddenly incorporating certain motifs selectively culled from the Mughal period in his painting in a condescending fashion. Known for his spoofs and visual satires, I thought this was the part of his pictorial scheme that used to be replete with social and situational lampooning. But the sense of timing of this new body of paintings made me a bit conscious about his other works. A quick mental review made me aware that this artist had brought in a lot of Hindu gods and goddesses in his paintings (even in sculptures) without hurting anybody’s sentiments. So I thought my friend was in a sense balancing his pictorial thinking evenly to avoid the future comments that he was only satirising Hindu gods and goddesses, definitely in an innocent fashion. With the Mughal motifs precariously placed in his works, I found somehow justified. Any other point of view which would implicate my friend of nurturing right wing perspective in his works could have been an over-reading which I sincerely wanted to avoid. However, the memory of those works was refusing to fade. Why suddenly there is an urgency felt by the artists to paint or sculpt Hindu gods and goddesses? Is it because of the changed political scenario in the country that demands more aesthetical respect for the Hindu pantheon? Or is it because the artists attempt to receive favours from the government and the affluent class that prefers to stand closer to the policies of the reigning government (of whatever ideological leaning or colour) and patronizes art?

(Lok Manya Bal Gangadhar Tilak)

There is nothing odd, if you think straight, in Indian artists painting or sculpting Hindu gods and goddesses. They have been doing so for a long time. With the disintegration of regional courts as a result of colonialism and also due to the shift in patronage for visual art, art in India, following the western model of thinking and practicing, became an avenue for expressing progressive socio-political ideas as well as humanistic concerns. Putting the ideas of ‘progressiveness’ and ‘humanism’ together would result into the general idea of secularism, which India adopted as its official policy in 1947, which was given constitutional validation by including it as a foundational clause of Indian Constitution. As a result of it, India’s art, despite the religious and political leanings of the artists, remained more or less secular with artists often pitching for universal human love and tolerance. From this constitutional advantage we could look back at the artists like Raja Ravi Varma, Abanindra Nath Tagore and Nandlal Bose, and the innumerable named and nameless artists who followed Ravi Varma as well as their own traditions of icon making for public aesthetic and religious consumption, as secular artists who did whatever they did as a part of political and social integration through a common cultural strain or understanding, that is the Hindu religion and its mythologies of both classical and folk versions. I do not think, however we try we could position the above mentioned artists as Hindu artists or artists with right wing leanings.

 (Ganesh Festival in Mumbai)

Hindu-Muslim conflict had a longer political history though it does not reach up to those ages, as right wing ideologues claim today, when the Arabs came to the Kerala shore first by 9th century CE. The Muslims thus came as traders let themselves to be integrated with the natives through marriage and conversion, and it has been undoubtedly proved that the early conversion were not political at all. Those who got converted to Islam, then to Christianity and even to Judaism were not coerced to do so, on the contrary did it willingly to escape the third class treatment that they got from the dominant Hindu religion. The political other-ing of the Muslims in India started with the establishment of the British rule here because they knew that considering the history of Islamic invasions in the northern part of India, it was best pitch to incite the Hindus against them, diverting the possible ire against an external power towards a historically integrated community of Muslims. This worked well for the British and the history of 20th century is full of instances of Hindus and Muslims fighting against each other. Though the national movements had already started by the second half of the 19th century, the Indian mainstream life was yet to join the resistance for the movements primarily led by the Indian National Congress were predominantly elitist and to certain extent aided by British ideologues. In that context there were two major attempts to get the larger Indian population for the anti-colonial moves; one, Bal Gangadhar Tilak’s decisive move to bring the Hindus in Maharashtra through Ganesh Chaturthi Processions. In the East it was done via literature and reformation movements of Raja Ram Mohun Roy, Upendra Kishore Roy, Maharshi Debendranath Tagore and so on. Two, the strategy that Mahatma Gandhi used for involving all the regions of India accepting the linguistic variations meanwhile upholding Bhagavat Gita as a book of codes of socio-political and moral conduct.

 (Changing iconography of Lord Ganesh)

Hence, it would be fallacious to think that the artists including Ravi Varma were unaware of these socio-political changes. However, they were not imagining these as primarily Hindu movements. The Hindu thread was seen as a cultural adhesive or a common cultural backdrop against which a political drama could have been unfolded. Ravi Varma was not aspiring to be a Hindu painter on the contrary he was trying to be at par with the European masters who worked in the medium of oil on canvas but without adhering to their dominant Christian thematic orientation and the pertaining moral values. Ravi Varma wanted to create something similar yet different in thematic and he found that while the Christian mythological characters had well established iconographies so that the artists since Renaissance could more or less work on those givens (Ravi Varma does not seem to have referred anything beyond the Renaissance art or even if he had, the pervading two dimensional nature must have dissuaded him to follow them thoroughly. Besides, he did not have direct access to the Greco-Roman classical art for reference except the Neo-classical art works that he might have got to refer from journals and photographs), Indian artists had nothing other than abstractions of visual values and qualities from textual sources translated into figurative modes as seen in the temple murals and temple sculptures. Ravi Varma wanted to break these visual codes which he felt as shackles and archaic and the aspiring modernist in him was trying to be at par with the western art by giving iconographic features to the Hindu gods and goddesses (We should also know that Ravi Varma almost ignored the ‘contemporary’ art movements of the west like the Impressionism, Post Impressionism, Cubism and Dadaism which were almost famous when he was alive) for establishing a modern ‘Indian’ art against the modern ‘western’ art from within the limitations of his understanding of both modern Indian and modern western. While painting Bharat Mata, Abanindranath Tagore was not giving a cultural weapon for the future right wingers. Nandalal Bose was not attempting anything ‘Hindu’ when he was painting the image of Shiva drinking poison.

(Ram breaking the bow- Ravi Varma)

The subversion of such images which were primarily used for imaging and imagining a nation which was still trying to understand its own boundaries and political courses, in the contemporary times is menacingly palpable in the Ganesh festival processions in Maharashtra. Though the Prime Minister of India, Mr.Modi once made a tall claim that India or more precisely, the Hindu India had the science and technological know-how to perform plastic surgery in ancient times and the proof of which could be seen in the image of Lord Ganesh, who has an elephant’s head and human body. The development of the iconography of Lord Ganesh is also around the 9th century CE and previously the references of Ganesh were as a minor deity along the bhoothas and Ganas. Ganesh got absorbed into the Hindu Brahminical narratives as a part of the possible integration of Shaivism and Vaishnavism. The idea of Ganesh as an elephant headed deity itself is a proof that he comes from the nature worshipping tribes. An elephant headed deity can be absorbed into the main narrative only when it has a supporting mythology; that’s how we see Ganesh becoming the son of Shiva and Parvati and how a familial misunderstanding leads to the beheading of Ganesh and later reviving him with an elephant head. A very complex Freudian reading is possible to further interpret this origin of Ganesh but I would like to deal with it in another essay.

 (Ram Subduing Sea- Ravi Varma)

The iconography of Ganesh, as we have been seeing him for a long time, is very clear. Like the Indian gods and goddesses Ganesh too has four arms. He holds a broken tusk, a sweet, an axe and a piece of rope in each hand. In some of the depictions we do not see an axe, instead we see an ankush (an mahout’s crooked knife with a long handle). As he is an elephant the Ankush is justified. In some other depictions he is seen with a stylus and a set of palm leaves suggesting that he was the one who wrote down Mahabharata as Ved Vyasa was reciting it to him. So we have a benevolent Ganesh with most of the mythological retellings underlining his ability to remove obstacles (Vighneshwara). That however does not mean that Ganesh is a warrior God and the title of the Commander in Chief of the God’s army goes to his brother, Lord Karthikeya (Murukan). Of late, if you have noticed (just go through the Ganesh images posted in the facebook during this Ganesh Chathurthi), you could see Ganesh idols, pictures, statues and all other forms of visual depictions with Ganesh holding a huge axe in his hand almost minimising rest of the attributes. It is a clear example of a deliberate subversion of a benevolent mythology. Ganesh no longer is the Ganesh of the yester years; even Tilak himself would find it difficult to recognize him if he comes across him somewhere in the heavenly path). This transformation is not accidental but a conscious conversion that the right wingers facilitated in the consciousness of the public. During the Ayodhya Movement in the late 1980s and in the terrible culmination of it on the 6th December 1991 with the demolition of the Babri Masjid, we had seen how the image of Ram changed ‘radically’ and strategically. In Anand Patwardhan’s pivotal documentary on the Ayodhya March and its culmination, ‘In the Name of Ram’ he repeatedly shows the shots of the hoardings erected all over India depicting an angry and belligerent Ram, muscular like Rambo, armed to kill towering over the architectural model of the future Ram Temple. In these hoardings Ram’s gaze goes towards the horizon and there is no enemy in the vicinity. But the suggestion of the gaze was clearer than many words about it. The gaze had finally landed on the enemy, Indian Muslims; incidents of riots and pogroms since 1991 December are watched over by that single angry gaze.

 (Coronation of Ram- after Ravi Varma)

It is interesting not only art historically but also politically that Ravi Varma who had given a clear iconography to Lord Ram never anywhere presents him as a belligerent warrior. In Sita Swayamvara, where a young Ram is seen breaking Trayambaka (the bow of Lord Shiva) to win the hands of Sita, we do not see a muscle man who is capable of lifting that mighty bow. Instead, Ravi Varma depicts him as a teenager about to be twenty, all enthusiastic at the prospects of a marriage but reverential to the elders and the king, his would be father in law, Janak, earnestly breaking the bow in the presence of his appreciating brother Lakshman. Of course we see an angry Ram in another painting where Ram is about to send an arrow at the sea (Lord Varun) for not parting to show the path towards Lanka where his wife has been abducted by Ravan. But here too we do not see him as a Rambo. His body is slightly effeminate with no muscles clearly defined (all the Rams with cylindrical limbs in all the films and even in the legendary Ramayan Serial were based on Ravi Varma’s Ram) but his determination to subdue the mighty god of the sea is seen in his anger filled eyes and raised eye brows. Again we see Ram in the Pattabhisheka picture (the Coronation Ceremony after Sita’s retrieval from Lanka) where we see him as a head of the family too benevolent to be rash or authoritative. His smiling face and kind eyes dominate the picture; what missing are the muscles. Only muscled being in the frame is Hanuman, the devoted servant. Ravi Varma was not a ‘Hindu’ painter and we do not need more examples to prove it. However, Ravi Varma is an artist who could imagine a nation with all its linguistic and cultural varieties, which becomes evident in his Galaxy of Musicians. If Gandhiji had asked the Indian National Congress, which was a ‘Lawyers’ Club’ to include the regional members in order to bring ‘India’ as a geographically imaginable nation, Ravi Varma did the same by incorporating different cultural traits in a single pictorial frame.

 (Ayodhya poster as used as a cover for Anant Patwardhan's documentary)

As I mentioned before, after placing the constitution of India as the guiding principle for all the Indians, the apparent religious freedom allowed the artists to be truly secular. This secularism in my view was not just a clear case of artistic decision or pure optimism and trust in the government of that time. I would say, it was also a sort of wishful thinking of the artists to deliberately avoid mentioning religion and religious iconographies from their works. Let me explain it how. When Hitler was forced to commit suicide and once the Allied Forces freed Europe from the clutches of the Nazis, there was a total silence in Germany because the Germans were a defeated people then; their leader failed to lead them to a pure Aryan country. The liberal ones who opposed Hitler too were silent because the amount of injustice and death revealed before their eyes had literally rendered them speechless for a long time. They had to conjure up a new parlance to face the world and talk to it while looking at its eyes, without feeling any sense of shame. Due to this, for a long time (even today) Germans wouldn’t like to talk about the period of Nazism (while the rest of the world speaks about it). Similarly, India had seen gory sights of Hindu-Muslim fights and pogroms. India had just witnessed partition and its gruesome aftermath. There was nothing to rejoice in fact; sooner than later Gandhiji was assassinated. The artists somehow tried to wish away all goriness therefore all the mentioning of religion from their works (while the men and women of letters kept on writing about partition woes). There were only a few, very few artists who depicted the partition (read religious) strife of that time. For a long time, Indian artists did not touch on the issue of religion. It was rather a dangerous area to venture in because it would create unpleasant discourses. Investing the energies in the socialist, secular and progressive was more conducive for the artists. In that sense we could say our art for a long time has been the art of silence, and by now most of the art works have become the art works of compromise.

(a Buddha painting from India)

At this juncture, against the backdrop of whatever I have said so far, it would be interesting to see how and why in India we have a lot of artists who somehow instead of depicting Hindu gods or goddesses straightaway went on depicting the images of Buddha and Jesus Christ. Today, we know that both Buddha and Jesus Christ are not only religious figures but also philosophical and political figures. People from various strata of the society have used these icons the ways suitable to their purposes. The Indian artists who have painted Buddha and Jesus Christ somehow have felt that both these images are ideologically neutral. It is ironic at the same time painful to understand this surrogate representation of religious fervour of the artists. Most of the artists who paint or sculpt Buddha and Christ believe (yes,  I say Believe) that they are the icons of peace. Even though I cannot and I do not dispute the fact that Buddha and Jesus are icons of peace, I want to say that there are socio-political and religio-cultural reasons for the artists to choose these two icons for their purpose. First of all, by the time India became independent Buddhism was almost a long lost religion (we forget the history of it being brutally decimated in the subcontinent since 9th century AE with the arrival of Sri Sankara) but was chosen by Dr.B.R.Ambedkar for his political purpose of converting the Mahars (the Dalit community to which he belonged) into Buddhism. As it was a non-Brahminical movement and still had to prove a political force of some reckoning, Buddhism remained ideology free in the public imagination. Artists too took to this line; they thought Buddha is ideology free and simply a universal symbol of peace. The Christian community of India was rather powerful educationally and economically because of their allegiance to the colonial power, which later turned out to be a relevant and reverent ally for the future course of India, and it was more integrated than Muslims with less and less affiliations with the various Christian denominations in the world and their respective heads. So it was easy for the Indian artists to choose Jesus Christ as a symbol of sacrifice, suffering and endurance. Jesus was an icon which indirectly reflected the tortured artistic selves too. And interestingly, the ideological connotations of this icon got submerged in its universalistic stature.

 (Christ by Suman Roy)

Seen against this historical backdrop, one would think that there is no problem if Indian artists start painting and sculpting Hindu gods and goddesses. Why they should be deprived of cultural representation? But we would at the same time understand the danger of it. Let us see a scenario in which the gods and goddesses of India are seen in a certain confirms mode, that means, any god and goddess should look like what the Hindu men and women in the street imagine them to be. Their imagination comes from popular depictions which are wrongly attributed to Ravi Varma. He was just a trigger and the contemporary iconography of the gods and goddesses has completely changed according to the whims and fancies of the artists who are hell bent on pleasing the prevalent Hindutva mood (sometimes, artists who work in such image making factories work quite innoncently too. They do not understand the political and socio-cultural ramifications of it. An artist who makes a Ganesh idol with fiery attributes perhaps is trying make it as severe and imposing as possible as demanded by the society and also to vibe with the mood of the society). The Hindutva ideologues are changing history and in its place they are trying to bring in a quasi-mythological history which does not have any logical standing. But anything that is not scientifically proved could stand in our country provided that is believed by many numbers of people. This brutal majoritarinism would force the contemporary modern artists to ‘follow the mood’ of the times. And those who move against it would be punished by over reading the meanings (as happened in the case of M.F.Husain). Of late I see there are some artists and gallerists suddenly getting interested in having shows with ‘god’ as a theme. And I am sure these gods are not really non-muscular gods; they are going to be belligerent according the mood of our time. Such artists will be celebrated for the time being but they do not know that they are inaugurating a trend where the lumpens start accepting this aesthetics and demanding the change of any other aesthetics which is not palatable to them. It is high time that we think about depicting gods and how.

 (a Transformer)

In the Muslim countries, artists are killed for writing or painting Gods because the fundamentalists do not like the god to be depicted in any form because it is said so in the Holy book, Quran. In India, on the contrary, artists would be celebrated for depicting gods. But watch out; depicting gods in India also could cost the lives of the artists because the gods have already been transformed. They look like the Tranformers and the super heroes from the American imaginations. They are war mongering gods. Hence, if you depict a god as a subtle, submissive, caring, loving, genderless and benevolent being, remember, the street side art impresarios may not like it.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

The Two Worlds that the Artists Inhabit


We dwell in two worlds; one inside and one outside. I have not just stated an earth shattering truth. I have said what everyone knows. However, if you ask what are these worlds, most of us would look here and there or give the readymade answer instantly; inside world is spiritual world and outside world is the real world. The romantics among them would further say that the inside world is the one where we hide ourselves and live our secret lives, play out our fantasies, pose all what we are not, cry to our hearts’ fill and outside world is where we live pretending that everything is alright. Interestingly, barring a few most of us have not reconciled with the internal and the external worlds. They remain as two different strange lands never to be bridged by anything.


Many people are still confused about the internal and the external worlds. They think that if you are a person who has realized the internal world, a spiritually enlightened person or a hardcore romantic, then one does not have anything to do with the external world. Similarly, those who delve deeply into the worldly matters leave the affairs of the internal world to those ‘enlightened’ men and women and believe that an occasional visit to them would be enough for them to satisfy their urge to realize an internal world, if at all such an urge exists anywhere. Seeing the number of people thronging around the sannyasis and spiritual gurus of both the genders I am reassured that the urge to realize the internal world even for the diehard worldly beings is so high that they could spend any amount of time, money and energy to do that. All of them unfortunately think that realization of the internal world is directly proportionate to the amount of time and energy (of course money too) one could spend on such matters.


I have a friend who constantly worries about his artistic growth and family life. Way into his forties, he feels that his time is over and the youngsters as well as his contemporaries have made it; he is the only one who has been left out. My friend, who is a freelancer, goes to his studio every morning, work religiously and he gets chances to exhibit his works in various shows, besides having opportunities to participate in workshops and camps held in different parts of the country. When he unpacks the bundles of woes before me I often ask him why he was so worried about his life and works. According to him, the others have ‘arrived’ in the art scene and he has not yet. I realize from his talks that for him ‘arrival’ means a sort of success enjoyed by the artists in terms of recognition of the works among the peer groups as well as among the younger artists, and is obviously iced with the selling of the works. To put it simply, what leaves him dissatisfied constantly is the fact that his inability to turn his works into liquid cash. In other words, he is worried about money.

This friend of mine is a disciplinarian; he goes regularly for meditation camps and does meditation for an hour every day. I ask him why he does meditation. He tells me that he does that for keeping an internal balance and to realize the inner world. I understand internal balance as calmness or the much talked about word, ‘peace’. What about the inner world? I quiz him further and he comes out clear by saying that inner world is the world where he could live his life. I ask him about the complexion of the world and how does it feel? He tells me that there in the inner world he lives an ideal life, creates his art and just does not worry about whether people see it or buy it. He is happy in that world where nothing worries and he floats in a sea of fulfilment. He also says that in that one hour of he understands that nothing matters; even his happiness does not matter. There is no need to prove anything, gain anything, lose anything and it is pure bliss. And do you like it in that way, I ask. Definitely, he answers. “I like it in that way.” In that state of mind aren’t you worried about your family, your wife and kids? “No. Nothing is indispensable. Everything would take care of itself.” Are you sure, I ask. “Yes,” he says. “But,” he continues, “But when I come out of it after an hour, everything remains the same. I am back in the same s**t.”


If meditation helps for an hour to be what you are and throws you back to the garbage after that hour, then does it fundamentally differ from the alcohol consumption and drug abuse? Logically speaking, any intoxicate would help you to forget the worldly woes for some time. This sort of alcoholic abuse has been given cultural sanction via popular novels and films. A spurned lover or a man who failed in life could always turn to alcohol or drugs to ‘forget’ his sorrows. His actions are justified and to certain extent sympathized by the public. He is a poor man and the ‘world’ is the villain. Meditation and medication do the same. Those who go for meditation are the people who have been wronged by life and it is important for them to seek balance and peace to continue with their lives. The imagery that comes to my mind is that of a public place that the municipality worker cleans regularly in the morning only to be littered by the people throughout the day and night till the cleaner comes back at the appointed hour next day. If we cannot keep our minds clean throughout the day and night there is no point in doing meditation or holding the bottle.

As human beings, everyone lives in two different worlds; it is already said outset of this article. What I am going to elaborate here is the nature of those worlds. The internal world that one claims to habit is neither a spiritual realm that needs special exercises to be realized nor a definable one where one’s movement could be clearly chartered. It is an ideal realm. And ideal is thought about or imagined only when a non-ideal is seen, lived and experienced. Hence, we cannot be sure that ideal precedes the non-ideal, which could also be called mundane or the mundane precedes the ideal. According to the Greek Philosophers like Plato and Aristotle, the ideal is already there in the divine realm and man’s job is to imitate it. It is slightly against our soonya theory, the theory of nothingness. There is nothing to precede or succeed therefore there is nothing to be emulated. Whatever be the case, whether an idea exists in the divine realm or nothing is there including the divine realm, a human being could live an internal life, by which one means which is not external and palpable, without all what he/she thinks limiting him/her in the external world. With all the limitations erased (which is not possible in the external world) what one lives inside one’s own being is the ideal world which is inside.



It is so interesting that we always say inside and outside. This binary exists because we contrast the external world, the world that we see, live in and experience, with the thoughts generated by it. Where do these thought originate? We say, in our minds (the scientific one would say, in the brain). There are thoughts which are felt not really thought about, and we say that is originated in our heart. When we know that as biological entities both brain and heart cannot show us proofs that they generate thoughts (brain mapping and related scientific fields have made attempts to see thoughts as ‘image’ entities and energies, which in fact could be quantified), we imagine them as streams of words or pictures because we are trained in these two systems or structures of comprehending the world we live in. Thoughts cannot be touched, tasted and smelt; but it could be seen and heard (muted hearing). That means whatever we consider as ideal world inside us are either created of words or images. And living in there means we live in two structures, linguistic as well as pictorial structures. Together they give birth to the three dimensional sensation of a life lived inside.

And what is this ‘inside’? Technically speaking, anything that is inside the outer skin (epiderm) is ‘inside’ for a human being. Ironically, that internal world which is manifested by two structures and is felt as an ideal world without any societal limitations, is neither muscles and bones nor veins and blood. That means what we imagine as the ideal world inside (in mind, in soul, in heart etc) is just a ‘virtual reality’ which we have willed to be. We feel a child like bliss and innocence there because whatever we see and ‘live’ there ‘inside’ are fresh and new to us and always prod us to further our journeys revealing avenues to encounter surprises after surprises. It is in this realm of virtual reality people ‘see’ things that have never been seen before, hear music that has been never heard before, feel ideas that have been never thought about before, ‘smell’ fragrances that have been never smelt before, touch various objects and things that have never been touched before and taste foods and pleasures that have been never tasted before. There are some people who live in these realms got this terrific capacity and skill to reproduce what they have seen, heard, felt, smelt and tasted there through mediums that are known and identified in the outer/external world. They are often called as artists. That means, in the internal world of ideal things (sans any restrictions) every one stands a chance but only the artistic ones channelize those chances for the external world.


If so what could be the external world? The common definition is that the external world is what exists outside the human skin that means whatever we see, live and experience in the material world. This external world is so over powering that it hardly allows anybody to delve deeply into the internal realm. This world is the world of controls, habits and routines that people thoroughly enjoy. The external world as it is palpable and quantifiable imposes lesser fear amongst people. Erasing mystery is one way of making external world alluring everyone. Here everyone could think of becoming everyone else. Most of the human beings think of emulating those people who have done materialistically well. They have gone beyond the basics of roti, kapda aur makan (bread, cloth and home). They have improvised the basics to various forms of pleasure and everyone is seeking it. To achieve them, in the material world one has to have money because that is the only one way of exchange that the material world knows. And this is the world that people identify as the external world.

Here is a problem. External world is also a perception as intriguing as the internal world. The only difference between them is that in the internal world each human being rightfully inhabit, possess and occupy an autonomous world and there are no binding rules and regulations, and in the external world, every human being is meant to follow the rules and regulations created by the political authorities. Otherwise people coming from different strata of the society perceive and experience the material world in different terms and from different vantage points. That means even if there is an appearance of the world as seen in the photographs and maps, it is not so. People perceive it differently, interpret and understand it differently. That means depending on the number people on the face of the earth, there are as many interpretations and perceptions about the world, which in turn means that what we perceive is not what our neighbour perceives as the world. There fundamental differences. If that is the case, each perception of the world has to be seen as a virtual projection of the world which is given in the material form. Hence, the world we see with our eyes and experience with our lives is a conglomeration of various perceptions which at times nullify the other perceptions or confirm the. However, society as a whole with a political or military power to govern it standardizes these perceptions for keeping certain patterns. And it is interesting to see that to accept these patterns the people are prepared physically and mentally through various sorts of indoctrination by the authorities so that the people would eventually forget that they have two autonomous worlds (internal and external) at their disposal. They start believing that what is seen is reality and they learn to disbelieve their own perceptions. People do not have any problem to come out of home at a given time, take the same, go to office by same route, do the job, take salary, go home, do the same things and repeat the routine six days week for almost thirty to forty years, without any complaint. People who have fallen under the weight of routine not only have forgotten the internal world that they have but also the external world that they live in.


People try to rebel when the oppression of the rules and routine weigh down on them beyond a point. That’s why they go to the theatres, cinemas and art galleries. That’s why they listen to music and try to break free once in a while. What do they get when they try to break free by taking creative routes as mentioned before? What do they carry back once they get back to their routine? According to me, artists are those people who with their special skills express their ideal worlds through their works of art. Works of art are the bridges created between two virtual worlds; one, the world that exists somewhere else (you may call it ‘inside world’ but I would say that is the world where one realizes one’s own existence) and the one that exists right in front of you and you believe that it is ‘real’. As I said before, both are virtual worlds. Artists bridge them and the people who break free walk through these bridges once in a while and get the glimpses of the other world of ideals. I don’t insist that everyone stand on the bridge for ever or cross over to the other realms. They have their own priorities to do so. But I insist that those people capable of realizing the internal worlds for the external world, that means artists, are destined to be there in the internal realm and live an autonomous life without ever succumbing to the routine or rules of the external world. No meditation could help the artists to do better art or realize the internal world or gain peace provided if they are guided and goaded by the rules of the external world. As both the worlds are virtual the artists could make what they want; their comforts and luxuries irrespective of the rules of the outer world, but only catch is that those comforts and luxuries should be different from those of the routine world. To tell you the truth, the routine world works day in and day out for the artists to live their lives; one just needs to realize it. 

Saturday, September 17, 2016

I am migrating to....


...Nowhere. I am migrating to nowhere because I do not have a country to go. My passport says that I am an Indian and my cultural consciousness says that I am a universal human being. Vasudhaiva Kudumbakam is one of the Upanishadic teachings that I had made a part of myself when I was in my high school. While studying the life and work of Dr.Moshagundam Visweswaraiya I came across this Sanskrit phrase and was fascinated. Further studies in the poetry of the ancient Poet Triumvirate in Kerala affirmed this belief that I was a universal citizen. If I say that the kind of nationalism prevalent in this country does not excite me and on the contrary goes against my fundamental beliefs as a universal citizen, they would immediately say that I should go to Pakistan.


Religion is what divides the Indians into different ideological factions. Politics comes later. Even the political parties want the people to be divided along the religious lines so that they could be added to their vote banks. I would say the people are fools as they think that belonging to a particular religion would make them more nationalistic than the nationalists really are. We, the fools are fighting over the water allocation legally done by the court of law in this country. One so called ‘Hindu’ state is fighting another so called ‘Hindu’ state. When it comes to water and other natural resources, we cease to be nationalists. Go to Kerala and try to stop eating beef. There will be a backlash to the Gau Rakshkas. One religion cannot hold people together. In India Hindus fight Hindus and all over the world, Muslims fight Muslims in the name of Shias, Sunnis, Salafists, Wahabis and so on; the Christians fight Christians for their various denominations including the Catholics and Protestants.


I would like to go to a country where religion is no longer a deciding factor. I know that in India religion is not going to fade away if one wishes it to be so. I have heard that there are European countries that are selling the former churches to make them malls and museums so that they could use the real estate for better economic purposes. But in India, on a daily basis we are creating more and more places of worship so that we could develop real estate business around that. Even if you want to run a small tea shop, the best way is to erect an idol and start worshipping it. You could be a tea seller doubled up as part time priest so that your way side establishment will not be knocked down by the authorities. An unused idol could by default create a major centre of worship today in this country.

A country that is still lacking in proper education and health care is aiming to take back in time and establish a golden time where every citizen in this country would travel on horseback or ride chariots and fight using primitive weapons, killing the brothers and sisters for land and property. We are bringing the Sadhus and Sannyasis who are worldly wise and have oratorical skills or absolute stupidity to support their claims to the seats of law and policy making and learn from there while we say that we are making board room negotiations with businessmen and policy makers from abroad. In this totally confusing state of affairs people are left more and more anchorless so that they could take refuge in beliefs that perhaps would not help them at all in their lives.


People are supposed to have economic freedom and the freedom to live a fearless life in all the walks. But in this country where religion has become a parameter to decide anything and everything things have gone wrong. The people are opiate and opinionated; they are intoxicated by ideology and are propagandist in nature. I do not want to live in this country because this country says that anything that is not Hindu in ideology or anybody who is a Muslim or from a Muslim country or even from a foreign country has to be doubted and disputed aggressively in all the possible fronts. So I want to go to some country where my religion would never be a hurdle in my life.

Hence, I searched in google for getting tips to migrate. And each country has a set of rules of immigration. I searched for those countries which are not really lucrative and are less populated because of extreme climate. There are certain initial online tests just to know whether you are eligible for migration at all. I confronted the questionnaire and answered all those questions. To my surprise I found myself to be unwelcome to most of the countries that I tried to migrate to. My education and my experiences do not count there at all. My age and health condition would further prevent me from being a migrant elsewhere. That means I am a prisoner in a country where I am not really happy to live forever.


Why and how did it happen to me or people like me? We would like to go to anywhere and would like to live. But our age, health and education are not counted anymore or they become a sort of hurdle in our migration. Had I been a skilful worker like welder or an IT professional or a doctor or engineer, perhaps they would have considered me. But I am none of those. I am art historian, an intellectual, a thinker, an anti-mainstreamer and so on therefore I am not welcomed in any part of the world. In my own country too my skills are not needed because art is something that has been becoming less important in the general lives of the people, let alone the debates pertaining to art. So that means, a professional like me is a useless person for the state because I am not teaching in a university nor am I working in a government department. I am not working in any of the private sector establishments and I am not visibly contributing to the general economy of the country. That means I am a useless person as far as the state is concerned. Above all I want the state to strip itself off of all the religious garbs, which is an atrocious demand from a useless person. I should be mad.

Now, I find that being mad is the only way to find my migration to other locations possible. A mad person has to be consigned to asylums because he/she is a danger to the mainstream society. They think differently and act differently and at times their madness could be infectious and influential. It could even make a lot of people mad. So keeping such mad people within the state could be almost like inviting danger to the state and the normal people. Hence, the state has the responsibility to cast away such people to distant lands where they would live, rot and finally die. Foucault talks about ship of fools in his famous book, Madness and Civilization, where ships are used to transport the mad, diseased, physically challenged and deranged to the far off islands so that they would create their own communities of lawlessness and perish there.


I am a migrant to nowhere because nobody wants me in their space. The religious fundamentalists could arrange a free ticket for me and people like me to Pakistan. But do Pakistan want people like us because that is also not different from India in political and religious thinking. That means I am living a life in prison. I cannot go anywhere because I am not welcome anywhere. No country including India wants my expertise or even my thought process. So the best way is to keep silence and live a migrant’s life in one’s own body and soul. Having understood this long back, I am living that today.   

Friday, September 16, 2016

Bharat Bhavan, Bhopal Holding Works of Art Hostage: Artists Form Gallery Fail to Protest

(Indian Marriage)

As an Indian let me use an analogy which is close to my cultural consciousness to underline the relationship between an art gallerist or an art expo organiser and a work of art being sent to him/her/them for exhibition; it is of a marriage in a traditional Indian family. Here the artist is the father/mother of the work of art/daughter whose hand is given in trust. Deeds are written and signed and witnesses are brought in. The whole world is informed of this marriage through a reception ceremony or the wedding function itself with fantastic feasts. As far as works of art are concerned the deeds brokered and signed between the gallerist/organizer and the artist/father/mother. Exhibition opening party is the wedding ceremony and the post-opening is the fabulous feasts thrown to honour the bride and bridegroom as well as the guests. In this whole affair, the role of a curator is that of a marriage broker who cannot be held for anything that follows in the married life of the couple or their relatives for the role of a broker ends once the match is fixed and solemnized, and the stipulated amount for ‘fixing’ the marriage is handed over to the broker/s.


I went into this long preamble drawing an analogy between art exhibitions and the Indian marriages because recently my beloved expatriate artist friend Waswo X Waswo informed me of an ongoing debate/rather a possible legal tussle between the administration of the reputed art organization, Bharat Bhavan, Bhopal and a whole lot of artists from various parts of India, incidentally led by Waswo for all his good intentions (It is to be noted that while most of the Indian artists succumbed to the pressures of the head load workers’ unions in Kerala in 2015 March towards the end of the second edition of the KMB to cough up exorbitant amounts for transporting the works from the sites, it was Waswo who protest by breaking his works of art which in fact sparked off a series of cultural debates in Kerala. In the year 2011, sculptor K.S.Radhakrishnan had taken a similar firm stance towards the trade unions in Trivandrum, Kerala and finally the Labour Department Secretary sent him a letter of apology along with a cheque for the amount that he had paid). Bharat Bhavan was planning to organize the 7th Bharat Bhavan Biennale which was to be held in April 2013. There was entry fee (non-refundable and irrespective of selection) and also it was agreed up on that the returning of the works was the responsibility of the organization. The organization failed to send the works, if at all they sent, they did it in ‘to pay’ mode forcing unsuspecting artists to pay up to the couriers. Aggrieved artists have now come together in a social media platform, Gallery Fail, created by Waswo. A cursory look at the page proves how many skeletons and worms are there in the cupboards and cans of the art organizations.

(Bharat Bhavan, Bhopal)

The story, as evident from the facebook page as well as from our own personal experiences is not new at all. Perhaps, it is a pioneering effort of the artists to raise an issue in a given platform, surprisingly not shying away from naming and shaming the people involved in such acts of ‘betrayal’, means not returning the works of the artists after the use. Now let us analyse this phenomenon and also see how exactly this practice of not returning the works might have originated (perhaps, in any art scene). For an artist, many decades before it became a full time profession which paid, his/her works of art were the love of their creative lives which demanded the places for exposition. Hence, showing the works were along with a brochure was far more important than selling those works and making a living out of it. It had happened not only in the urban areas but also in the town and rural areas. Artists lived, worked and exhibited in all these places. However, when they brought these works to exhibit in urban centres like Lalit Kala Akademi and AIFACS in Delhi or Jehangir Gallery in Mumbai or the Artists’ Centre in Kolkata, they expected some kind of sales and most of the sales happened on the last days of the show, which in turn were not really sales but ‘clearing sales or distress sales’. Artists from the previous generations know what I am talking about (even some of the present generation artists too know this). Dealers, collectors and other art people swoop down during the last days of the show and make hard bargaining with the artists and take the works for one fourth of the quoted prices. Artists, in a highly distressed conditions were forced to make clearance sales or in case of no(n)-sale, they would consign the works with some city based galleries who might have already made their rounds and done some agreement on consignment with the artists. That means, most of the artists left their works either by selling them for throw away prices or leaving them as consignments, trusting the gallerists not only for the money but also for the safe return of them after the consignment period. One could imagine, in those days with snail mail and land phoning as the only ways of communication, most of the artists might have lost track of their works due to the disinterestedness of the gallerists or their sheer disappearance. Yet another lot would think of collecting them in the coming years which perhaps would never come. And still another group would think of those works with a sense of relief feeling that they could clear their small living spaces of these works.

Many art dealers, gallerists and art people have made a little money out those works or in rare chances might have made huge fortunes provided the said artist became a hot property in the later years. In most cases, these works find their ways to the city’s famous (notorious too) second hand markets as junk, when the gallerists themselves clear their spaces and ‘divest the bad stock’. With the arrival of professionalism especially after the globalization process of Indian economy, well spelt contracts have been written and moreover mutual trusts are developed between artists and galleries or art organizations. That means, when the artist gives the works in consignment to an organizer or to a gallery, the legal system of the country is only partially mentioned or the accountability of this deed is limited to the parties who enter into the contract; that means, there is no social contract as in the case of a marriage. When profit is made out of works of art and when it is shared between the organizer/gallerist and the artist/s it is not made into public (only auction houses make the amounts transacted public). Only when the contract is breached and words are not kept, the artists become aggrieved parties. When, the artist knows that the gallery is still power and there is a possibility of it bringing benefits in future, then he/she would keep quite on what happened to their previous contracts. In the case of Bharat Bhavan and Lalit Kala Akademy, they are not profit making organizations nor do they offer a sales profit to the artists (at times they do. In the case of Bharat Bhavan, it is alleged that they have taken Rs.500/- as entry fee. Considering the number of artists applied, it must be a huge amount), they take the courage to express it in public, which we see in Gallery Fail facebook page.

 (Waswo x Waswo)

Had there been no money involved in this transaction between the Bharat Bhavan and the artists, I would not have seen it as a major offence instead I would have thought about it as a bureaucratic callousness which India is famous for. Here, as the organization has promised sending back the works to the artists on its own expenses and also the organization has made huge money in the form of entry fee/application fee, the failure of the organization to return the works to the artists reeks of corruption, which has to be probed legally. I believe that Bharat Bhavan is an autonomous organization yet it is not beyond the laws of the land. There should be a ministerial level probe on to this and it should be immediately brought into the notice of the state authorities and also to the notice of the Ministry of Culture, Government of India. Public accountability of the galleries and organization is still a thing which is not thought of in our country. Perhaps in the case of establishments like LKA, people have lost interest in them completely and whatever happens none in the artists community even looks at that side (the best example is that the Central LKA galleries are locked up for the last one month and nobody in Delhi art seems to have even taken notice of it). As we lack a clear cultural policy for our country and if at all some policy moves are seen here and there, due to heavy politicking, always such positions of decision making are handled by incompetent political bigwigs or cultural people with political connections.

Here I need to quote Ramachandra Guha extensively. In his latest book titled ‘Democrats and Dissents’ he writes in the already famous chapter, ‘Eight Threats to Freedom of Expression in India’: “I come now to my eighth and final threat to freedom of expression. This is constituted by careerist or ideologically driven writers..... “

“In India tragically, too many writers, scholars, artists and editors identify with a single party or even with a single politician, this association leading to the suppressing of facts or the twisting of opinions. This betrayal-a harsh word that seems entirely justified here-occurs all across the spectrum....”

“Party affiliations also lead to selective outrage, whereby writers and artists focus on some threats to freedom of expression while ignoring others. The left-wing group SAHMAT campaigned vigorously on M.F.Husain’s behalf, but stayed strangely silent on the treatment of Taslima Nasrin by the Left Front Government  in West Bengal....”

“....The Prime Minister himself does not appear to think that intellectuals, writers and artists contribute much to society, and this hostility to independent thinking and thinkers goes right down the line.” (pages 36, 37, 39)

(Ramachandra Guha, Historian and Author)

What Guha says is absolutely is the reason for the callousness shown by the galleries and art organizations that have close affinities with politicians or political parties. When the Prime Minister himself thinks that anybody could head the intellectual organizations, then things cannot be different in this country. Look at the artists who have responded this issue of non-returning works by the organizations. Even for the sake of expressing solidarity, the leading artists in this country have not responded to the issue because if they do their associations with the galleries and the government could be jeopardized. However, I feel that it is pertinent raise this issue in all the possible platforms and eke out a response from the authorities and whoever is responsible for doing such callous act or for the shoddy treatment of the artists and the works of art. The major reason for most of the big wigs keeping off from this issue is mainly because that they feel that the entry to the 7th Bharat Bhavan Biennale was done willingly by the artists and the ensuing problems should be handled individually because the contract is between them and the organizations. They are justified in believing so because their agreement with their galleries and organizations are absolutely professional and they are never cheated or betrayed by the organizations and galleries.

So far, this issue remains the issue of those artists who are not ‘established’ personalities. Anything could be done to these people because nobody is going to hold anybody accountable. The artists are so dispersed in locations and so disparate in tastes that no two artists are going to find a common cause to fight for, the organizations know. This state of things should be changed. There should be some kind of accountability and legal holding for both these artists and the galleries and organisations. Experts should think of it further.


(Gallery Fail in Facebook)

I will close long piece of article by recounting a personal experience regarding the non-return of the works of art. In 2012, I was the Project Director of the now defunct United Art Fair, Delhi. In this high energy program, young artists in India participated as if it was their own Art Fair. They all had entered a personal agreement with the management in which I was not a signatory. Due to many reasons, while the UAF brand was established it could not make a commercial profit. The management failed to send the works back to the artists (by the time I had resigned from the organization). Many young artists accused me of not taking responsibility of giving their works back. Technically and practically it was impossible for me as a person to coax the management to do the needful. The failure of the UAF to live up to the artists expectations as far as their works were concerned damaged the reputation of the UAF and it couldn’t survive a second edition (reasons are many but it is not the occasion to discuss all that). Time and again I have been asked whether it was my duty to send the works back to the artists. I have the works that had come to my shows even fifteen years back. The artists have never demanded them. I never had any reason to keep them with me. But fifteen years back, in the absence of an art market, curator driven shows were done in agreement with the artists who had promised to take the works back personally once the exhibition is done. If at all I have a few old rolls somewhere in my studio, they are all willingly left by the artists.

Let me go back to the marriage analogy. In the case of Bharat Bhavan, it looks like a broken marriage. The mutual trust has been broken. The girl has not come back to the parents’ house. She is languishing somewhere in the limbo in the bridegroom’s house. To make matters worse, the bridegroom’s parents are asking money to send the girl back. It amounts to dowry harassment. It should be tackled legally. Now, what would a marriage broker do in a divorce case?

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Nefertiti in the South West Coast

(Photograph by Shibu Natesan. This poem is inspired by this picture)

For centuries I have been standing here

While my sister in the land of pyramids

Made herself eternal inside the tombs

She never looked straight though powerful

I too do not after these many years on this shore

Covered from head to toe with a shame untold

But with eyes opened to the world

Mind opened to the dreams and gardens

Of heaven and the passions of hell

With burning thoughts I stand still here

In a silhouette, witnessing the setting suns

Day after days, seeing stars shooting up

Lazy moons growing and waning, listlessly

They came by ships, with mighty horses

Became one with the land and the language

Fused blood into blood in solemn ceremonies

Creating many like me; we were happy to be.

Later, while the lightness of eternity taking

My sister in the mysterious pyramid tombs

To the world’s great treasure troves for

Scholars and artists to admire and love her

I stood here with no scholarship or knowledge

But only with a vision gifted to me by my eyes

Burning the world before me silently yet

Determined to be submissive to one and all

Letting the world to fight on my body

To decide on whether I cover head to toe

Or completely naked in harems abundant

I stand here, with children running around

And waves lashing against the shores

I stand like a rock at the cliff before a frozen fall

Neglected and at times wondered at, desired

And discarded quite often till you came and

Clicked this picture and made me eternal

Like my sister in the tombs who has travelled

The world with her side glance and now me too


With you and your brother, to the word, to eternity. 

Keeping Patrons at Bay: A Tip for Present and Future Artists

(Dr.Philip and Dusty Walkom-Art Patrons- for representational purpose only)

Recently a young artist friend asked me why artists who start off as radicals slowly become a part of the establishment. It was not for the first time that I was confronting such a question nor was the phenomenon entirely new for me. I have seen so many artist friends becoming the part of the socio-political and economic system through their cultural agency. They fail to understand that system/society is something that always goes with the power centres. When it operates hands in glove with the power centres it cannot be radical. But the only question that remains is what is radical or how to be radical. I would say anything that operates from outside the norms of the society is radical and to be one, one has to simply operate from outside the system. That does not mean the ones who are radical are basically anarchists nor do they propagate anti-social stance in the society. They are like the gypsies who make war against the system from the fringes not with the hope that one day they would overthrow it but with the simply aim to keep it destabilize so that it would not become authoritarian.


To be a radical is a difficult proposition these days because we live in a society where Socialism, Communism, Marxism, Maoism and such erstwhile radical ‘isms’ are either contained via using coercive tactics including military force and societal perks. We also live in such societies that misinterpret such ‘isms’ as alien ideologies that works against the basic idea of capitalist property/prosperity therefore it becomes pertinent for them to oppose all these ideologies. Taking off from a fair amount of ignorance about social systems, ideologies that drive them and also the counter ideologies that aspire for common good even of the last man in the remotest area of the earth, the members of the mainstream society think that those people who sport a beard or even coming from certain geographical areas naturally are Socialists or Communists. They just do not understand the history of Socialism in India and also they fail to understand the fact that socialism was the ideological basis of the Congress that ruled the country for almost half a century. With globalization, the mainstream societies have almost decided that anything that appears to be slightly deviating from the main tracks used by the social engine, are radical therefore they should be shot down.

 (Problem Area: Artists too aspire for this life)

Calling names is the easiest way to shoot down the radicals and rebels, a tribe of people which moving fast towards extinction. However, I feel that their tribe will not die out so fast without giving some sleepless nights for the power centres because even if in a very limited and almost negligible proportion youngsters are coming to join this tribe of radicals. But again the question comes back why after a certain stage they become a part of the mainstream society and almost become happy to be the cogwheels of the engine of power that leads the society towards the so called development. It happens mainly because as Ramachandra Guha points out, our writers are part of the power centres or they aspire to be so. How does it happen, we need to ask again and again. The answer to this question comes from a simple understanding of the idea of success. Those people in any profession or working in field of life attach the idea of success with materialistic gains, financial opulence, social presence and the resultant power. Unfortunate it is that even the artists themselves attach the idea of success to these markers making themselves no different from property dealers, land developers, corrupt officers, engineers, doctors and other well paid professionals who work for both the public and private establishments.

When success quotient and success parameters are one and the same for both the artists and other people where exactly one would place the difference? An artist who aspires for a high end apartment through the selling of his/her works then becomes fundamentally no different from an IT Professional who aspires for the same using his salary and perks. If everyone is seeing success as the same thing then whatever one does would not make any qualitative difference. How some of the musicians and writers or even visual artists who could keep themselves off from this trap and still remain radicals is an interesting aspect to probe. They could be detached from this idea of success while enjoying all the fruits of it only because they do not attach their success to the ideas, ideals and ideology of the people who consume their creative products. They are not swayed by their patrons, in short. They are neither influenced by the patron’s ideas in their creativity nor do they succumb to the pressures of the state to create something to its wish, that means against the wishes of the creative people. To gain this position one needs to be extremely firm in their creative life and should slightly shift the focus off the idea of success and redefine it considerably.

(Fidel and Ali- Eternal Radicals)

I would never say that an artist should live in penury and struggle forever in abject conditions only because he/she happened to be an artist and a radical at the same time. I would never say that. I am emphatic on this because personally, being a creative artist, I do not want to live in penury or struggle. I do not thing that my creativity comes from my personal struggles. On the contrary I believe that my creative faculties would find new firmaments to fly if I keep the parameters of my success away from the financial gains or the social acceptance I get through my creative works. The onus is now both on the artist and the patron. As far as consumption of creative works is concerned a patron is all the more important. A patron by virtue of his financial freedom is always a person who stands closer to the power centres, which could be coarse or refined, but yet keeping his sensibilities much refined and sophisticated. For various reasons, the patron should have his closeness to the power centres and he would always create situations to perpetuate this idea of power in currency. But at the same time, thanks to his refined sensibilities, he would be interested to see and possess creative works that goes fundamentally against his own ideologies. A patron always is an affective radical. He buys the radical best and become a part of the different thinking, while keeping his fundamental believe in the system intact.

Here the artists could lose their track. The patron will be very good to an artist because what he buys is not the art alone from the artist, but his sense of radicalism also. His sense difference is what makes his art more alluring for the patron. It is a weapon so powerful to sharpen the aggressive sensibilities of the patron in the larger arenas of his own exposure in terms of business and profit making. Having the possession of the radical culture in his own vaults and walls is more important than running an art college or college for ‘producing’ culture. But the moment the artists who are patronised by this patron start believe in his ideologies, his attachments, his life style, his parameters of success and so on, the artists would slowly lose their sense of radicalism therefore freedom. Artists need patrons, but artists should believe in their patron’s life style or ideology for the simple reason that the patron himself does not believe in the ideologies and radicalism practiced by the artists. What he looks for is the emblematic radicalism as expressed in the works of art created by the artists. What happened to our artists is that by replicating the life styles of the patrons they lost the edge of their radicalism and lost the track of their art. They ceased to be humanitarians and environmentalists. They became gatherers of wealth the way their patrons are and became identity mongers by taking memberships in the high societies.

 (Poet Kumaran Asan by Shibu Natesan- Stand Alone)

One thing has to be remembered at this stage. A patron’s job and an artist’s job are two different things. Their lives are two different things; they cannot meet. Any meeting forcefully forged would be temporary because the patrons are the part of the power(ful) systems and the artists basically the people who operate from outside such systems. The moment artists become a part of that system, the patrons slowly lose the interest in them and they would look for other fresher artists and if at all they would wine and dine with the successful artists in parties and other avenues it would be just as to hold them as trophy creative people whom they have won over to their side simply using power of money. Most of the artists today are the people who have gone astray in the case of their relationship with the patrons. In their efforts to replicate their patrons’ lives they have lost their own lives and identities. They have become artists who make art not any more art of the universe that could make people go weak on their knees and shed tears of joy.

Once again I need to emphasise that the artists who want to be remain radicals should not replicate the life styles of their patrons provided they want to be a part of the system by lobbying for Padma awards, Rajya Sabha memberships and so on. If patrons are ready to buy the works of the artists, they should take the money, give the work and live a life of their own. Most of the artists in their efforts to replicate the lives of the upper class and that of the patrons have lost their souls and sense of being artists completely. Today they have also become status quoists with easily hurting egos. An artist would be noticed, noted and made eternal in the history only when it is proved beyond doubt that he or she stayed away from the system and lived a life of difference and created a life of their own. Artists are those people who make art for themselves and also for the universe, for animals and plants too. They are not the people who make art for patrons. Patrons are the people who seek art and difference. Let patrons live their lives and let the artists live their lives without mixing up the idea of success in pure materialistic terms. On that day our art scene once again would become more interesting and flourishing than it is today.    

Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Ceasing to be Human Artists: Becoming Animal and Plant -Artists


Poetry fails, art fails, dance fails and music fails. When all these fail human beings fail for they are the makers of all those art forms. Once they fail to create them out of fear, out of lethargy and out of a sense of uselessness the world becomes two dimensional. Human beings slowly turn into animals, mute, obedient and remote. They move away from the mainstream society which is formed by a group of people who have lost their art and sensitivity for art. Their failure lies in their inability to see those people who make art and listen to the silent clues that these art forms give. They even have not noticed that the artists, poets, dancers and musicians, and all other creative people have gone away from the crowds. They have gone somewhere else. They have gone to become animals.

Animals, birds and creatures are pure beings. So are the plants. The former ones move and the latter one stay. Whether they move or stay, they teach us a way of living; living without hurting others. Animals do not predate if they are not hungry. They do not hunt for fun. Plants live on inflicting least hurt to others. Both animals and trees intermingle in a beautiful heaven of co-existence. Human beings are also animals; they move and the only problem is that they think. The more they think the more they think about their own well being. So they hunt and they hunt to eat and hunt for fun too. Artists are animals by nature. But slowly they also changed their nature. They became human beings who hunt for fun. 


Artists who want to retain their animal nature somehow have become plants to day. They live silently, drinking sunlight and leaving out the best of things possible for the survival of other beings. They tend not to hurt anything around. Plants that grow in home gardens are not real plants; they live there because they do not want to hurt the people who have brought them there. Those are happy plants that live here and there without any order but keeping an internal rhythm with the nature. Plants and trees that are tended in the nurseries are not real plants yet they are there because they do not have the ability to walk off. They look at the trees around and keep on talking to them. As they do not move, they remain constant companions until they are taken away in cars to the floors that move towards heaven and away from earth.

Animal-artists are the plant artists. They walk silently with a sketch pad, a note book and a flute along the paths the mainstream people have grown tired. The mainstream people have gone to the six lane asphalt roads where carnivals take place, in the night clubs where loud noise, meaningless words, wild gyrations and psychedelic lights make them weirder than they have entered earlier. Animal-artists who have by now become plant natured sit under trees, take out their sketchbooks and draw; poets sit by the side of the river and write, musicians walk into the dark forests and play flutes for the beasts that hide inside, dancers move along the seashores, watching sunsets and sunrises.

Good artists are animals and plants. We have a lot to learn from them. We have to become them. We have to become the other so that the othering process would stop at some point. When everyone tries to become an other, a beast or a plant then there will not be persons with religious identities. When the need to gather diminishes, the need to emphasise identity also recedes. Animals do not tell their names or flaunt their religions, nor do the plants because they do not have banks and profits. They do not run businesses and invest in stock markets. They do not participate in auctions either. They do not sell their ninety per cent of the stocks to foreigners and retain ten percent and still control the aesthetics of a country. Animals do not run galleries. Plants do not collect paintings. But they adore each other. They drink from the same stream and never pollute it before they leave. So it is pertinent to become animal-artists and plant-artists, and go and live in forests and deserted places. To be a mainstream human being is Hell.