Monday, December 15, 2008

Where is the Artist Community’s initiative to Help Terror Victims?

I look at the words of my artist friend MSC Satya Sai. It is an e-mail that he sent to the Taj Public Service Welfare Trust, which was formed under the leadership of the Taj Group Chairman, Ratan Tata. The trust is meant for extending help to the Mumbai terror victims. The statement sent out by the trust says that it would ‘continue to discharge its mandate in the coming years, specifically covering relief to victims of sudden acts of violence, natural disasters, and other tragic events that inflict damage to life and property.’

A noble gesture from one of the most reliable industrial houses in India- The TATA Group. No doubt about it.
Satya writes to the trust (I don’t know whether it is ethical to reveal his words for my blog readers. But I take liberty of doing it as he is my good friend), “I am a Delhi based artist, originally from Hyderabad. With present market crunch, having few rupees in my account I may not donate the amount of money which I desire to but want to donate one of my paintings worth more than One lakh which can be auctioned and get more than its original price money for the Taj relief fund.”
I don’t doubt the intention of my young friend either. He really means it. He has the guts to tell the Taj Group that he is an artist, a struggler of sorts, but still wants to help the victims with whatever means available at his disposal.
But if I were a contemporary visual artist in India, I would not have given any kind of support to this trust. Please ask me why.
I would not have given any support to this trust because I expect my community and fraternity of artists to come forward to form a trust and execute its mandate in helping the affected in terror attacks. I want this artists’ trust to help not only those affected within the Taj Hotel premises, but all those faceless people who got affected in the Mumabi Railway stations while the terrorists struck.
Why should we always wait for someone like Ratan Tata or Aziz Premji or Narayana Murthy to come forward to establish trusts to support the public in India? What is our artists’ community/fraternity doing?
In one of my recent posts after the Mumbai terror attack, I had written about the failure of Indian contemporary art in reaching out to the common public. Now, I think, it is the right opportunity for the artists’ community to say, ‘we do care’.
I remember when Chandramohan’s works were attacked at the Fine Arts Faculty, Baroda during the final display in May 2007, the first war cry coming from the Chemould Gallery, Mumbai, in the form of an email. It said, all the artists should congregate in the gallery, make a resolution and take action against the right wing fundamentalists who attacked the works of art in Baroda. Next day, they gathered at the steps of Jehangir Art Gallery, Mumbai, made public speeches and later they traveled to Baroda by road to form a human chain in order to re-establish their solidarity with the somewhat nebulous artists’ community.
But when the terrorists struck Mumbai, this community is not seen anywhere. They are not asked any question by the media. Forget that media, most often it is crap. My friend in Mumbai informed me that one of the respected television channels in India, NDTV aired a program in which the celebrities were called to ask what did they feel about Mumbai episode and what was the song that they would prefer to dedicate to the nation? After their comments, a song of their liking was aired, to start with some nationalistic songs, then the usual Bollywood stuff.
Sickening, isn’t it?
More sickening is the attitude of those people (many from artists’ fraternity too) who go around, send sentimental text messages and emails. Tragedy transforms into comedy when some of the text messages languish between a sense of trauma and an intentional joke. Again, sickening it is when people go around and organize candle light vigils.
My artist friend in Delhi tells me, “Candle light vigil sucks. It is a photo opportunity for many and an outing for others.”
There are people who take this candle light vigils very seriously and they will never appear in newspapers and television. Here fashion industry leaders and parallel movie actors and NGO leaders call for candle light vigils. And next day, their pictures appear in front page of the newspapers.
A friend of mine sent me an SMS asking me to light a candle on one of the window sills at my home to remember the departed souls in Mumbai terror. I just deleted the SMS without any remorse. Reason: I don’t believe in candle light vigils. Number two, I don’t have window sill at home. Number three, I hate that feel good factor after doing something symbolic like this.
I am ready to accept that I am impotent and powerless.
In 2002-03 during my stay in London, I went through so many documentaries made on 9/11. The documentaries were made from different perspectives. Some dealt with the heroic action of the New York Fire Fighting Department. Some dealt with the police force. Some dealt with the lives of people who came out of the twin infernos. Some dealt with lives of the relatives of the dead people.
Nowhere, yes nowhere, I could see people calling out for candle light vigils. Instead, I saw a number of passers by stopping at the pictures of the missing people, even a few months after the terror attacks, placing a flower, a souvenir, an amulet, a book, or a sandwich, or a candle before them. They were not acting out for television cameras. They were the common people in the US, paying tribute to all those who lost their lives on 9/11.
Symbolic help does not help really. Where has Chandramohan gone? Did the artists’ fraternity that created human chain of solidarity later on ever think of this young artist who received all the ire of the rightwing fundamentalists?
Artists do not have any union. Galleries also don’t have any union. Apparently, Indian art scene has a peculiar dynamics. But when an issue that affects the general interest of the gallerists, they do discuss, merge, collaborate and participate in actions. Art Funds, Artists Pension Funds, Performance Art Festival etc are the best examples from the recent past to show how the galleries could come together and work towards a common goal.
But why they are silent now? Why they are not mobilizing public opinion through bringing all the artists in one platform?
Why do we wait for Ratan Tata to come and organize artists and galleries?
That is the importance of being Ratan Tata. The family of Tata did not reinvest all its money into profit making. They established cultural forums, museums, research institutes, publications and participated in the making of India as a modern nation. Tata Group is one of the biggest collectors of Indian modern art.
I am told that one of the prominent young gallerists in Mumbai walked into Taj Hotel a few years back and found out an immense collection of modern art in its rooms and halls. He identified several pivotal works in the collection. Nobody knows what happened to that collection after the fire and brimstones lashed out against the Taj Hotel.
Ratan Tata must be knowing and he must be worried also.
But the artists’ community does not worry. It has not even issued a joint statement yet.
Now tell me, why should I wait for Ratan Tata to tell me that we all should act? Why can’t my community take the initiative?
Is it because the artists’ community find the financial losses incurred thanks to market recession is more tragic than the terror attacks in Mumbai?
Now, you may ask me, why can’t I take the initiative to form an action group of artists?
I have already told you, I am impotent and powerless.
Let my community members also accept that they are impotent.
Until then, I am distinct and I belong elsewhere.

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