Sunday, October 25, 2009
There are few magazines that make you to read cover to cover. Philosopher Francis Bacon says when he talks about books, ‘some are to be tasted, some are to be swallowed and some are to be chewed and digested.’ It is applicable in the case of art magazines also. ‘Some of them are to be happily put into refrigerators for an imagined future use and later trashed along with other rotten stuff,’ Bacon would have added had he been living today.
Though a keen reader of art magazines of all complexions, I should confess that the kind of art writing promoted by several of these magazines has made me to flip the pages as fast as I could.
But here is a magazine, the four issues old Art Connect+, published by the IFA, Bangalore and edited by Anjum Hasan that makes you to read it as if you were reading a thriller.
IFA has been sending me the complimentary copies since Art Connect was launched in 2008. I would say, the latest issue is the best out of the four.
A translated chapter from Marathi novelist Santa Gokhale’s ‘Tya Varshi’ (In that Time) sets the tone of this particular issue. Translated by the author herself, the plot of the novel unveils in the year 2004. There are classical singers and artists who are affected by the national pogroms and global wars live, suffer, triumph and die in the novel. In the particular chapter available to us, Santa Gokhale shows us the predicament of a classical singer who wants to improvise her classical training to the needs of the contemporary times. But her Guruji disowns her for her ‘deviation’ from the tradition.
The conflict between tradition and contemporaneity is what Santa Gokhale wants to narrate and as the former art critic of Times of India, she knows the art scene first hand. She makes parallel narratives of two streams; of classical music and contemporary art to explain her case. Though we are not privileged to read the whole novel, as it is in Marathi, the present piece of translation would help us to understand the intensity of the theme.
Quite naturally, the same conflict comes up again for discussion in a beautiful conversation between the modern dancer Astad Deboo and the theatre and film director Sunil Shanbag. Deboo speaks of the spaces that he uses or discovers when he is invited to perform. Through drawing a parallel between one of the classical dance forms, Bharatnatyam, and the kind of dance he performs, Deboo says how effective the classical forms would have been had the performers dared to use the given space a bit more consciously. For the one should step out of the norms, without discarding or disrespecting them.
‘In the World of Marafat’, writer and researcher Surojit Sen travels through the world of Marafat singers. They are like Sufis, trying to link the individual soul and the eternal soul through the worship of body and the songs in praise of it. Sen traces the history of Marafat singers and narrates the personal lives of a few Marafat singers and through which he brings out the social conflicts that they need to go through in their personal lives.
‘Disappearing Professions in Urban India’ is an essay photo essay combination between Oriole Henry and Clair Arni. Oriole and Clair travel through the innards of Kolkata and look for the traces of the remaining traditional small scale industries like shoe making, wig making, perfumeries and so on. The crisp text and the revealing and poignant photographs make this essay palatable to both eyes and brain.
‘The Story of a Story Teller- Jogesh Chandra Bose’ is a life sketch of the first radio story teller in Kolkata. Written by historian Indira Biswas, this essay tells us the social situation in which radio broadcasting was done during the third decade of the last century. The total radio population during 1930s, put Bombay and Calcutta together, was just above ten thousand. In that context to become a popular broadcaster was a seriously great feat. Jogesh Chandra Bose, a forty year old lawyer did it.
Jogesh Bose modeled his program on one of the children’s program in BBC and assumed the role of an imaginary grandfather, ‘Galpadada’. He used to tell stories and interesting anecdotes. The popularity of the show grew and it became a regular feature in CRS (Calcutta Radio Service). He became so popular that publication of a magazine followed. When the radio station was about to discontinue broadcasting thanks to financial problems, children and grown up in Calcutta wrote thousands of letters showing concern for the future of Galpadada.
Janaki Abraham’s ‘Who has Photographs? A Journey through the Homes in Talassery’ is a wonderful piece of research narrative. By going through the personal and professional photographs taken and preserved by the Tiyya families in the North Kerala, Janaki Abraham explains the social dynamics of caste, economics, culture and politics played within and without these families. Janaki considers two case studies, one of the circus families and the other of an individual who against all odds learnt to use a camera.
What makes this issue of Art Connect interesting is its first person touch in the narratives. Mostly in the jargon filled academic writings, scholars choose to avoid first person ‘I’. Without compromising the academic depth, all these writers have used ‘I’ to tell us about their research and the stories from their research.
While the jargon infested seminar papers go to Sivakasi to supplement the cracker industry, Art Connect+ will remain in the shelves for long time. And a reader would definitely take this issue out once in a while to have a re-look at it, with a smile.
Thursday, October 22, 2009
Certain pictures prefer to stay in zoom in mode always. Time does not pixellate them in memory.
Year- 1996. Place- Delhi. Location- a private gallery.
A young artist from some village in North India comes to this gallery. A lady, who is a receptionist-cum-typist-cum-accountant sits at the desk. The artist wants to show his works, which are rolled up under his arm.
She asks him to unroll it and show. He sits on the floor. Unrolls the papers one by one. She says, ‘next…next’.
Expectation fills in the eyes of the young artist.
‘Leave them here or come back with more works later,’ she says.
Artist rolls the papers again. Silently he walks out. She goes back to the opened ledger before her.
Anger seethes in me. I too am young, frustrated and arrogant. I feel like slapping her.
But I too walk out with castrated turmoil inside me.
Year- 2009. Place- Delhi. Location- another private gallery.
An artist comes inside. He does not carry any paper rolls with him. He is neatly dressed. He has a stylish bag hanging across his chest. He waits for someone to attend him.
Finally the gallery director walks in.
Expectantly, he approaches her. And he fishes out a CD from his bag.
‘I want to show my works to you,’ he says with a lot of confidence.
The gallerist looks at him and says, ‘I don’t have time.’
The boy walks out as if nothing has happened to his dignity. But I could see a flash of pain in his eyes.
But this time I don’t feel any anger. I say hello to the director and walks into her chamber with her, yes for my business.
Between these two incidents there are thirteen years.
Artists have grown in confidence. They know how to approach a gallery and also they know how to handle rejection.
But, I believe, behind the façade of helpless and the newly gained confidence there is a streak of pain that cannot be wished away.
I find more artists who are rejected by galleries than the accepted ones.
Does it show that all the rejected artists are unworthy of being called artists? If not, why they don’t find success in finding a gallery to show their works?
These questions lead to another question: How do the galleries choose their artists?
I have noticed a pattern during the last five years: 1) Trial and error basis (okay, let’s try this guy. If clicks fine, if not just forget). 2) Facilitate curated group shows and pick and choose those artists whose works are asked for by the buyers/collectors. 3) Talent hunting through campus recruitment. 4) Selecting the award winners. 5) Peer pressure selection (if some young artist is supported by one established gallery, going for the same artist or similar artists). 6) Taking those artists with foreign education tag. 7) Selecting those artists who could successfully handle the existing trend. 8) Taking in those artists who are part of international residencies/ workshops. 9) A set of interests come together to project certain artists as ‘intelligent’ ones. 10) Looking for those artists who are NRIs. 11) Selecting those who are supposedly cutting edge. 12) Absorbing those artists who are in the ‘camp’ of certain curators. 13) Successful artists’ wives. 14) Going by auction results. 15) Cutting nose artists (Five people say someone is a great artist. Then the others fear that if they don't parrot the same they might look fools).
There are only a few countable galleries who choose their artists through intelligent discretion, work on them consistently, build up their history, place them in the right shows and right places. These galleries are not affected by boom or recession.
But unfortunately, we have very few galleries like that.
Those artists who do not fall into the 15 categories I pointed out before, are the artists who move around with the CDs. Interestingly, they read all the art magazines, visit most of the shows, discuss aesthetic issues with successful artists, participate in seminars, keep themselves updated with the contemporary debates and try to be intelligent and intelligible always.
Having said that, I do not mean that those artists who have already found the galleries, are unintelligent.
But why don’t these intelligent artists outside the galleries and residency spaces don’t find a place within?
Is it because we lack intelligent curators or the galleries do not listen to the curators?
To be realistic I should say that all the artists will not get a space in the gallery system. But if the galleries, critics and curators work together many of those outsiders will be inside.
Who will bell the cat, is the question here.
Who should take the initiative? The galleries or curators?
Have curators got autonomous power in the present scenario?
Can galleries work without curators in our times?
These are the questions we have to answer. May be your views will help me to understand this issue better.
(Picture: A still from Coco Fusco’s performance piece ‘Rights of Passage)
Wednesday, October 21, 2009
Hirst is at it again. Damn it! You may say. But he is Damien Hirst.
He says, he cannot believe any more on photographs and usual display in galleries. So he chooses a museum, right next his office, convenient. Wallace Collection Museum, London is where Damien Hirst makes his latest statement through twenty five paintings.
The show is titled ‘No Love Lost Blue Paintings’. He has been painting these works since 2006.
Adriane Searle, the art critic of Guardian comments, “This is painting as method acting. He just keeps at it. Hirst's paintings lack the kind of theatricality and grandeur that made Bacon succeed. At its worst, Hirst's drawing just looks amateurish and adolescent. His brushwork lacks that oomph and panache that makes you believe in the painter's lies. He can't yet carry it off.”
Many well known critics say the same. Damien Hirst does not have a painterly flair. He is good at his pickled sharks and animals, and the bizarre beauty of skulls, they say.
But Hirst begs to differ. He draws heavily from Francis Bacon and he enjoys the works of Rembrandt.
Now Hirst is the biggest supporter of ‘paintings’ and ‘museums’. Galleries and contemporary works can take rest for the time being.
And he says that art market can be created by just two crazy people.
Oh yes…now it is our time to think on Damien Hirst’s latest move because we are a country full of artists who are not X or Ys. But they are Indian Damien Hirsts and Indian Andy Warhols. So when Damien Hirst makes a move we cannot sit idle.
But step in caution. What are we going to do with our art market and its style of functioning now?
As a curator and critic, I have been watching the change of track by the Indian galleries for quite sometime.
In 90s, there were few galleries in India that even looked at photographs, installations and video works. They said, you can do installation, ‘but the medium should be oil on canvas.’
Then almost after a decade we have a situation here. Look, we need some installations, some photographs, some digital works and some videos in our shows. Paintings, okay.
Recently a new born gallerist even dared to say, ‘Canvas is dead.’
All of us know what made all the difference. Suddenly there was a change of pattern in the way of international investment in art. The investors from all over the world wanted non-painterly works. Subodh Gupta made a lot of difference. Jitish Kallat and many more. Skulls and bones became a fashion.
Somebody told me recently that there was a reason for all these changes. There is a secret organization somewhere out there called Skull and Bones and they control the international economic situation. And it is their agenda to promote skulls and bones in art.
Exotic and symbolic it sounds. But we have a lot of skulls and bones in our works. Now more brains, ligaments and penises.
Suddenly, in Indian scene too painters became a sort of outcasts.
“I am multi media artist. Multi faceted too.” Facebook artists scream. Then they add sheepishly, I paint too.
In the process we side stepped brilliant painters like Shibu Natesan. A market slump could place Atul Dodiya out of discourse. Surendran Nair, a veteran.
Am I against the new media art? Not at all. New media art needs a space, time, attention and market. For that we should not have scorned painting.
Because we have great painters/artists. The secret reality is this, one TV Santhosh painting can help any gallery from sinking. One TV Santhosh painting can still bail out one flop show.
But somewhere, of late, we have started posing that we hate painting.
Now Damien Hirst with his Bacon style paintings and his all out self endorsement with legendary painters like Goya, Soutine, Rembrandt and so on has created some ripples, which could change the course of art market.
So what are we going to do?
Are we going to redeem our good painters from oblivion?
Our art market is not yet matured. It needs to go through the baptism by error. If we stop all our experimental promotions and go again behind painting only because Damien Hirst is all for painting, we are going to ruin our art market big time.
At the same time, if we just neglect the good painters in India and go behind pop up fortune hunters disguised as new media artists, we are going to crash down somewhere in the near future.
Learn it from Hirst. His paintings are talked about because he dared to do his stuff when he wanted it to be so.
Let our artists mature in their own ways. Don’t drop them only because they do new media art, which Hirst no longer endorses. Don’t drop our painters only because some crazy market makers said painting was dead.
Damien Hirst is not the way but a direction. If we don’t learn it from his whims and fancies, we will produce only Indian Damien Hirsts.
Learn from history. If not, as Manjunath Kamath puts it, “We will end up as T-shirt pictures in a flea market; local icons with no future.”
(picture courtesy Dailymail online)
Tuesday, October 20, 2009
In Sosa Joseph’s paintings (currently on at Mirchandani+Steinruecke Gallery, Mumbai) daily chores of a woman take the shapes of simple codes that are decipherable only by using the keys of experience. Such codification happens when an artist thinks in crisp literary catch phrases like ‘birds came to a conference during the flood’, ‘cats came as I cut fish’, ‘from the depths of blue waters she came up and the world went on with its rituals unaware of her coming’ etc. By looking at her works one could easily say that she is inspired by the myths that she conjures up during the afternoon ennui and the sadness of evenings. She then converts these myths into visuals as an attempt to impart meaning to her existence as a human being as well as an artist.
Imagine the artist as a lonely woman (which is an assumed self of the artist as she has to play the busy roles of being a mother and wife) sitting at a window sill and watching over the waters that flow by and the greenery that sways by the wind. She is trapped in time and space and the self imposed immobility has given her a special capacity to see the things around her with an added clarity. There are two possibilities before her; either she can enter the larger world using communication facilities or she can leave her studio behind and set out for a journey. However, she chooses to be there at her studio in Kochi, perhaps making herself insular from the world affairs. Hence, there is no war, no bleeding and no rifts in her work.
One would be surprised to see a woman artist’s work without red threads, stitches, ripping off of the canvases, riveting performances and iconic imageries. In Sosa’s pictorial world these generic feminine constructions are strangers. While at her canvas she relies on her mythologies, her pet dreams, her daily utensils and the most trivial daily events, liking a cat chasing another cat.
But this world of simple codes is deceptive. It ensnares the viewer into another world of micro politics and economics. The artistic immobility or self imposed confinement within her studio space reveals itself to the viewer as a strategy that the artist uses to understand a ‘resultant world’. This is a left over world or a world left over by the dealings of macro politics and macro economics. Everyday, every moment, a left over world is produced by the macro world of politics and economics. This left over world happens within the domestic realms of a woman, who often is at the receiving end of things. And she finds her haven in the kitchen.
One may find this argument a bit stretched as they see a lot of women coming out of this confined domestic spheres and making the macro world their own. They participate in the bigger world affairs and they assert their freedom to be individuals. Kitchen is no longer their prison. But as we go deeper into the layers of the contemporary society, we see, despite all the achievements by liberated women in the world, most of the women are still left in the left over worlds of kitchen and domesticity. From these left over worlds the softest of revolutions occur in the form of songs, images, rituals, madness, mythologies and wailing. Sosa paints this world of micro revolution where the individual women handle their lives in confinement with dignity. They become the queens of their own world managing their practical realms and the realms of imagination.
Seen from this perspective Sosa’s images, coconuts, fish, vegetables, cats, jugs, mugs and many other kitchen utensils come to us as micro units of a left over world where the woman manages the lives in general. It is from the left over money or the accumulated money that she collects for her simple ingredients for nourishment. The artist seems to probe into the origin of economics within these domestic spheres where men are not present, rendered useless or even engaged in other social rituals like religious processions or political processions.
What is the economics of kitchen where men are absent, is the question that Sosa raises in her works. She places the woman as the focus of this discourse on micro economics. Her unproductive labor is always rendered in the kitchen space where she has to deal with fish and cat, vegetables and coconut. However, in her subtle defiance Sosa finds a way to create value for her daily labor by raising it into the symbolic order. In symbolic order we find value. There is a soft revolution taking place in Sosa’s works, which perhaps the city bred liberated women cannot identify with.
The animal world which is more active than the human world in Sosa’s works, is emblematic in the sense that the artist tends to state for the women, only this world of mute creatures seems to be comforting. This is a deliberate stance of a creative woman to shun the men’s world and retreat into the world of animals and vegetables and fish. She makes constant communication with water and the communication is emphasized through the visual images like birds and animals doing their holy communion during the times of flood and deluge. She identifies with the evening of dragonflies.
Sosa in one of her major works titled ‘Incomplete lessons’ paints a surrogate self portrait that finds resonances with the famous painting ‘Birth of Venus’ by Botticelli. Here we have the artist’s surrogate coming out from a conch shell covered till waist by a host of fish. She takes the centre stage and around her unveils the daily drama of men and mass. The domestic world is on her left and right in layers and gradations and she remains there in the middle unaffected by all, like a presiding spirit, almost mocking the existence of all what is happening around her. Only in this work, Sosa shows the contained rebellion of her otherwise demure self.
Sosa Joseph does not wail that she is a household utensil that gets grated away in kitchen. On the contrary, she finds affinities and to show this affinity she chooses a sort of naïve expressionism, which is quite common to woman artists who contain rebellion in their minds. Sosa has her on stylistic affiliations with the contemporary art practice. In her smaller works, she is closer to the language of Nilima Sheikh and when it comes to the narrative formats she likes to be closer to the style developed by Gulam Mohammed Sheikh. It should be a thing of pride as contemporary art does not happen in a void. It has a continuity, at times diverging and at times converging with history.
Sunday, October 18, 2009
‘2 States- the story of my marriage’, the latest novel by Chetan Bhagat, is a sort of ‘DDLJ’ in print; but with a small difference in the plot. In DDLJ Raj Malhotra (SRK) courts Simran Singh (Kajol) and he crosses seven seas to convince Simrin’s reluctant parents. Here Krish Malhotra crosses a few states in India to claim his lady love, the Tamil beauty, Ananya Swaminathan. It is an interesting but strange coincidence that ‘2 States’ is released in the same month when DDLJ celebrates its 14th year in theatres. It is reported that Maratha Mandir, a single screen theatre in Mumbai has been playing DDLJ for the last fourteen years to a more or less packed house ever since its release. It was twenty two rupees for a balcony ticket in Maratha Mandir when DDLJ was released. It remains unchanged after fourteen years. Chetan Bhagat’s first book, published by Rupa and Co in 2004 was priced at Rs.95. The latest book also is sold for the same price. Somewhere the author comments that the price of milk and other items have gone up since 2004 but the price of his books remains the same.
Chetan Bhagat’s novels deal with the ‘middle class’ India. To be precise, Chetan deals with the moral and ethical dilemmas of a middle class India, caught between modernity and tradition. Within the generic notion of nationality embedded are the notions of differences in terms of religion, caste, class and region. Emphasizing on ‘difference’ could be one of the ways to resist hegemony or to ascertain the hegemonic position that one holds. In India we have this curious mixture of unified nationality and the perpetuation of differences both in the public and private domains. Marriage is one such establishment that facilitates the interface between the public and private domains, and all the value systems that both these domains hold dear.
Krish Malhotra, a Punjabi from Delhi and Ananya Swaminathan, a Tamil Brahmin from Chennai meet at IIM, Ahmedabad and fall in love with each other. Though the time period is not specified in the novel, going by the indications one could make out that they fall in love sometime during the late 1990s, when there were no mobile phones. The IT boom was just taking shape somewhere in the Indian firmament. And above all, the boys and girls of that time were not just planning to elope for getting married. They wanted to convince their parents of their love and get married with everyone’s consent. To achieve this they needed to go through several trials and tribulations. Chetan’s novel is all about their attempts to win over the warring chieftains of two clans, namely Punjabi clan and the Tamil Brahmin clan.
The micro universe of Krish and Ananya brings forth the macro culture of India; the perennial divide between North and South. The North Indian secretly nurtures some hatred against the South Indians and the South Indians do the same against the North Indian. Before the television revolution and IT revolution, for the North Indians, all the South Indians were just ‘Madrasis’. It is a colonial left over as most of the Southern regions during the British rule were designated as ‘Madras Province’. Even today, for the unmindful middle class, South means ‘Madras’ and a southerner means a ‘Madrasi’. The word ‘Madrasi’, once a term of identification gradually became a term of insult and scorn as it accumulated all the political and cultural strangeness and differences over a period of time (especially during the post independence years). Now nobody would like to be called a ‘Madrasi’ mainly because there is a general feel that the Indian-ness is somehow defined and dominated by the so-called Punjabi culture.
Chetan narrates how Krish gets himself posted at the Citibank division in Chennai in order to impress Ananya’s parents. He wins them over. But he has a strange family back in Delhi, which is complicated not only in terms of dowry demands but also in terms of intra-personal relationships. The story meanders through various interesting incidents that vivisect the hilarious nature of both the communities; the Punjabi and the Tamil. Mutual insults almost sound like the orations of hardcore racists from elsewhere. Chetan underlines the fact that we are still living in a racist society and the only way to overcome the racial prejudices is to encourage interstate marriages.
Humor is Chetan’s tool. Small little sentences encapsulate the human follies in the funniest manner. As an author, Chetan intends a social critique; he aims at the ills of the society, a society that claims to have post-modern mindset but still revels in pre-historic values.
Two interesting faults that I could see are these; a guide in Goa says that Ek Duje Ke Liye is a story of a North Indian boy and a South Indian girl. In fact, the movie is about a South Indian boy and a North Indian girl. In the last section, the birth of twins is presented as a surprise- a bit cinematic. But as we go by the internal clues of narration, we come to know that this couple has got married around 2003. We all know that our medical facilities were sufficient enough to trace the twin embryos during that time. Hence, in normal case the couple should be aware of their ‘twin babies’ before hand. Or is it that the couple did not care to do medical check up during the nine months of pregnancy? One can’t believe that Krish and Ananya doing that.
One should not read Chetan Bhagat for enlightenment literature. His readers come from different strata of the society. They celebrate his works for their clarity and message. It is not the pure pulp, but pulp with the ideas of reformation.
While camping with thirty artists in Daman, I was not reading newspapers or watching television almost for a week. I did not know that Chetan’s latest work had hit the stands. On my return journey to Delhi, at the Mumbai airport I chanced upon this book with red cover that looked like a high school geography text book. I did not think twice to buy one copy as I saw Chetan’s name on the cover. In the airport, I found at least ten people reading it. In the aircraft too, many were seen reading it. In Faridabad, Haryana, where I live, in one of the Reliance outlets in a mall, I found several people at the cash counter, their trolleys filled with Diwali gifts and at least one copy of ‘2 States’.
Finally we have a ‘popular’ writer whose popularity is not depended on controversies. If needed ‘2 States’ has all the ingredients for generating a controversy. But who would like to flaunt one’s own fallacies in public; our purest racist selves?
Sunday, October 11, 2009
There are three Udwadas for the artists in FALCAT camp; one, the Udwada in my curatorial note. Two, the Udwada that they see with their own eyes. Three, the Udwada in their personal interpretations.
‘This place holds a particular charm, which I am not able to explain in words,’ says Reji Arakkal, one of the youngest members in the camp. “I read your blog and then read your curatorial note. I am looking for what you have seen but I see what I cannot escape,’ he adds.
‘It is nostalgia. If you ask me to give you a work, I may make work out of Tarkovsky’s Nostalgia and give you right away,’ says Prasad Raghavan, whose works are inspired by the classical movies.
The charm of nostalgia, the charm of ruins, the attraction of the left-over, the secret of the closed doors, the allurement of dilapidation, the threat of collapse, the waves of eternity, the non-extinguishable fire of faith, the slow pace of a strange life: Udwada holds it all.
We are all there in Udwada at ten O’clock in the morning. Twenty nine friendly invaders armed with cameras and eyes wide open in wonderment move along in the by-lanes of Udwada.
A sleepy village, disturbed by the movements of visitors, changes position in its own perennial slumber and goes back to sleep.
The artists have split into many teams. And they are not allowed to visit the Fire temple of Ahur Mazda, the pilgrim center of Parsees, where the fire that they had brought in the 10th Century AD from Iran still burns. But they can visit the replica of its sanctum sanctorum at the museum in Udwada, currently maintained by the Government of Gujarat.
A few of us get lost as we follow a wrong sign board and we look around for some people who can show us the way to the museum. We meet two women, who look like vegetable vendors.
‘To that way,’ one of the women gestures. We don’t find any ‘way’ where she points. We walk on and find an auto-rickshaw driver.
‘Museum?’ he asks unconvinced. ‘There is no museum here.’
By this time I am accustomed to those people who tend to give wrong directions or no directions at all.
We keep walking. Then the auto-rickshaw comes back to us and the driver tells us to take a right turn and follow the sign boards.
The Museum of Parsees is located at the northern end of Udwada. Along the way, we find residences in various stages of decay.
Wherever there is degeneration and collapse, nature comes into play. It embroiders the decaying structures with flowery creepers. Anywhere in the world abandoned places have the same greenery of celebration- the greenery that houses ethereal spirits and slimy creatures of the earth.
Mango trees are in every courtyard of ruin as if they were still showering fertility and prosperity to whatever they are guarding. When things are degenerating mango trees can do nothing but shower the process of degeneration with blessings. Nature ultimately does not discriminate.
One of the dilapidated structures houses a sculpture studio. Artists are curious. They get in there and find the fiber glass casts of the Ahur Mazda temple architectural parts.
‘I don’t know where it goes. But we get orders to make it,’ the boy who presides over the fiber casts informs us. He says that the studio in ruin was the property of a Parsee family, which had shifted to Mumbai. Now they have sold it to another Parsee family. Details….he does not know.
Here no property is sold to a non-Parsee person. We find a huge wasteland with a lonely sing board saying that it belongs to the Tata Group.
George Martin and Babu Eshwar Prasad, who zoom past us on their motor bike find a place with a board, ‘Babu Artist’. But nobody is there in the building and nobody knows who runs Babu Artist’s studio.
Neglecting the caretaker’s admonitions we get into a broken structure that leads to the sea shore. Prasad Raghavn climbs to its first floor and poses for a photograph, which, he says, would go into a Gucci advertisement.
Finally we reach the Museum. A humble structure filled with visual and textual histories of the Parsees.
Parsees, the followers of Zorashtrianism, came to the Indian shore in 11th century AD and finally settled in Udwada.
They have a distinctive culture and tradition. The items in the museum tell us the history through textual and visual narratives. A three room structure holds our attention than any other museum in India would hold.
Parsees have distinct birth and death ceremonies. The Tower of Silence, where the Parsees leave their dead to be consumed by the vultures becomes a major attraction for all of us. Death attracts as much as it repels.
A local artist has made visual and textual narratives on these ceremonies. There is a mutation of local and scriptural narrative styles in these albums. We try to identify the familiar and the mutant. The hybridization of culture is quite evident here.
The audio visual room in this museum is very interesting. There are four small showcases and a few books in them, which are secured behind strong locks.
In the small canteen there we have black tea, which obviously tastes different from the black tea that you get from elsewhere.
We have made previous arrangements for a complete Parsee lunch at the Aatish Hotel, one of the rare Parsee enterprises in Udwada, a place where you find small sandal wood pieces as the only merchandise.
Parsee menu includes both vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes. Vegetarian dish contains a sort of vegetable cuchori, salad, roti and paneer. In non-vegetarian you have chicken cuchori, dhansak (mutton gravy and rice), fish fillets and fish smoked in paper.
Inside the coco-cola racks we find similar cola bottles but with a different brand name, ‘Santa’. It does not taste like a cola, instead it tastes like Jal Jeera; a local cola but well packaged. A few of the artists become addicted to Santa. Later they would bring some Santa to Cidade De Daman and mix it up with Rum and drink.
After lunch a set of artists head towards Daman Fort again for extensive photo shoot.
Later at night George Martin and Rupa Paul do their power point presentations.
George Martin’s work that refers to Joseph Beuys’ performance spurs off a series of questions about art history and the use of materials.
K.M.Madhusudhanan and Rajan Krishnan activate the discussion by citing several examples from the life and works of Joseph Beuys.
The discussion continues till early morning 3 O’ clock.
Joseph Beuys can still flutter a few feathers with his sheer conceptual strength. That’s the strength of art history or literature built around art.
Art without its literature is bound to die, I tell myself before I slip into sleep rocked by the lullaby of art historical discourse by my spirited friends.