What is the best way to get attention in the public space? As we all wear clothes, nudity could attract a lot of attention. Protima Bedi had done streaking in Mumbai, which had created a lot of hue and cry in 1970s. I still remember a grainy black and white photograph of Protima Bedi’s back in the Illustrated Weekly (1974).
I will jot down a few more ways to get public attention: climbing an electricity tower, attempting self immolation at a public square, throwing shoes at a dignitary in a press conference, making appearance with super stars, paying up public relation agencies etc.
When I speak of making appearance with super stars, I think of the opposite; you can get publicity by doing acts of desecration on Public figure aka super stars. Attacking a religious monument comes from this mental state. Throwing a stone at a super star would definitely bring you attention.
(Universal Super Star of Humanity - Mahatma Gandhi)
Mahatma Gandhiji is one of the biggest superstars
has ever produced. I should say Mahatma Gandhiji is a reigning super star of the world. For Apple and Monte Blanc, Gandhiji is a universal icon of ‘communication’ and ‘writing’. Marshal MacLuhan would say, medium is massage and message too. India
Hence, trailing a gun at Gandhi or showering flower petals on him again and again is an international sport played by writers, artists, film makers, sociologists, cultural theorists, politicians and advertising kings.
(Think Different- Apple's appropriation of the Universal Icon Mahatma Gandhi)
So we have artists who recall Gandhiji in their works. Most of them are critical of the ways in which the image of Gandhiji is used in the public spaces. The socio-political and cultural ironies are caught by them in their works. Gandhiji is a body and icon at the same time to be deconstructed and re-constructed. Each time he is deconstructed, he throws open the possibilities of reconstruction too.
Gandhiji was not a flawless god. He was a human being that walked on the earth. Hence, critiquing him would come natural. Criticism is leveled at flawed creatures.
But any kind of critique should come with a tremendous amount historical understanding and daring. Gandhiji is a knowledge system in himself. So attacking him culturally needs another knowledge system.
(The writer in Gandhiji. Monte Blanc chooses this icon to advertise their pen)
Here is an artist in Debanjan Roy who does funny portraiture of Gandhiji. I happened to see a series of works by him in Ahmedabad, presented by Akar Prakar Gallery, Kolkata. Each work by this artist is a social and cultural offence. You may ask why I say so.
Let me answer that question. The artist presents his Gandhiji as dwarfish impish character with a stupid smile on his face. He is protected by highly armed security guards etc. Gandhiji could be seen doing different chores. The artist must be thinking it as a critical intervention on the ‘narrative’ of/on Gandhiji.
But his works are a socio cultural offence because this artist has no clue of portraiture or caricature. You can discard this argument as a formalist one. Okay, my second argument, this artist, through these caricature sculptures thinks that he is praising Gandhiji and critiquing a system. But how can you praise your mother or father by making their ugly portraits?
(work by Debanjan Roy)
Ahmedabad is one of the twelve sensitive cities where the law and order authorities say that a riot could break out on socio-religious and political lines. On the eve of this show, Ayodhya Verdict was declared but the city remained calm. This city of
proved its allegiance with Gandhian philosophy. But somehow, the Ahmedabadians missed this show. Gandhiji
I believe, if there was a riot, it would have been to stop this show. But then Gandhians do not believe in rioting, right?
Perhaps, I am okay with an artist forwarding critique on Gandhiji because I have grown up by looking at the cartoons of Shankar, Kutty, Abu Abraham, R.K.Laxman and OV Vijayan who had severely caricatured Gandhiji. But they had a reason to do so but they were not irreverent either.
Here this artist, when a controversy came up in
, said that he was all for Gandhiji and it is his way of praising him. Bangalore
(Hutch is now Vodafone. But Gandhiji is not now like this. The controversial work in Bangalore)
Come on artist, have you seen the works of the Chinese contemporary artists who have extensively critiqued Mao and his political hands through distorted portrayals? None of them said that they were praising Mao. This is a sculpture by Gao Brothers. And now you know from where our artist in question takes off. When you have a reason to caricature you stand by that. Why do you say that you love Gandhi so you make him like an imp and put a crow on his head?
(Miss Mao by Gao Brothers- China)
(Mao Jackets by Sui Jianguo)
My plea to Indian contemporary artists is this much: When you critique something or someone through your work of art, stand by it. Don’t reverse your arguments at the face of a controversy or negative approach by the state.
(an Indian does not need any explanation for this picture)
We live in a democracy that’s why artists like this are still roaming around in this country. So believe in democracy and respect it too. If you find Gandhiji is too heavy a subject, please don’t handle it. And if you are taking Gandhiji as an easy way to fame and fortune, do it, but do it with guts.
A critique is a critique. And when it is placed in the public, always be sure that you are answerable. If you are not ready to be accountable, why do you touch heavy weights like Gandhiji? Just be happy by doing watercolors of Kolkata streets.