Sunday, March 27, 2011
Art Ashram- My Dream
She calls me once in a while. She speaks to me about her projects. She would like to do shows and she needs my help for that. She is now seventy five years old. A Santiniketan alumnus, she too had her days of glory in 1970s. Time brought changes into her life. With the growing responsibilities as a wife and mother, art took a backseat and she even forgot that she had a great run in the field of art. Then one day she felt that she could do it again. Her contemporaries were now famous people; they met her at the exhibition openings and they exchanged polite greetings that polite people learned politely in the polite circles. She was never invited to the parties and her former friends refused to come to her house parties on gloomy Saturday evenings. The party was happening elsewhere.
Sitting at the window, looking pensively at the yellowing leaves of a neem tree out there across the road, she told me that she wanted to do her exhibition. I could hear the unsaid: ‘before I die’. I looked at the old paintings from 1970s that she had taken out from the attic to show me. They were not exceptional and not particularly appealing to me. But they exuded the charm of the decade when she was young, beautiful and successful. Success brings beauty too, I thought. Then, failure should bring ugliness too. Failed people are ugly not because they are bad looking but because the failure sucks all the charms away from their faces. She was not looking ugly but I could say desperation had made channels on her forehead and cheeks. They no longer had the pink sheen that goes with the image of successful women.
I looked at the works that she had been currently working. They were semi-abstracts, with the suggestion of a woman in bondage. In some of the paintings, she had made unsuccessful attempt to portray herself as a queen. In some other works, she was too lyrical and the gardens and ponds seen in them became the real reflections of her aspirations. I knew what she wanted; she wanted recognition. She wanted meaning to her life. Her son had gone to the US to pursue his successful career as a ‘you-know-it-well’ software engineer. She was proud of her son and she was happy about her daughters who are successfully married and settled in their lives. But she was terribly alone with a retired husband involving only in community affairs, news channels and share market.
She needed recognition the way a dying man needed oxygen. In the due course of time, her husband had achieved wealth and they had set up a beautiful home. Everything was there; beautiful and exotic lampshades, vibrant curtains, folk and traditional wares at every corner of the houses, some affordable art pieces, a good library, huge imported plasma television, leather covered sofas, incense burners, soft music and what not. She had her own studio; easels, canvases, colors, reference books and a lot of despair and loneliness.
She told me to help her in organizing her show. I had my own reservations about her works. But I could not say anything to her. I spoke at length about the contemporary art practices, I delved a bit into the local gossips, which I found her enjoying thoroughly. I smiled at her and told her, before leaving her studio after having a few cups of differently flavored teas from different parts of the world, that I could help her in introducing her works to someone who to took a fascination for the kind of her works. She felt sad. She told me in a tone that I failed to fathom its depth that she did not want anyone to ‘buy’ her works. She wanted to show. She wanted me to write her catalogue. She wanted me to get her ‘at least a few good words’ from people who had totally forgotten herself as an artist and a human being. “I too am a human being and an artist,” she told me as I stepped into my car.
This is not an odd example. I have seen so many old people (people become old the day feel they are out of the loop of events and nobody confides them anymore on anything. People become old once they render them useless or others make them feel useless, even if they are just twenty four years old) feeling out of place in everywhere or sorrowfully taking part in parties and events to which they get some occasional invitations through a friends friend. I have observed these old people and have tried my best to put my feet into their shoes and think about what they feel at that particular moment of being a prop than a being. They go to the seminars and nobody even cars for their presence as they care much to the art deco furniture and the oak paneling of the seminar room. Nobody gives them preference at the buffet. Nobody asks them whether they are feeling comfortable or they enjoyed the papers presented just before the tea break. In parties, people chat away and glorify the works of some young brats or some successful oldies and make these people feel that they were deadwood and forgotten furniture tossed into the storerooms.
Being out of fashion or parlance does not make a person obsolete. So I have a reason to talk so. I too am getting old. I have had my friends and I would make friends till I switch over to another existence. But what would happen to me and my friends once we go out of fashion and our words, presence and opinion do not count for a generation to come or a generation that would just ignore us with there mountainous ignorance? What about us or the artists, writers, critics, curators, performers who have run their innings and are forced to retire to oblivion? It is seriously an injustice that we do to such people. I do not say that everyone should volunteer to respect them. But what I want is places where these people could live and their life in company, compassion and mutual appreciation.
I have a dream about aged art practitioners who are no longer trendy but still agile in their minds and creativity. I have a dream about a place or a life style for the people who are forcefully rendered useless by the changing scenario. I have a dream about a community living centre/centers wherever possible. And it is like this:
I call them Art Ashrams. These are the places where you make a complex of cottages, study rooms, halls, studios, gym, recreation centers, walking ways, garden and state of the art communication facilities, medical facilities and a wonderful kitchen. This is funded by a few like minded people with corporate and charity inputs. In these Art Ashrams anybody from the art scene could come in and stay as there would be some permanent and old people around all the time. If they visitors are young they could cook for the oldies, share their knowledge and art and in turn listen to the old stories recounted by the artists, writers, performers and so on.
In these Ashrams, nobody would stop you from being an inmate. You may come in and you may pay your fee (just to take care of your food, laundry and other auxiliary services), you can find warmth in your old friends. You may meet your girl friend or boy friend from another age. You may recount your stories and you may do your art. But in these places, you will find the ultimate recognition and respect both from your peer group as well as from the youngsters.
This is the place where you find yourself devoid of all egos. You get/make the same facility as others. None is treated specially. You can make yourself special by recounting stories every evening in a better way.
If you are a cynic, you make call it an old age home. But for me, in my dreams it is an Art Ashram, where I could live with my friends, colleagues, girl friends, boy friends, with your memories and stories.
My friends have promised me land and I am sure I will be able to raise funds to do the buildings. I don’t own it. It belongs to my dreams and my dreams belong to you. You are welcome to my Art Ashram.
Make your Art Ashrams, so that I could come and stay with you guys, whenever I need to tell you a story, in my old age with my weakened muscles and never say die will to dream and recount.