Saturday, December 24, 2016

Art Involving Porn, Maskara Gallery, Freedom of Expression and Demonetisation: Indicators of Art in 2016


(T.Venkanna and Abhay Maskara in a performance)

When I look back at 2016 what comes to my mind again and again are the faces of three artists namely T.Venkanna, Shine Shivan and Parag Sonarghare. These three artists had been contracted by the Maskara Gallery, Mumbai, which was closed down early this year, due to personal reasons as declared by the entrepreneur art collector Abhay Maskara who even published a book titled ‘Collecting Art’, a semi-autobiographical book which was written as a retrospection and introspection and was meant to initiate young and vibrant art collectors to test new visual treats and also tread on unchartered zones of aesthetics. Maskara Gallery, after the demise of Bodhi Gallery which had the pioneering reputation of taking risks and making the impossible possible, had also evoked a sense of wonder among the viewers with its unconventional space in the 3rd Pasta Lane in Colaba, Mumbai as well as unconventional art experiments. The artists who worked with Maskara somehow enjoyed a sort of exclusivity and were presented in art fairs as unique personalities who stood an inch above the ground either with their aloofness or with their carefully designed public personae. The fedora hat wearing Maskara was an unmistakable presence in the art crowd and I should say he used to pull a lot of strings which later got entangled all over him beyond repair.

 (work by T.Venkanna)


However, I should say luck is still in Maskara’s side. He was not forced to reduce the size of the gallery or was not forced to cut deals with the wives of film stars, ending up exhibiting ‘collectors’ items’ along with life style products in interior design shops. He was also saved from disgracing himself by opening his private collection and heirloom for public perusal and if need be for purchase. Distress sale could also be called ‘clearing sale’. Maskara did not take his gallery to remote islands where the rich and the affluent went for weekend revelry or retreat. What he did was just lowering the shutters, permanently. I think of the space inside which had seen inflated works, lot of pornographic images, chair assemblages and so on. One of the last exhibitions was a solo show by a young and intelligent artist, Parag Sonarghare who started off showing a lot with Delhi’s Art Konsult, then some independent performances only to land finally into the hands of Maskara with huge portraits of men with their flaccid genitals hanging helplessly and staring at the faces of the audience. Parag was a painterly version of Britain’s Ron Mueck who does large scale super real sculptures (Parag even wanted to do even my portrait. Portrait of an art critic with a dick, perhaps, which I politely discouraged by postponing the acceptance of that offer) and it did bring some eyeballs to Parag. I was sceptical about his adventurism and had a word with him too regarding this but he was convinced of what he was doing and he would do in the coming few years.


(Parag Sonarghare)

Demonetization struck and Maskara was not there in the business to take the hit. He had already taken a different trajectory in his life which I appreciate because any person in this world has the right to change the track of their business, interest and even the identity. One could even turn oneself into a new personality. Nothing is permanent in the world, so is somebody’s personality or commitment to certain discipline. To put it in other words anybody could do anything and I wouldn’t even wonder if former directors of galleries becoming private art consultants or even turning to interior designers, yoga instructors or chefs. Dig deep, you would see all of them here in our own Indian art scene. And I am sure demonetization, after the initial scrambling through the commotion, has not affected the galleries that much. It is a waiting period and once the Rs.2000 currencies are well in place as hard cash, things would restart with the same dispassionate reverence for the country’s economy and a deep sense of nationalism. But what about the artists whose careers have been either lost or left halfway by the galleries like Maskara Gallery? May be many galleries would again support their artists if the market stabilizes after the next budget. But how the artists of those closed down galleries would be placed in the market? I am sure none is going to die. Everyone will find some way to survive; they may be even adopted by the other galleries.

 (a work by Parag Sonarghare)

I am not sure about these three artists namely T.Venkanna, Shine Shivan and Parag Sonarghare. T.Venkanna has been painting pornographic images for a long time and has been well supported by Maskara. His works are not shown in the public galleries or in the places where they could be seen by the general public and god forbid, some people take an objection to the kind of aesthetics. Who is going to support this artist? Same is the case with Parag Sonarghare. If an issue of nudity is charged against him, who is going to stand by him and extol his aesthetics? Let me make it very clear that I am not going to raise my voice on behalf of the artists who do pornography or extreme nudes. It is not that I hate nude painting, but I am doubtful whether these artists would have gone aggressively on nudity and pornography had there been no support like an impresario like Abhay Maskara. Tomorrow, if their art is questioned by the uninitiated public, I am sure not a single gallerist in this country is going to stand by them. They can now disprove me. I also say that not a single art critic including the usual suspects in this country would stand up for these artists. Why? Before answering that let me speak a few words about Shine Shivan. A humble boy from Faridabad is made to act like a queer from Warhol factory, all by Abhay Maskara. I try hard to remember his works and what I remember are some cock and hen feathers. Shine Shivan’s art is killed by Abhay Maskara.


(Shine Shivan with his works)

Why T.Venkanna and Parag Sonarghare would not be supported by the other gallerists and art critics? The reason is that their art was not pushed into the general art market where the Gaitondes, Tyeb Mehtas, Razas, Dodiyas and Kallats are collected. Their works are collected either by the gallerist himself or him standing guarantee for the artists and made the collectors to hold the works for a certain period of time. I am not privy to the business details of the Maskara Gallery. But my experience tells me that this couldn’t be otherwise. The gallery consortium functioning from South Mumbai would not hold these artists up because all of them have got already their hands full with repeatedly failing bad strategies. I do not think they would be able to pick up the works of T.Venkanna and Parag Sonarghare. Inside the highly guarded premises of the Maskara gallery, the works of both these artists were safe and debatable. But once they come into the public domain, they are going to be questioned for their bad aesthetics. Of course, their careers could be floated by pushing them into the residency circuit which some back office manipulations could help to happen and I am sure it is already happening. But what would happen after that? Where will be Shine Sivan? Manoor Ali could scrap through with his chair installations because his idea was not to shock people but to try some conceptual aesthetics.


(Shine Shivan with his work)

These three artists could survive in the market only by changing their aesthetics. T.Venkanna cannot go on doing pornography and we cannot keep on supporting his art in the name of freedom of expression. In fact, Francis Newton Souza’s art at times amounts to pornography and only because there is a strong market support his works, he remains in the bandwagon of Picasso and De Kooning. Lucien Freud had done some interesting male nudes, but Parag’s is definitely not that. Freedom of expression is a tired slogan, I think. How long are you going to do some art and when there is a problem you expect people would come up to support you? Some people may think that at the end of this year, 2016 I am taking a U turn on my critical stance. But it is true that when there is a problem with certain artists, the so called secularists are not there to voice their concern. When there are some artists who get into trouble even the political parties rush to save them. That cannot happen anymore. Why should artists do pornography in the name of art and expect the critics to rush in to support them when they get into trouble with the public? Treat it as a law and order issue by the artists and the gallerists. Let the law of the land take its course. To sum up my views, I would say, T.Venkanna, Parag Sonarghare and Shine Sivan have to wake up and think and also tell themselves again and again that freedom of expression does not begin and end with nudity. 

1 comment:

Samir Mohanty said...

Love your page and articles learning so much from this thank you very much !