Monday, January 30, 2017

A Few Words to You, My Non-Malayali Friends

If I do not write this small note, I will not be able to sleep tonight; or I feel so. As a person with no sense of attachment or guilt, my sleep is more or less trouble free. But today, for the whole day I have been looking at the ‘likes’ that my non-Malayali friends giving to my notes written in Malayalam. I am afraid that in their innocence they are clicking the ‘like’ button on something that they do not believe in or they do not understand. My Facebook has very few Malayali friends and maximum number of non-Malayali friends and I appreciate and respect their presence there as I could find the world in which I live in through their pages, the ways in which they think, they paint, sculpt, their choices and their allegiance etc. I know that these new mediums give us a lot of unnecessary information and make us almost addicted to these useless snippets of knowledge. However, when a person of your interest puts something there you tend to look at it, read it at times and at times give a ‘like’ to it. I find it as a great honour though I do not have the habit to liking anything so liberally.

I deem the ‘likes’ that I get for my Malayalam writings from my non-Malayali friends as an act of appreciation which I value a lot. But at the same time I feel that I am depriving them of the content of what I am writing; what I am engaging in/with. It is always not easy to translate all what I write in the regional language, especially when I write poems that someone from the learned people in the field says that show the spark of poetic genius. I wish I could share all what I write in Malayalam with all of my non-Malayali friends but a lot of background information is needed especially when I write discursive pieces in Malayalam. Today I wrote something about the Kochi Muziris Biennale, which in fact is an absolutely anti-Biennale piece. I thought the likes that I got from the non-Malayali friends were for the misguiding picture which showed the declaration of the curator’s name for the current biennale. Perhaps, my facebook friends must have thought about it as a piece of appreciation but I need to tell you the truth; it was an article that condemned the Biennale as a whole and the ideologies working around it.

As a writer there is always some sort of urgency from my side to ‘write’, to externalize what has been felt internally. I do know that the immediate translation of the internal feelings and impressions could be faulty at times and may not be substantiated by citations and footnotes. But as a writer who is more interested in the act of writing than the research that goes behind the writing, I do not feel the need to go for verification of all what I write. In fact my life is an ongoing research and I do not differentiate one day from the other; living in the present I keep reading and writing. The urge is so strong that I feel at times ashamed of myself for writing so much. At times some of my friends at least have advised me against putting things instantly in the facebook. They all believe that facebook postings do not have the shelf value. They are partially right and partially wrong. Those writers who have published some substantial works approach me and tell me that they expect my comments on their books. I always wonder why they ask me this because compared to them I am not a ‘published’ author. Though I have quite a few books to my credit they are all not published by the mainstream publishers. However, I wonder why people take me seriously as a writer; they do so because of my facebook writings. I do not differentiate between what I write in my notebooks (which I do regularly) and what I put there in the facebook. But I do feel at times to stop writing in facebook altogether. But facebook has become a material reality; one cannot evade it.

I take three different personalities while I write; one, JohnyML, the art critic, two, Aksharananda, the Spiritualist and three, the Malayalam writer who involves in matters head on or writes poetry. Someone could feel that there is an internal contradiction in being all three at once or in succession. But I do not feel any difference between these three personalities. They are one and the same; the manifestation of the same being in different intensities. The essence of me as a writer is the same in all three. Perhaps, the topics that I handle in them differ. While the approach remains the same, the strategies could differ. One has to deal with a physical body as well as a mental body. Besides, one has to deal with an energy body and a knowledge/wisdom body. Together, they provide me with the ananda body, the body of joyfulness. I understand in due course of time two or three of these bodies would become dormant and a couple of them would remain. Then perhaps, my writings would take a different turn, in intensity and in essence. I could feel that happening in me. But in this night I am indebted to you for being with me all these years, reading me, liking me and at times openly and at times secretly criticising me. There are people who blindly like me. I love them because they are led by the bhava of bhakti. They are devoted people. They are not devoted to me but they are devoted to the devotion that they feel towards a person like me or what I do.

So forgive me for writing many things in Malayalam and depriving many of you of the essence of my other writings. One day, who has seen these all wouldn’t be translated in a link language, English? But it is important to have friends like you, who care to look at my page just to see whether I have posted there something or not; just to know and like it without expecting anything in return. I assure you I do not have anything to give you other than the feeling of intense pleasure that you give me and I could do that by engaging with you through my writings. Good night. 

Saturday, January 28, 2017

Future Belongs to Artists: Artists Organized Shows and Studio Sales-Gallery Role will be Minimized

(Artist in his Studio by Vermeer)

Have you ever thought of a scenario that existed before the advent of private galleries in the field of art business? How the artists might have sold their works then?  Private art galleries are a result of the proliferation of capital/wealth and the decentralisation of the wealthy. Till the early part of the 19th century wealth was concentrated in a few families or royal houses and they were automatically the patrons of art. Artists were identified, supported and promoted by regular collections and by giving them special social status. By the fruition of industrial revolution and modern technologies like telecommunication, rail, radio, post and the establishments of parallel business houses to supported the retailing of the centralized production plans/plants, it became inevitable for the wealth to flow into more hands that were not concentrated in one part of the city or the country. The global transmission of wealth and the global distribution of the wealthy necessitated a system where fine arts needed retailing outlets so that they could buy art without soiling their boots by getting down to the slush ridden alleys where the artists had set up their studios. The private gallery system or the art retailing system is comparatively a new phenomenon which over a period of time has taken a centre stage in the idea of art making by false claims.

These days, artists unquestioningly accept the dominance of the art galleries. They are not prepared to take certain radical steps to think that the galleries are just like retailing shops that by virtue of their exclusivity and posturing have made a special space for themselves in the art scene. The fundamental analysis would take us to the fact that without artists and the works of art, no gallery could survive. If we think backwards further, we would come to know that there was a time when the patrons used to meet the artists directly and pick up the works from their studios. That means, the artists and their works had some sort of exclusivity; the number of artists was less as the number of patrons were proportionately less. It had created an ideal situation for the artists who not only worked as artists but as designers, commission artists, carpenters, architects and even esoteric practitioners. As I mentioned before, when the technologies changed and the wealthy ones got distributed all over, they needed some retail shops; that’s why we see the framers and art material sellers becoming the pioneering gallerists in India and the tradition continues to be so in certain areas. 

(for illustration only source net)

Now let’s think a bit more realistically (I mean materialistically). One could buy a handcrafted bangle or a necklace from a high end showroom in an airport or a mall, or one could buy the same piece from an emporium in a city centre, or one could go to a crafts mela and get it. If none of the above is available one could visit the crafts people’s or the artisans’ village and get it. Which one would you deem as the best buying? While you would like to flaunt the fact that you got your bangles from the showroom in Delhi’s swanky T-3 terminal, you would also boast the fact that you got it from so and so village in Uttarkhand. Very few people talk about they got their bangles from a mela or from a mall. While the former and the latter carry some prestige of buying the middle ones do not carry that much pride. It is applicable in the case of art buying. People proudly display a latest acquisition, a painting or a sculpture and tell the guests that they got it either from a high end gallery in the city or from the artist’s studio directly. If they have bought it from the artist directly, they would come up with a few words of praising about the artist’s nature (so cool/so grand/so nice/so hep/so casual/so philosophical), his works (what a work/he is a colourist/watch out for him/he is going to go to places) or his studio (I love the ambience of the studio/you could see the whole city from there/he could make a huge one but he is so humble that he made a modest one/it is lake face/ it is hill face/you get wonderful air from the hills/it’s a bliss sitting there).

When the gallerist enters between the artist and buyer/collector (not the investor) all these social niceties die down. Here is a gallerist and here is a buyer. Everything is clinically discussed between them; all monetary issues including the tax, tax exemption, how much in cash, how much in cheque etc etc, and the deal is done. By the time the work of art reaches the house of the buyer, not only the buyer is tired of all the deals but also the work of art which has by then reduced to mere commodity of exchange. Now, it is time for me to clarify my stance on this. I am not against the galleries that sell works of art. Their job is to do that. What I am talking about is the experience of having a work of art in your collection not via gallery but via going out and collecting it all by yourself either from the artist’s studio or from whichever place the artists display it without the mediation of a gallery. Why don’t you bargain with the artists directly? Now, there are several artists who are extremely averse to such kind of bargain. You need to reach that level so that you could just quote the price and relax. None is going to bargain with you. To reach that level you should have your own strategies and independence from the galleries. 

(Will have more relevance in future)

To do that all the young professional artists and all those young artists who want to live a professional artist’s life should think in the following lines or answer a few questions that I am going to pose. What makes you create a work of art? What do you expect out of it? What are your life expectations? Where do you want to go from here? How do you envision your future? Very simple questions with simple answers but people complicate the answers and mess up with their lives and works. Let me start answering them myself if I were a professional artist (and young too!). I make a work of art because I do not know anything else; all my being is tuned to make a work of art, that’s all. I want people to see it, appreciate it, talk about it and of course it should give me some money in return as I do not do anything else in my life to earn a living. My expectations are very simple; I want to live a dignified life. I do not go anywhere from here; I want my art to take me wherever it is capable of taking me otherwise I am happy wherever I am. My future is to make more art and I want more people to appreciate me and I want to be in perfect happiness. say. I can see the curiosity, disbelief and sarcasm on your face. Such an angel, you say. No dear friend, you could answer in the same lines provided if you could limit your desires and expectations. Now let me answer like a young contemporary artist: I make art because I want to experiment with the visual language that I have been taught in the prestigious institution where I studied art (lie. I want to make money). Whether people see it or not, I want to engage with a critical mass (lie. I want to exhibit, people to see it and people to buy it). I want to have a great state of the art studio, good living conditions and a decent life (I want more money). I want to go to Europe or America for a couple of years to get exposed to various ways of making art (I am fed up with this country and I want to go elsewhere, wash dish and make some money). I would like to establish as an international artist and want to do socially engaging political art (I want to be famous, fashionable and art or no art I should be known internationally by hook or crook).

(an artist's studio, source net)

Now let’s see the common denomination factor in all these answers; while the former one demands moderation in everything the latter one is talking all about material success and fame in different terms. While the former would remain happy with limited expectations the latter would remain troubled and would make everyone around him/her troubled for they make their art from troubles of the world. I want to ask my young artist friends to think about it deeply. For example, if you are having an exhibition in a public gallery, say in Jehangir, Mumbai or LKA, Dehli. Your works are exceptional. But you do not want to beg and plead before a gallerist. So you have put up your own show. Now as they are exceptional works, people come to see your works (by word of mouth publicity) and they would appreciate you and ask for the price (some of them would do that). It is the greatest opportunity before you! You have two options; one, say a four by three costs Rs.3 lakhs or two, quote Rs.60,000/- (sixty thousand). Someone is ready to pay you fifty thousand for it. You say, no or yes. It is up to you. If you say no, he goes away. If you say yes, he buys it. And he would follow you, a relationship is built. He would become your regular collector. He would like to see whatever you do before anybody does. When it is known to the world that he is an exclusive collector, the whole world wants to collect you. Now, it is time for you to say yes or no to that.

I have seen many artists crying that they are not getting galleries to support them. No gallery is going to support them. Our galleries have become upper class, upper caste and upper whatever establishments. They are catering to the English speaking, English breathing and English thinking crowd. They are the Macaulay’s children. They do not want artists who speak in regional languages. They do not want provincial aesthetics. But here is a way to counter them. Follow my words carefully now: Artists could support each other. When five young artists come together, they could make group shows in public galleries and use the social media to gain attention. Then, four of them could support the fifth one to have a solo show. It could continue. Remember, pricing is the key. When your works are not available with retailers, people will come to you directly. There are machine cut ornaments and hand crafted ones. People who love handcrafted ones would go to the one who makes ornaments with hands, wouldn’t they? Believe that you are exclusive and your works cannot be retailed by anybody. When you do that, the galleries are going to come to you because they are simply business people and they would smell money and come to you. But to do this you need tremendous amount of talent, self discipline and simplicity. 

(Raghunath Das, artist from Raghurajpur, Orissa)

Let me close this essay by citing a wonderful example from Raghurajpur, the artists’ village in Orissa. Here I came to know about so many young artists who continue the tradition of their families of making pat chitras, scroll paintings, palm leaf painting etc. They make intricate paintings in various materials of which the palm leaf paintings done with iron stylus and ink (a sort of direct etching) are fantastic ones. Patrons and dealers as well come here often and buy it from the artists. Most of the young artists are married and their brides also do some crafts. The boys are happy and move around the village on foot and at times on their bikes. They are worldly wise and they speak in English to deal with the foreigners. I met this artist, Raghunath Das who does palm leaf paintings mainly episodes from Bhagavat Purana, Ramayana and the legends of Jagannatha of Puri. He showed me some of his works and I was fascinated. I asked the price of those works of art and he told me that it depends on the number of days he spent on making each one of them. Das said, “If I spend a month on making this work, I may charge Rs.30,000/-. Depending on the number of days I spend, I charge. Some works are sold for Rs.5000/- even.” Das knows that there are dealers who collect works from him and make double or triple amount from the cities. “So what? That’s their job. I charge for my work. I am satisfied with that. I am not feeling cheated or betrayed. I make good money and I am happy here.” At Raghurajpur, Raghunath Das lives in a traditional house as anybody else here. They do not live a cut off life. All of them have got high end smart phones. All of them have ultra modern motor bikes. They wear jeans and T-shirts. But they do not have one thing that the contemporary artists have in abundance: GREED. If you could cut down on that, you could get the buyers to your studios and have dignified life as artists. 

Friday, January 27, 2017

How Much Time do You Need to Spend Before a Work of Art? But Get People into the Galleries Before that.

(Mr.Bean with Whistler's Mother)

From a friend’s facebook page, I happened to read an article written by Isaac Kaplan, dealing with the duration of time that one has to take for looking at a work of art in a museum or a gallery. There cannot be hard and fast rules for this however studies, Kaplan says, have proved that one takes fifteen to twenty seconds before a work of art in a museum. If someone asks if that is enough for understanding a work of art then he/she should be told that it is an average and in reality people do not spare even those many seconds before a work of art. He also speaks about the new movement in the west where they propagate the idea of Slow Art Viewing; that means spending at least fifteen to twenty minutes before a work of art. And if one needs more time, he also suggests that one could manipulate things so that he/she could get locked up in a museum during the closing hours. Mind you, the experience should never be that of Mr.Bean and the Whistler’s painting.

This put me into thinking about the number of seconds or minutes that an average Indian spends before a work of art. First of all we have very few museums in our country that are visitor friendly. The other day, I was going to the National Gallery of Modern Art in Delhi to see the Jitish Kallat Retrospective. I walked from the nearest metro station (Khan Market) and just ahead of me I saw two  young White men walking fast perhaps after getting out of the same train that I was in. I did not have any clue that they too were going to the NGMA. At the ticket counter I saw the familiar face of the lady clerk who always wore an expression of disinterestedness and absolute joylessness in life. There is a huge disparity between ‘our’ ticket charge and ‘their’ ticket charge. While we pay Rs.20/- (one third of a dollar), they have to shell out Rs.500/- (almost eight dollars now) per person. They fished out a debit card and the lady said she did not have a swiping machine there. She instructed them to the nearest ATM Counter, which I was sure was off half a kilometre from the NGMA. We are talking about the digitization of Indian economy. Hold on for a second, here I am not going to criticize Mr.Narendra Modi or Mr.Arun Jaitly or Mr.Mahesh Kumar who is the cultural minister or even Aditya Gadanayak who is the Director General of the NGMA. I have something else to say.

I accept the fact that a swiping machine should be in place at the NGMA and it is the responsibility of the authorities. But the change of persons at the top posts happened recently and before that there was Mr.Rajiv Lochan who held on to the post of the Director for almost fifteen years like a monitor lizard and never thought of having the modern equipments at the ticket counter. Our prime institution for modern art has been an unfriendly place for many years and we need different strategies to bring the people into the galleries before we decide how much time they should spend before each work of art. In cities the culture or the idea of viewing art has been changed drastically. People do not really see a work of art even if they are in a gallery. They are there either to socialise or to counter check certain claims that they had heard about the displays. The people who would like to stray into the galleries are dissuaded by the general ambience of the galleries where you hardly see any lights on or some kind of an invitation hung out there for all. Now, the other category of people who would like to see the works and buy a couple of them would never look at anything else before they see the director of the gallery. They walk around with the gallerist and more than they discuss the aesthetical longevity of the works or the enduring capacity of the artists, they discuss mostly of the prospectus of these works minting gold in the future market.

Take a normal opening of any show. The people gather there often say that they are there to cheer the artist/s not really to see the show. “I would be coming back soon and will see the works at leisure,” is the standard saying. In fact these days even the artists do not expect their works to be seen by people on the opening day. For them the opening day is for basking in the projected glory, not based on the works but based on the other achievements; latest participation in an international art fair, recent land or property acquisitions, latest gadgets, last party attended, the camps that they are going to attend and so on. The most pathetic scene is seen in the page three reports. I am not against page three for once in a while I too am featured there for being in the wrong places at the wrong time. But these paid reports never publish the gallery’s name or a couple of lines about the artist/s. In the frames you wouldn’t even see a trace of the paintings or sculptures exhibited there. And still we expect our people to see art for fourteen to twenty seconds! You are asking for too much. Recently in Kolkata, some dreamy eyed lady came to me and shook hands with me only to say that she was there for the dinner not for the show, but somehow she liked the exhibits which she had cursorily seen while walking in and thought of congratulating me for ‘putting them together’. As I am completely insulated now and nothing affects me in the art scene, I could take that comment with a smile and attend the same dinner with artists and friends.

People do go to museums; it is not that Indian people are uncouth and uncultured who detest looking at the works of art. Unfortunately the people go to the museums as if they were there for taking selfies with ‘interesting’ sculptures and paintings. When they are not taking selfies they are doing the location hunting for the next selfie. I have seen gangs of youngsters walking into the museums in different parts of our country, moving like flocks of sheep herded by a team leader or taking selfies. The percentage of people going to museums on a week day would be .001% (a random calculation to show how miniscule the number is) in India. Indian museums do not attract people means the Indian museums do not create attractive programs; its that simple. Let’s now wait for the Madame Tussauds museum to start in Delhi (it is coming soon). People will throng there as they do in the historical sites like Qutub Minar or Taj Mahal. Our high brow culturists would say that the people in our country are interested in populist things. Populist things are popular because they have used populist techniques to get people there. Why can’t the museums do it? Not really populist tactics but using the same methodology but in much refined terms. I remember the Picasso show in the National Museum almost fifteen years back. It was a blockbuster show and people were queuing up for it. Picasso is famous and people know about him. Why our artists are not that famous? Why our museum machineries are not used for creating such mammoth artistic images?

Now, let us take the case of the private galleries. Recently I went to a gallery and the gallerist told me part proudly and part sadly that I was the first one there after the opening of the show which had taken place a week back. I could sympathize with the gallerist but at the same time I thought that having a gallery or having a show cannot be a reason for the people to walk in. If you want people to walk in, you need to work towards it. You need to really create some kind of vibe around it. Most of the gallerists take this holier than thou attitude; they get paid editorials in magazines and newspapers and we are not like that. When you are not like that your shows will remain abandoned. Make sure that the people who promise to come back after the opening party really doing so. Why can’t the gallerists do something more towards getting people to see the works? It is not possible because the gallerists themselves think that they are well equipped business people and curators as well. So they know what they are doing. When they know what they are doing, the result is that out of the three hundred and sixty five days you get ten people to see your shows. There is no point in complaining. 

In that scenario, it is almost useless to talk about how much time one should stand before a work of art. First of all India needs people to come to the galleries and slowly they could be taught to stay back or stay before in front of a work of art. I have seen people making devoted gallery visits on a week day afternoon without making much fuss about it, catching up with shows, spending enough time before the works and even relishing it for a long time. It happens in Mumbai, Kolkata, Delhi and in other places; but let me tell mostly this kind of people go to public galleries run by private trusts or by the government. I have seen a steady stream of people walking in to the Jehangir Gallery and a few galleries around it, in the Biral Academy and Artists centre in Kolkata, Lalit Kala Academy and Sridharani and Triveni in Delhi. In fact I have seen people spending more than two minutes before the works. They even make it a point to talk to the artists. Now, these are not the people who buy art. These are those people who would like to see good art and feel good about the art, artists and about themselves. And I believe that the artists get more satisfaction when people come to see their works than buy them (that happens if certain parameters are right for the artists).

India needs gallerists who just focus on sales and promote their artists through various strategies. First of all the gallerists have to understand that they are not equipped to validate the works of art. They could like and promote what they like. It should be limited just to that. They should not venture to decide on the aesthetical directions that a country should take. If Indian galleries are now suffering from the lack of audience, it is created by the gallerists who pose themselves as the creators of an aesthetical environment in the country. Unfortunately, such false images are created through the platforms of the Art Fairs and Biennales. Selling is a good form of art. Do sell, do not teach aesthetics, that is the only advice I could give to the gallerists to improve the attendance in their galleries. Otherwise they will be influential in their limited circles only. Why think about how much time before the work of art, let us get people first in the galleries.

(Post Script: Personally speaking, I am of the opinion that with or without galleries art will flourish for the artists happen in this world not because there are galleries but because they are innately talented. And I strongly believe that galleries are possible only when there are artists and works of art, not the other way round.  Sincerely speaking, the private galleries should do the selling and the public galleries should focus on showcasing good art.)

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Autobiography of a Young Woman and How it Fails: Aishwarya Rajnikanth Dhanush

(Aishwarya Rajinikanth Dhanush)

Today when I was writing as Swami Aksharananda about the blackmailing mothers, without any premeditation I went into the habits of some women who are independent yet are emotional wrecks. People without any kind of emotional sparks are generally boring ones but if the emotional quotient of the people becomes excess it would affect the people around them. Finding a fine balance between emotional overdrive and rational calmness is very important for both men and women, and such people are rare. But if people are absolutely balanced and do things impeccably, those people also would become a bit boring after sometime. There are some people in the world who are overly blessed with all what is good in life and it is impossible for them to be emotional wrecks. They are not saints and they too have their ups and downs in their lives and reading about their lives is always interesting.

(at the book release)

That’s why I picked up the autobiography of Aishwarya Rajinikanth Dhanush, the film director, one of the Women’s Rights Advocates for the United Nations, an accomplished Bharatnatyam dancer and a playback singer. From her name the pedigree is more or less clear; she is the daughter of the superstar Rajinikanth and wife of one of the happening actor-singer-director, Dhanush who has also done a couple of Hindi movies with Sonam Kapoor and Amitabh Bacchan. In the beginning of 2012, everyone had seen this couple in the video that had gone viral, then making of ‘Why this Kolaveri D’. It was from the film ‘3’ (Moonnu), the directorial debut of Aishwarya. One could see a tight-lipped Aishwarya there with a hesitant and happy Shruti Haasan (daughter of Kamal Haasan) and the toughness of the lady was palpable within the recording studio where the jolly pair of Aniruddh Ravichander and Dhanush was making the song. Aniruddh went on to become a super music director and singer with his ‘Aalumma Dolumma’ song topping the chart for a long time in 2016 not only in India but also in most of countries where Tamil presence is there.

(the Rajinikanth family)

Aishwarya’s autobiography is titled ‘Standing on an Apple Box’; an apple box is a generic term used for the multipurpose boxes used in film sets and the author finds it an apt metaphor for her life in the world of film making. Born to the famous couple Rajinikanth and Lata Rajinikanth, Aishwarya and her younger sister Soundarya had a very protected childhood (in fact an over protected one as Lata was phobic about strangers) and for some time Aishwarya grew up in Bangalore with her maternal grandparents and she confesses that her liking for language and writing started from there as her grandfather used to make her read the Hindu Newspaper from first page to the last page. Being the daughter of the superstar Rajinikanth was a tough thing to handle, she knew as she was growing up. To keep his daughters away from the limelight, Rajinikanth had taken all safety measures and for a long time not a single picture of his girls were published in the film magazines. Aishwarya tells us an anecdote about her being suspected for having polio only because her father had supported an anti-polio campaign featuring in a government advertisement. (In our high school days we used to think that film stars never had kids and Rajinikanth was no exception. And when someone told us that he had two daughters, we thought he might have adopted them. Such was the secrecy around them).

(author with husband actor Dhanush)

The narrative flair is so attractive that one could read it in one sitting thought I finished in four sittings in two days. A book of moderate size with 170 pages is structured in small chapters where Aishwarya speaks to the reader as a woman who has a total grip on her life. This book is fascinating mostly for a daughter’s view on Rajinikanth who is known for his Spartan ways and unpretentious public appearances. Also we get a glimpse of the life and work ethics of her husband Dhanush. Those people who are interested in child rearing, Aishwarya has a few tips to offer. She had taken a lot of pains to become a law graduate and also had undergone rigorous training to become a film maker. But the book, after reading leaves the reader a bit hollow; a sense of emptiness would pervade him because the subject of the book does not display any human folly. She is as perfect as a goddess. She has got the best parents, best grandparents, best friends, best sibling, best fans associations, best husband, best brother in law, best awards, best opportunities, best sisters in law and the best mother in law on the earth.

(author with father, superstar Rajinikanth)

This is where a reader gets disappointed. Aishwarya, by her pedigree and perseverance has achieved a lot by the young age of thirty five. She has many more years to go and I am sure she is not going to commit any folly in her life as it is well planned to falter. Such lives, even if that of a successful woman is absolutely boring. I should not call Aishwarya a boring personality for I do not know her and the knowledge that comes to me is via this book. She speaks about how she went through the trauma induced by her father’s chronic illness (which is censored) during which he was taken to a hospital in Singapore. They spent three months there till the super star recovered completely from his illness only to come back and finish his blockbuster Kabaali. Still there is something missing in that life. What does that missing feeling constitute by? Is it the complete contentedness or is it the spiritual calmness that she apparently has inherited from her father or her perfect achievements? I looked for it but could not find. She extols the presence of great men in her life, her grandfather, father, father in law, brother in law and husband. She also talks about her soul mate, a school friend. She in her acceptance speech in the UN Women’s chapter speaks high of women and also says that sometime the atrocities against the women are perpetuated by women themselves. What we see in Aishwarya Rajnikanth Danush is a perfect symbol of patriarchy, the one who has lived never hurting the values set by the men. That makes her life, however successful it is a bit stereotypical and picture book type. May be a girl born and brought up in such a background can only live that life; even if she wants to rebel it is not possible at all.  I remember a line from Orhan Pamuks’a novel “A Strangeness in Mind”: “Food tastes good when there is a little bit of dirt in it.”   

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Ways of Seeing in Art in Digital Transmission and Real Time

(source net)

How do we come to know about art? How do our art critics and writers compare the locally produced art with the international art that they have seen only in digital mediums or in books? In that case is it possible to review a work of art without seeing it in the real time and space? If we extend this question, is it possible for us to even talk about what has been happening in Marina Beach in Chennai where the supporters of the rural sport Jellikkettu have gathered? Is it necessary for the cultural commentators to be in the actual space of happening? Does the physical proximity with the work of art or an event give the cultural commentators and critics an added edge of legitimacy than those people who have seen it in digital mediums or books? Where exactly this kind of authenticity parts ways with the cultural commentary that takes the event/work of art as a point of departure to speak about a larger socio-cultural or political phenomenon? We see both the cases in the newspapers; journalists reporting from the actual field of events and the experts analysing and deducing critical factors of the same from the already reported events. If we go by the physical proximity equals to legitimacy, then we have to always look at the commentators with a fair amount of suspicion and have to go by what the reporters have said. Then, what about art? Will you listen to a person who has visited the show or a person who has seen it in one of the mediums and makes some comments on it?

I am that kind of an art critic who would like to write on art/things/events that I have directly/physically experienced. I walk many kilometres to visit a gallery (this helps me to combine my health walk with my aesthetic adventures) and spend considerable amount of time before the works of art. Generally I do not prefer to converse with the artist if he/she is present there. But if he/she would like to have a word with me, then definitely I give a patient ear to what they have to tell. I am put off by many an artist when he/she explains things to me because their art may look brilliant and their explanations absolutely lame. So it is always safe to be away from the artists’ explanations. At the same time I earn to listen to the artists who actually make you feel whether their works brilliant or their words. Excelling both in verbal explanations and in execution of the works, such artists are rare ones like the Kohinoor diamond. I am equally sceptical about those artists who excel in their words but fail miserably in their works of art. To put it in nutshell, I prefer to see the original works of art and comment than to look at them in some digital mediums and dare to make comments. This, why I say is because the feeling of being in a place and before a work of art is much more intense than seeing it at your desktop in a digital medium. 

(source -net)

At the same time I have been faced with certain doubts; suppose if I am reading a book by say, Orhan Pamuk in Kindle and reading the same book in paperback or hardbound, taking equal amount of time, is there any fundamental difference between the aesthetical experience? I could argue that I am reading the same book, written by the same author. In the former I could have it whenever I want by just clicking a button on. In the latter I can have the same by picking it up from the desk and reading it. The only palpable difference is that in Kindle, one page goes and the new one comes; I know that the previous page is there but not yet there. But in the real book, it is like feeling the previous pages that you have gone through. Like a terrain that demands climbing and each level you could see the areas that you have covered. You can have a sense of elation. Reading in Kindle is passive and reading in book is performative. All the conventional acts of art enjoyments are performative. I walk miles to buy my books. I enjoy the days when I go out to buy the books. I could literally imagine the books waiting for me in the shelves of the book stall. Each step I take towards the book stall, each visual, the honking of the vehicles, the hand holding couples, the bikers, courier men, security guards, the bulldozers that bring down old buildings to make way for the new ones, the house maids going home in the evening, girl in western clothes eating very traditional ‘chat’ from the wayside vendor, the woman in traditional saree dragging at a cigarette and what not; nothing escapes my eyes because I am on the way to buy books. I get the books and walk back as if it were all a dream. Then I get back to my home, I start reading. This is an event in itself; an experience; my marriage, right from seeing the girl to my nuptial night and more. But Kindle? A click, she is all nude before me, yes, the book.

It is applicable in the case of looking at the works of art displayed in a gallery. You drive or walk to the gallery. See the works if possible even without the gallery assistants, executives or the owner herself not disturbing you. There you go; you are alone with the work of art. You wonder and wander, you drag yourself back to the work. Read the captions , move forward and backward. At times you nod your head in approval; sometimes you shake in disgust; sometimes your eyes sparkle and at times you pout in sarcasm. There are a whole lot of things happening in there; your very viewing of a work of art. Then it is a pleasure to write about it. is a real ‘but’ here. A work of art is not like a book. A book published elsewhere could be made available here digitally or physically. But a work of art cannot always be bought here. If the artists are not locally placed or if it is not a travelling show or if the show is not opening in your city, then it is difficult to see the works physically. So you have to see them digitally. Once you see them, now with the help of 360 degree digital mapping, you get an idea about the work of art. You may be doubtful about the size because a low angle shot could make an ant a dinosaur. But you keep looking at it from a variety of angles; from various posts, reports and sharing etc. You see and you finally get the work of art you want to see.

 (source net)

Does that render you an inauthentic critic or commentator? In my view, in this world of digital reproduction, we cannot say that we should be seeing the original work of art even if it is not possible to physically get there. If I again make a comparison with the books, I would say we are not reading the manuscripts of the authors even if we are reading the same book in print or in digital format; nor are we reading the first copy of the printed book. Though there cannot be an accurate comparison between books and works of art, the aesthetical experience could be imparted through looking at the digitally reproduced works. Hence, the claim that everyone should be looking at an original work of art/event before making a comment does not hold much water. Even the idea of legitimacy and authenticity imparted to the people who have been the actual witnesses of the event/work of art could be disputed for the actual analysis and in depth study may come from those people see the work of art/event over digital mediums. In fact most of the theoretical studies are done using expanded methodology to include international events and works of art in its field of discussion. Therefore, I would say, while I always remain a stickler to the idea of going to see a work of art physically in real space and time, I would not discount people talking about the works of art that they have seen in digital media and making critical comments on it. Only thing is that there should not be too much of a distance between what is seen online and what is said in ‘real’ time. That needs training, sensibility, sensitivity and the rare ability of inner vision. 

Friday, January 20, 2017

Fail not this Fair: India Art Festival Second Edition in Delhi

(India Art Festival Director, Rajendra Patil at Tyagaraja stadium pavilion)

If Google map and Delhi map meet each other at a restaurant table if not an operation table, they would find it difficult to recognize each other. Delhi has a map and signage so has Google. However smart Google is Delhi could confuse it. Get down at the INA Metro Station and look at the Google map in your phone. You want to go to the Tyagaraja Indoor Stadium (spent 300 crore rupees in its making!) where the second edition of the India Art Festival is taking place. You look for the signage of the stadium; you find Tyagaraja Park, Tyagaraja Block, Enclave and what not but not a single board that leads to the stadium. But blood recognizes blood; an art critic smells art even if it is taking place in an unnatural space like an indoor stadium. Finally I reach there and I feel happiness. At the security gate none asks for the pass (I am equipped with three VIP passes of which none had come for me). People walk in and everyone feels very important here and of course there is a surprise in waiting for you. Yes, this time India Art Festival looks like a professional art fair.

(view from India Art Festival)

All credits go to its director, Rajendra Patil who goes by his first name, Rajendra. His fair is a story of survival against all odds. When he started it in 2011 in Mumbai’s Nehru Centre (in which I had played a small part as a special section curator) it was given a step motherly treatment by the city’s proud galleries. They were all batting for India’s one and only art fair, the India Art Fair and thought that Rajendra’s venture was second grade in nature and a Vijaykant for a Rajnikant. From elitism to more elitism, from internationalism to high internationalism and from local to global went the India Art Fair, pushing so many galleries and aspiring artists out in its exclusivist filtering process done by (god alone knows why) some high browist gallerists holding the slogan of quality control. They never acknowledged the fact that the South is North when the map is turned upside down. That’s what exactly helped Rajendra to float his Fair/Festival with the help of those disgruntled artists and galleries and some staunch supporters like Siddharth Tagore and Sudhanshu Paliwal. And today the Festival proves that Rajendra was not wrong in his move though he had to amass a lot of second grade art and bad name for himself. But no game is bad game so long as you could gain a few brownie points. India Art Festival also saw Mumbai’s galleries ‘supporting’ the third edition of the India Art Festival (by this time it had gained its brand identity with the usual suspects warming the seminar platforms) with some hand down works but never the gallerists physically appearing there to own the brand up for themselves. Who said India’s art scene does not have caste system?

(view from India Art Festival)

A few months back, before demonetisation had hit Indian economy, Rajendra was still keeping his fingers crossed about the entries for the second edition of the India Art Festival in Delhi whose first edition had brought him brickbats than bouquets. Then and there he had decided to move it to the Tyagaraja Indoor stadium. It was a win-win situation for Rajendra just before the demonetisation. “I could break even now with the entries,” a happy Rajendra had told me then. Then came the demonetisation quite unexpectedly. “If I do it in Delhi I would lose around 40 lakhs rupees,” Rajendra told me then and he added, “If I do not do also I lose the same amount. Hence, I have decided to do it.” It was not even a gambling for Rajendra, a sort of loss which he was ready to face. But of course I know those people who run a business either exaggerate the profit margin when they are about to borrow or reduce it to abysmal levels when they are about to lend. In short, do not believe what the entrepreneurs say. I did not gulp Rajendra’s words without a pinch of salt; even with a pinch of it I did not swallow it at all. But I liked the way he put it. He projected himself as a completely wounded warrior in the battle field but still standing with a broken weapon in his hand. The image that I imagined was pretty interesting.

(view from India Art Festival)

Today, at the Tyagaraja Stadium Rajendra stands at the gate with a burnished weapon of success in his hands; a well laid out art fair. “The pink has not stopped coming,” Rajendra says metaphorically as he leads me through the stalls. He points out the artists who have made moolah in the last two days. “It is not huge sales, but the optimism of the buyers is quite palpable. They don’t mind shelling out a couple of lakhs for a work, that too in pink, the new currency,” says Rajendra. The works of art may disappoint an art enthusiast who wants to see something ‘really happening’ there in them. Most of the artists are from Mumbai, Noida, Faridabad, Gurgaon and they have made new galleries to place themselves in the festival. Even a couple of galleries from Singapore and Tanzania have taken the pains to come and exhibit. The works of art are mostly decorative and experimental as much as the artists understand it. One may find some interesting works even by inconspicuous artists. The Kalavishkaar Gallery, a flagship gallery of Rajendra and the stall that combines it and the Bombay Art Society has some good works of Sudhir Patwardhan, Baiju Parthan, Jatin Das, Jogen Chowdhury and so on. “They all came as contributions towards my efforts,” chuckles Rajendra but he is reluctant to part with them.

(view from India Art Festival)

Forty galleries in around forty thousand square feet of space are what make the India Art Festival this year. It has got the ambience and lay out of a fairly good art fair in any part of the world though the works cannot boast quality. However, it would be absolutely doing injustice to the artists who have enthusiastically taken part in the festival if I say that they are bad artists and have done bad art. No, they are not the kind of art may be the mainstream art enthusiasts want to see or trade in. But we cannot wish away the fact that there is a market for these kinds of works too. The artists who have come there are dignified people though their skill levels and conceptual levels are not as polished as the professional artists in the mainstream. So what could be done to enhance the quality level of the festival by bringing more artists, galleries and people into it? With the India Art Fair going really international and exclusivist, it is imperative for the Delhi based galleries to come forward to support by participating in Rajendra’s India Art Festival so that the quality would also increase and the India Art Fair turned down galleries would get a prime position in this fair. It would grow in size and quality; I am sure the buyers are where the good works are sold. I can say it for sure that 90% of the people who come to the India Art Fair do not have the habit of going by Mercedes cars or drinking Absolut Vodka every day. But they hang out there to see some art and also to identify with the international brand that the India Art Fair has been successful in creating.

Why not give, a home grown brand like the India Art Festival a chance to make another international brand with the artists who really want to do good in their lives and works? All our inspirational movies whether it is Jo Jeeta Woh hi Sikander or Chak de India, Sultan or Dangal, all of them say one single story; if you have perseverance and the support and guidance of a determined team or person, you can create wonders. Why do we think only the gora sahebs could create great stuff or why do we think only those could create good stuff who want to go out and please the international audience? What about our asmita? Our feeling for ourselves? “It is cold here,” says Rajendra, “People come after lunch and between two and four there is a considerable crowd in the pavilion and later on it thins down,” he says. It is not just about cold; people queue up, beg, cry, steal and brawl for a free pass in the severest of cold in early January to get into the India Art Fair ground (during the early editions). What deters them from coming here is the kind of brand association. But Rajendra alone cannot do anything to make it better. The Delhi galleries should make up their mind and come forward to participate in it. We all know that the galleries show something and sell something else. Hence, the days of holier than thou attitude are gone. Come forward and support so that you build a brand. Drop that step motherly attitude towards India Art Festival. Do come out and see, and tell Rajendra, the lonely man who makes it happen that it is great and we are ready to be with him. That shows the spirit of Delhi, nobody’s land. Fail not this fair. Go visit and appreciate. 

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Fruit of Wisdom (njanappazham) in the works of V.Ramesh


The road leading to the address C-221 Sarvodaya Enclave, New Delhi is tree lined and spacious except for the infamous smog of Delhi and the address houses the Threshold Gallery where V.Ramesh, the Vizag based artist is currently having a solo show. For a moment one wonders whether he is inside the gallery or a drawing room of sorts, minimal yet furnished with certain vintage furniture. On a chair that gives the impression that the artist was just around here a while ago one sees a book half read and the title reads ‘Bento’s Notebook’ by John Berger. The lower table on the one side has a portrait of Ramana Maharshi, the artist’s soul guru and a few brushes and a small drawing of Annamalai (Arunachala), the hill by a student whose gift it is to the artist at some point and a light carnatic music wafts in the air from an invisible source. Close to the pillar there is a cupboard full with a mirror and a framed poem and a few books. You just glance at the mirror and you see yourself; did you ask ‘who am I?’ completing the third tip of the triangle there is an easy chair with a pillow which the artist uses in his studio, a meditative couch with an invisible shrink on the side, yes Ramana, the healer. The large wall that constitutes the base of the triangle has a huge painting with a portrait of the artist relaxing in the same chair while the world goes on with its hurried activities. The artist is in no hurry; he is like the self that watches the ‘I’, the world of senses and what remains in the painting is a vast area of drips and dashes, the marks that time has created taking the hands of the artist once in a while.

(Genesis by V.Ramesh)

The solo of V.Ramesh does not have a title; perhaps a title for something so subtle cannot be so contemporary or too traditional. It should be ‘athukkum mele’, beyond that and what is there all that beyond- the nameless, the ‘it’ with no qualities, no form, no beginning and no end. The advaita philosophers say that the pursuit of art in itself is a distraction from the realization of god/self. Art is an obstacle; but at the same time the advaita philosophy adds that one could follow bhakti (devotion), karma (action), raja (enquiry and mediation) and njana (knowledge) yogas to achieve the godhead. Art is a mixture of bhakti yoga and njana yoga expressed through raja and karma yogas. Hence, art is permissible in the pursuit of self provided the artist does not become mundane like a sufferer of worldly worries and vices. V.Ramesh has been doing his art as a way of self realization and his thematic repertoire is often limited to the characters from Bhakti literature as well as epics, scenes around Thiruvannamali and Ramana Maharshi and some animals and fruits. It is pertinent to speak about the animal imagery and the fruit (banana/plantain) imagery in his works.

(Savdhan by V.Ramesh)

As an art critic, when Ramesh presented the fruit series for the first time I was very sceptical about the work. I could not locate the clinical precision of its execution and the digital imaging that could have been the base of it. However, when I see the watercolours in the present body of works, I could deduce a new meaning by reworking on my previous position. The banana bunch in its original stem appears here as a body, a rib cage or a torso and the artist calls it ‘offering’. The body is an offering; the fruit is the inside and the body just a peel. Pazham, the fruit in Tamil literature stands for the essence of wisdom and knowledge and Ramesh knowing this, uses banana as his metaphor to emphasis the body-soul relationship. Also he conceives one of his paintings, ‘Fall of a Warrior’ as a fallen plantain tree; there is the stillness of a dead body in the stem, there is the layering of the sheaths, the broken and tattered leaves become the devastated body of the warrior, who here is none other than Dronacharya, who was felled by lies in the battle field of Kurukshetra. Ashwathama hata kunjara, the elephant named Ashwathama is killed. But the Pandavas did not say the word elephant loudly and even if they said, Lord Krishna, the master of all yoga had blown his conch submerging the distinct words. Drona kept his bow down and alighted from the chariot as he heard his son, Ashwathama was killed. Arjuna does the final act. And Ramesh details this narrative in a fallen banana tree, which I think is quite poignant and telling.

(Offering by V.Ramesh)

In Thiruvannamalai if you go right next to the old prayer hall you would see two small tombs one for Lakshmi, the cow and one for a crow that used to come and eat with Ramana Maharshi. Those who come to the Ashram soon shift themselves from the homocentric world to the creature centric world. Ramana’s teachings are not for human beings’ welfare alone; it is for all. Ramesh has learnt his lessons correctly. There is a dog that comes repeatedly in his watercolours and he is seen against the backdrop of the Arunachala hills (Annamalai) and the Annamalai temple. He is an insignificant dog but so significant in the Indian philosophy. He is the one who walked all the way to heaven when Yuthishtira crossed the threshold of heaven. He is the one who came with the Chandala, Lord Shiva in disguise who had come to subdue the ego of Sankaracharya. If Ramana could see a cow and a crow alike and see no difference between them and the human beings, what is the difference between a highly placed human being and a dog? In his poetic watercolours Ramesh brings this aspect like a chant, but never trying to teach anyone anything because the wise ones see no point in teaching because the ones who want to learn, learn it from silence and silent gestures; or maximum from the stories.

(Work by V.Ramesh)

That’s how Ramesh takes the Ramayana paintings, three major works that hold the show together. Somewhere he happened to see an old Ramayana book with wood cut illustrations. Suddenly he remembered the Ramayana narrations done by his grandmother when he was a child. That seemed to a Proustian moment for the artist. Though he had treated Ramayana situations earlier, he attempted once again the Ramayana paintings. There are three distinct paintings; one titled ‘Epiphany’, the deliverance of Ahalya, two, Savdhan, the moment before the abduction of Sita from the hermitage and three ‘the Genesis’, the episode that leads to the making of Ramayana. The source of all these three works are the existing illustrations but Ramesh takes them as a starting point to make layers of his own stylized pixels and over layers it with multiple narratives that precede and succeed the intended and given episode. The choice of Ahalya scene seems to be accidental but Ahalya is the most debated woman character in Ramayana after Sita and many a feminist writer has reworked the stories of both the female protagonists in their own perspectives. However, Ramesh does not seem to attempt any such alternative readings as his attention is given more in the juxtaposition of narratives and the near submerging of decipherable stories in the primordial chaos of the visual universe. One need to go back further into the space to see the works properly and suddenly one sees himself right in the middle of the triangle that I have mentioned earlier; the artist’s own space. That means, one could read the works primarily and eventually from the artist’s space; it is the artist’s narrative almost doing away with all the possibilities of extracting subtexts. Self has only one text; no subtexts and if at all they are there, they are all illusions.

(Work by V.Ramesh)

In Savdhan (attention, caution, alertness etc) we see Ravana coming as a mendicant and asking for alms from a lonely Sita and she is about to cross the line, therefore the warning, Savdhan. However, Ramesh over layers it with the succeeding narratives of Jatayu fighting Ravana and later informing the news of abduction to the distressed Ram and Laxman in order to make the work an old volume that only the devoted could open with reverence and read. Same is the case with the work, Genesis, the origin of Ramayana where sage Valmiki sees a hunter shooting down one of the love birds. ‘Ma Nishada’, ‘Oh Forest dweller, don’t’ is the opening of Ramayana; it is against all kinds of killing; perhaps a message for the contemporary world where not only living beings are killed for establishing some other beings’ supremacy but also the very environment where everything survives is annihilated for commercial gains. The works are to be seen in silence and in reverence. It is not just about Ramesh’ works but all the works of art in the world should be seen with reverence. If a work of art is not for meditating further about it or about the maker or the seer himself, what is the use of art? For social change? You must be making up things. A society can change by means of art only when the people who see a work of art and remain in that sublime state of being for a prolonged time and perpetuate that state of awareness into all what they do further in life. Are we ready yet for such art and such contemplation? 

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Here After Here: The Point Where Jitish May Consider Stop Doing Art

(Jitish Kallat with one of his works. source net)

The exhibition is just four days old; besides some pre-publicity you see hardly any post-exhibition celebrations in the media. But Jitish Kallat can wait till the weekend when most probably the newspapers would publish full page essays praising the forty two year old artist to the heavens for these ‘stupendous’ works done during the last two decades. Curated by Catherine David, Jitish Kallat’s ‘Here After Here’ is a retrospective, a look at the past oeuvre and the look into the future of it, though the artist in his interview with the Vogue Magazine and the curator in her wall text insist that it is not a linear retrospective in the conventional sense of the word but an exhibition that catches the engagement of the artist with various ideas and mediums at different stages of his development as an artist. As photography is prohibited, as there are no handouts and the catalogue available is priced at Rs.850 what I could speak is from my memory, all what I could carry there from a huge show with almost hundred works ranging from paintings to photographs to multimedia installations.

Let me admit at the outset itself that it is a worth watching exhibition for it gives a complete taste of the artist who is just forty two years old. I repeat this age factor like a jealous old man because I always wonder about the early bloomers and their future. Jitish Kallat, cut to be a contemporary artist by looks, nature, presentation, demeanour and conduct has another forty two years or more active years to come. I sincerely pray to God Almighty to shower him with health, wealth and happiness so that he could come up with interesting works of art. But the fate of early bloomers is this that they fade away slowly for what is left in them is their experimental verve with materials than their deep analysis of life, and the experimental enthusiasm for taking up mediums is clearly seen in this retrospective as Jitish moves from acrylic and oil on canvas to mixed media, fibre, resin, dental plaster, computer software, multimedia installations, multi frame assemblages, parody, pastiche and what not. In a way from this show one could dissect and understand the proliferation of materials and methods not only in Indian art scene but also in the private and public life of an average Indian. Like an aesthetic machine Jitish has ingested all these materials and methods and employed his understanding in creating different kinds of impressive works of art.

(Aguasarus by Jitish Kallat)

There are two types of works in Jitish retrospective; one, done by the artist himself and two, designed by the artist. The works that he had done in his formative years (from early 1990s to late 1990s) are all by himself and moderate in size. The works that follow in the new millennium are joint efforts and large in size where the artist plays a director’s job than an artist’s role. The complexion of the growth of the Indian art market also could be seen when one goes through the works on display here because according to the money inflow, one sees the materials and scope of the works change and also depending on the artist’s exposure to a larger world, the thematic as well as material sophistication come to the forefront. Then there is a feeling that for this artist sky is the limit. He could do anything that he wanted to do. And Jitish, ironically exemplifies the limitation of the artistic thinking that most of the artists of the late 1990s and the first decade of the new millennium faced in India. There is a pattern to it; grappling with city life, migration, arrival of new technology, money, terrorism, cross border cultural and economic exchange, development of global taste and all these work against the general backdrop of Indian history.

Perhaps, that was the curse and blessing of the Indian contemporary art in those years. In its efforts to be at par with the western aesthetics and western world (to put in other words to please the aesthetic tastes of the western curators) Indian contemporary art went for many sixers with occasional fours, that too without touching the ground. While they talked about mass migrations to the cities, in the beginning they talked closer to home realities and later they were just talking about global migration. Jitish symbolizes India to fit into the narrative of the west by cutting the regional and provincial from his scheme of things. He studies food in different ways to make it a spectacle but what interests me is the number of Indian as well as foreign artists who had taken up food as a theme! Even our Subodh Gupta had to deal with food, which Rikrit Tiravania had done in late 1990s and later became an international fad including the Chinese artists going for extreme edibles. So is the use of simulated bones; at one point the whole world was working with bones including Anita Dube and T.V.Santhosh. That means, going by the Indian contemporary art, we see only international issues or issues that could be identified internationally in art. Nothing provincial and regional about it; provincialism could go maximum to giving iconic status to the security guards, a new tribe that gets the sympathy of Indian middle class artists; from Jitish Kallat to Shilpa Gupta and many more.

(work by Jitish Kallat)

‘Sleeping’ is one theme that has been made popular by many artists including Shibu Natesan and N.S.Harsha. Perhaps, after Andy Warhol’s Eight Hours sleep, it was Manjunath Kamath who in his video art had made sleep a performance. Then many of them tried sleeping inside the gallery including Nikhil Chopra. Here we have Jitish Kallat also making sleep as his theme in one of his sculptural installations where one sees a number of animals in their sleeping posture, which is a sort of cute. The description that goes with the sculpture moves around the idea of sleep as a disembodied existence but that’s it. I thought that the artist would go further to deal with the idea of Sushupti, the dreamless sleep where the ‘I-ness’ still exists as a witness, but an absent witness only to come back when one comes out of the sleep. Such deeper debates are not attempted by Jitish for he seems to be an artist looking for themes and materials in the external world. If I do not sound too harsh, I choose to call such aesthetic adventures as aesthetic scavenging. In aesthetic scavenging one makes use of anything and everything, any issue in the world becomes the artist’s issue and his eyes are always opening to the gross world and never even once turning into the subtle worlds.

Jitish may dispute my views though I do not intend any wrong to him because he would say that he has also done works that looks into the mechanism of mind and imaginations. He shies away from using the world spiritual in his works even when there are umpteen spaces where he seems to stand at the edge of it. Because of this lack of spiritual firmness, Jitish remains an artist of the physical world, dealing with the physical issues and that too in a gross form. Look at the installations in thousands of frames that cover the major part of the sprawling gallery of the new wing of NGMA. They are premeditated for its visual effects and never for the spiritual subtlety. There is nothing wrong in it if the artist prefers to deal with the physical world. But the curator in her wall text suggests that Jitish is an artist who deals with physics to metaphysics (not these words but something to this effect). If an artist deals with everything that comes to him or occurs to him, then however visually effective they are, they remain as spectacles signifying nothing. In fact, Jitish’s works are spectacular and beyond that they are museum pieces.

(work by Jitish Kallat)

What makes Jitish an appealing artist to the western world? I find most of his works are in major collections in the western collectors or museums. What I understand is that Jitish gives what the west wants to hear; the story of a failed India. Jitish presents the famous ‘Tryst with destiny’ speech of Pt.Jawaharlal Nehur etched on distorted mirrors and Gandhi ji’s speech in Sabarmati before his famous Dandi March in simulated bones. Gigantic and spectacular, these two works besides all other issues of riots, migration, cramped city spaces, literally valueless one rupee coin and so on, speak of a failed Indian dream (or at least the wall texts say so). This is what the western museums want; the images of/from a failed India. I wonder why Jitish never attempted to monumentalise the speech of a landless migrant or even the monologue of a security guard. Jitish looks at the ‘glands’ (pockets) of the people in the street; a nice spectacle of India’s dreams on the move. Poverty and deprivation, or helplessness blown up beyond a point pixellate into sarcasm; though Jitish does not intend it so, it comes across as that.

Jitish has many more years to work and what is he going to do? His works are in most of the museums all over the world. A work of art which has reached in a museum is a dead object. Jitish himself had said once that a work of art once out of the studio has its own trajectory. With the artist having no hold over the fate of his works, they remain as loan/lonely mummies. In the meanwhile Jitish has to do many more works. The problem with artists like Jitish is that they make gallery ready works; they are fabricated for the show. There must be preparatory drawings but they cannot be called serious artistic processes. They are designer’s blueprints. Jitish’s works look like dettol washed products meant for exhibitions. There is no touch of the artist or no life of the artist breathing from them. Jitish would do a lot more impressive and spectacular works in the coming years and I am sure he is going to employ the latest technology and materials in his works. That’s what happens to the artists who depend too much on fabrication of newer materials. I could predict two things for the artist’s future: either he would go back to studio painting or he would stop art altogether. The moment one realises his spiritual side then these works would look lesser and gross in his own eyes. But the external demands would not permit him to look at that side. If he does, he would not do such works. In whatever way, Jitish needs a break. He has curated one of the biggest biennales and now has a retrospective. Now he needs rest, a serious re-thinking. And if possible a decade of no art.   

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Gopi Gajwani’s ‘Meditative Silence’

(Gopi Gajwani)

On the table, near the flower vase from which three red dahlias sprout, an old paper back with a darkening cover is meticulously kept as if to tell the visitors that the artist is just around. At the Sridharani Gallery, New Delhi, a winter noon lazily sits on the steps at the amphitheatre. The book is one of the collections of Osho Rajneesh edited by late Khushwant Singh. The book has been read not once but several times, so say the yellowing pages but surprisingly without any dog’s ears. But I do not think much about Osho for I know most of the non-figurative/abstract artists read him for his mellifluous voice soothes them and reaffirm their faith if not in life but in their works that many people fail to decipher. Gopi Gajwani, the veteran artist who has been a serene presence in Delhi’s art scene for almost half a century, whose exhibition, ‘Meditative Silence’, currently on at the Sridharani Gallery does read Osho and I am not surprised for the very same reason that I have just mentioned. Once again, I do not think about Osho but I think of Khushwant Singh, the editor, who had not only penned the history of Sikhs but also essayed fictionally though, the history of partition in his ‘Train to Pakistan’. Gopi Gajwani, as a seven year old chid was there in one of those trains that ran in the opposite direction from the Sindh region without knowing what future had in store for him and his three siblings.

(Display of Gopi Gajwani's works at Sridharani)

I dare not to ask whether he was reminiscing those days as he picked up the book yet again to read, as Gopi Gajwani enters the gallery. It would be too intrusive, I tell myself but as I sit and look at the works on display, a series of non-figurative paintings and drawings, in a silent communion with the artist, I see the black lines that run mostly vertical, abruptly stopping at times and at other times dividing the canvas off the centre into two asymmetrical halves, I pick up courage to ask him about the partition days. According to Gajwani, he as a child did not face the cruelties of it or rather he was too young to know it. He was happy to run barefoot along the footpaths in Old Delhi where they had come to settle, play marbles and fly kites. Children often shut the cruel world out by sleeping endlessly; for many other children having parents around is enough. Come whatever may they do not wince; parents make their world complete. While growing up Gajwani knew the world was different from what he thought about it. The vastness of Sindh faded slowly like the last remnants of the events of a dream in the waking man’s mind and in came India, a new geographical and political entity and everyone was destined to live with it.

(work by Gopi Gajwani)

Look carefully at the works of Gajwani; they are non-figurative works (though Kishore Singh who has written the catalogue at the outset itself makes an effort to distinguish the artist from being an ‘abstract’ artist. According to Singh, qualifying Gajwani an abstract art would be a recognition and failure of it at once). One sees the colours keep coming up in bold patches without hiding their origin as carefully considered brush strokes and fading into the layers of other colours (reds, browns, ochre, green, black and so on) only to resurface again in some unexpected part of the pictorial surface, imparting a sense of surreal meandering of eyes. One sense of vision or visual experience fades away and another one takes its place. However, imposing the biographical details of the artist into the works would be a sort of over reading the works. “Figurative art is not my forte,” says Gajwani smiling profusely and it is ironic that an artist who spent almost thirty years as a graphic designer for the USIS sponsored magazine SPAN. Charles Fabri, one of the pioneering art critics in India welcomed Gajwani’s works with a title ‘Powerful Abstractions’ in his famous column in the Statesman; it was in mid 60s. However, it was not Fabri’s influential comment that had made Gajwani stick to the language of abstraction.

(work by Gopi Gajwani)

Educated in the Delhi Polytechnic, which would become today’s Delhi College of Art, Gajwani studied with Arpita Singh, Paramjit Singh and many other famous contemporaries. Pioneers of Indian modernism namely Sailoze Mukherjee, Biren De and Bhabesh Sanyal were his teachers. “Walking around without a sketchbook was severely derided and figurative sketching was a must in those days,” Gajwani remembers. International abstraction brought in by the High Modernist movements in the west had already taken the Indian art also by force and a rigorous soul search was underway in order to find an indigenous art language. The ‘modern’ art of 1960s and 70s should be seen in this light; on the one hand the artists were trying to be at par with the western internationalism and on the other hand they were disputing this internationalism to find indigenous roots of their own art. In both the cases experiments for a newer form took predominance and it was reflected both in the figurative and abstract art languages. Non-figurative abstraction got an upper hand pushing the post-cubist and post-expressionist figurative experiments in India and there was a wave of abstraction all over India in 1960s and 70s. Gajwani remains faithful to the wave that had brought him into the art scene and anchored there firmly.

(work by Gopi Gajwani)

Unlike many abstract artists in India or elsewhere, Gajwani does not use too much of spiritual jargon to explain his works. Perhaps, it comes from his early association with the artists’ movement in Delhi, Shilpi Chakra where even the abstract artists like R.K.Dhawan had a few theories about their society, world and politics in general. For them abstract art was all about being modern not about being escapists, and like in the South, the artists demanded a special place in the modern discourse by virtue of their abstract art. Gajwani could grow up in the cool shade of this discourse and could come into contact with most of the intellectuals who defined the Indian art ethos of the time including J.Swaminathan, Abu Abraham, O.V.Vijayan and so on. According to Gajwani, Indian cartoonists had more powerful lines than the professional artists. As a person who has seen Delhi’s art scene from the close quarters, Gajwani could have taken sides but he chose to remain aloof but at the same time visiting almost all the exhibitions in Delhi, irrespective of the artists’ gender, age or fame. “Young artists may have less wisdom but their potential to move towards it is immense,” says Gajwani and also he believes that experiments are done when one is young and if one keeps experimenting throughout the life the whole idea of life would be lost. “At some point one has to find the way.”

(work by Gopi Gajwani)

Gajwani had found his way in music and he almost felt that his art was like music or rather music itself. Each work of Gajwani is conceived like a musical notation in the artist’s mind and what he needs to do is to transfer those onto the painterly surface. He quotes Michael Angelo who had said that the judgement of the artist should be stronger than the work itself. Where to start a colour and where to end it without breaking the rhythm and movement is more important than playing with colours for the sake of doing it. If a painting is for looking at, then of course you have all the reasons to keep on looking at Gajwani’s paintings. If you are there to read meanings out of his paintings, may be it wouldn’t be that pleasant an experience. I resist myself from force reading meanings out of his works and try to see what makes an artist pursue a language and create symphonies while constantly breaking patterns. Many abstract artists fall prey to their own patterns and mediums. Gajwani seems to negate patterns in all his works. He had started working from a small room at his home and he still does the same though the size of the studio has increased. “I could grow with all the great masters including Tyeb Mehta, Swaminathan, A.Ramachandran, V.S.Gaitonde and many more. Art was the only concern for all of us though most of us had to struggle as art was not bringing any money to us. J.Swaminathan had the courage to silence the big star of art theory at that time, Clement Greenberg in one of the formal gatherings held in Delhi. Art critics were stars then. Then slowly the degeneration set in. I will not blame anyone for decaying is part of life and that is applicable to art too,” says Gajwani. When one is too good there are possibilities that he/she suffers silently a lot. Gajwani is too good to fault as a human being and his works are not just meditative silences but the painterly transference of his silent sufferings too.