Saturday, July 7, 2018

The Last Temptation of S.H.Raza and the Question of Authenticity

(SH Raza. source net)

The Raza Foundation, New Delhi mounts a show of Syed Hyder Raza’s ‘last works’ in Delhi’s Triveni Art Gallery. According to one of the Trustees of the Foundation, Ashok Vajpayee, ‘the major works from this period are with the artist’s favourite galleries. What we see here are the ones that the departed artist had ‘willed’ to the foundation from his private collection. The very next day of the show’s opening a young artist had raised some doubts about the ‘authenticity’ of these works. As per the rumours (as in the case of many artists who are dead and gone), this young artist felt that the works on display were ‘fakes’ or were done by someone else and got ‘signed by’ an ailing Raza. “If it was authentic,” an irritated young artist said, “why they felt it important to have a video of the artist on the wheelchair sitting before a canvas and making very slow, deliberate and laboured strokes on the canvas, shown in the gallery?”

I am an art critic quite familiar with the ‘fake’ and ‘forgery’ theories doing rounds in the art scene. Occasionally, I too have commented on that topic. Even when Raza was alive and more or less everyone in the art scene in Delhi knew that he was incapacitated to certain extent, the Foundation was posting pictures of the artist at the canvas working diligently from a wheelchair. Like many I too had then thought that the Foundation could have been a bit more discreet in this matter and they should have saved the images for a later date. Somewhere, the Foundation felt that it was imperative to have the ‘working’ Raza’s pictures in the public domain to prove that the works that had already been under the cloud of doubt were in fact the ones done by the artist himself however fragile and hardly driven he was. One does not need to learn rocket science to understand that those efforts of the Foundation were carefully orchestrated for registering the authenticity of Raza’s work thereby making indelible and indisputable provenances for the future auction markets. Nothing wrong with it, I say.

(The Raza Show by the Raza Foundation. all pics from Raza foundation face book page)

Subtlety, yes ‘subtlety’ could have been the best policy in this matter, as I suggested elsewhere, which could have saved the Foundation from the stains of suspicion. According to me in the case of Raza, he needed no other authentication than his own creative career, devoted collector base, loving gallerists, authentic auction records and a number of artists who he had personally mentored, and innumerable visitors and admirers who used to register the moments and works through various modes that include photographs, diary entries, journals, blogs, articles, videos and so on. There are only a few artists in Indian art scene whose works are strictly documented from their modernist origins to till date. Of them I would count Raza leading the pack along with K.G.Subramanyan, A.Ramachandran, Bhupen Khakkar, Gulam Mohammed Sheikh, Neelima Sheikh, Manu Parekh, Madhvi Parekh, Paramjit Singh, Arpita Singh, Ved Nayyar and Gogi Saroj Pal. Most of them had/have galleries that have been working diligently to prevent spill over, interpolations, inauthentic additions and unexpected disputes.

The seams of a collection of works by an artist or a set of artists that seem well stitched and finished might pose some unsavoury moments and hurdles for the secondary market as well as the auction market. The fluidity and porosity of the boundaries of a collection or to be precise, the works of an artist or the artists cultivated by the auction houses and secondary market/s, ironically help the market for those artists grow as more and more works get added to the stream with carefully constructed authenticities and provenances. It is ironical mainly because an auction market functions on authenticity of the wares that it brings under the hammer but at the same time, the fluid edges of the market allow the entry of the works with no proven provenances and through various processes of tests and researches let them to gain authenticity therefore long term legitimacy. We have never seen what happens to a work of art whose authenticity is publicly questioned. We do not have any evidence of it after its withdrawal; whether it is destroyed or kept aside or suspended for authentication or re-introduced elsewhere in another time.

(from the show)

However, the auction market players do not have want to take much of a risk these days. Auction houses are, like the art fairs, facilitating market/business agencies that do not have any hold on the conditions and circumstances a work of art or an artefact is created. Nor do they have any power to alter the genius of the artists so that the works of art could be produced according to certain pre-existing market parameters. But if we look at the scene more realistically, we come to know that such helpless platforms decide eventually the quality of a work of art. That means, the erstwhile neutral platforms become involved participants in judging what is permissible and what is not. So a really authentic work of art could be thrown out by an auction house thereby nullify its very existence anywhere in the art habitat, and in the meanwhile it could simply create absolute No Nos into major works of art. That would be writing the requiem for the galleries, museums, trusts and foundations. With the arrival of auction houses a lot of job opportunities in the art market have now become a thing of history. Art historians, critics, art writers, art consultants, small scale galleries, experimental spaces and so on have lost their relevance and have been replaced by auction house experts.

This has created a counter situation where the existing galleries, fairs, museums, big time dealers have come together to create their own provenances and authenticities for the works of art and artists they are dealing with. Making their provenances indisputable is the primary concerns of most of the major galleries today. One can see why galleries like Delhi Art Gallery and Chemould Art Gallery underline the authenticity of their works through heavy publications. The unprecedented involvement of the auction houses in the art market has started threatening the existence of the galleries and small scale private museums. Crony capitalism is the result of it. A very few galleries, museums and Trusts are literally trusted by the auction houses; and a major chunk of the galleries are simply thrown out of the game by casting doubts on the works that they deal with. Go to a small gallery and find a Husain or a Raza there, your primary reaction is that ‘it must be a fake’ whereas it must be authentic and purchased with hard earned money. But what it lacks is an artist’s authentication certificate or related papers. So the scene has become quite Orwellian; someone can prove that you don’t exist or you have never existed.

(from the show)

That could be one reason why the Raza Foundation is extra careful about creating authenticities for the works that are willed to them by the departed artists. However, at present I am not here to cast aspersions on the authenticity of these works of art. I see this exhibition in a different perspective. Works done between 2011 and 2016 are exhibited here and as they are done by an ailing artist, we cannot say that they are his masterpieces at the same time we cannot say that they are ‘minor’ works either. They are works of art by an artist who even when he was partially immobile due to age and ailments had the grit to hold his brushes and work on the canvases placed before him. Perhaps, more than oxygen cylinders and other life supporting systems could, these art paraphernalia could help him live on as if her were following a flickering light which gives the impression of being inert and mobile at the same time. The strength and surety of strokes vary depending on the health conditions; hence you may see a work in 2012 pretty weak while a work in 2015 of the same kind quite strong. Raza, I think might have sought the help of assistants to do the basic diagrams and the colour filling is all done by himself, it seems for Raza if it is not about his colours and the way of application, they could be anybody’s. I salute the spirit of the artist who has even gone to remember his Fauvist and Impressionist days quite subconsciously in his works. In one of the horizontal works he even creates a sort of convex mirror illusions through some unsteady brush strokes. The evocative strokes of the smaller works underline the fact that this artist had the creative strength in him. One could use all the jargons that are generally used for authenticating the abstract works. But I do not want to pick up even one of those words. These works of Raza are more ‘authentic’ than his previous works I believe because each work here shows how he literally lived his life in them; they were irregular spells may be but life is after all life. Raza did not retire from art. Life retired from him. So was the case of artists like Benode Behari Mukherjee, Henri Matisse and our own K.G.Subramanyan.


Sunday, July 1, 2018

Tom Vattakkuzhy: Painting as Alchemy

(Tom Vattakkuzhy)

A work of art transforms the immediate world into a suspended world. It is at once an erasure and displacement, often imparting the possibility of renewal and retrieving. An artist achieves this rare alchemy through making the familiar unfamiliar, nudging the apparent into a perception, which is unique in framing and rendering. There the light emanating from a forty watt bulb could turn into the golden sheen that engulfs the works of Bernini. Any creative expression that could transport the viewer into a realm of future is hailed for its ability to help conceive the inconceivable while a work of art that takes the spectator to back to the delicate annals of history is often held in awe and reverence for its sheer capacity to evoke the aggregate of creativity in its perfection. In Tom Vattakkuzhy’s paintings one sees the latter and experiences a sense of suspension (of belief) which need not necessarily be done willingly. Yet, the experience is poetic and if I may use the word spiritual then it is spiritual too.

(Work by Tom Vattakkuzhy)

Tom Vattakkuzhy posts his paintings regularly in the social media and there he reaps hundreds of likes, mostly from the peer group that knows what all are involved in the making of a work of art even if many of the ‘likers’ are not excellent in practicing what they understand, believe or preach. As I said before, what makes Tom’s paintings attractive and often intriguing is their ability to suspend the immediate world that is represented within the painting as well as the one in which the paintings find themselves. The latter world could be the studio of the artist or the social media/gallery where these works are exhibited. Till recently Tom’s works used to get published in some mainstream literary magazines as the illustrations of the printed literature. In this sense, we could see Tom’s experience as an artist is doubly honed, one by conjuring up painterly events for himself and two, by making painterly responses to supplement and complement the given literature. Such honing of skills has all the chances of making an artist slightly confused when he/she changes the ‘location’ of their creativity. Some gifted artists, of late in Kerala have become successful in virtually transporting their exhibition spaces into the magazines by creating illustrations like the way they create their paintings, without external/editorial interventions. The credit also goes to the editors of those magazines who let the artists be what they are.

(work by Tom Vattakkuzhy)

In West Bengal, it has been still a living tradition of inviting the artists to make special cover pages for the Diwali issues of major literary magazines like ‘Desh’. Though, in Kerala, the magazines have not established such traditions (even today no Onam special feature artists’ works as cover page), magazine illustrations have had changed the general perspective about art. There had been a huge lull in this practice since the advent of new millennium (exactly with the closure of the Malayalam India Today) and the tendency of the magazines was to assign certain artists to illustrate the literature and it seemed that all of those artists had the brief to ‘re-create’ a certain feel of lines, forms and expressions which the editors considered as successful examples in a few mainstream magazines. On the other extreme, the magazines went for highly sentimental naturalistic illustrations that satisfied the expected and commonplace demand for aesthetical visual pleasure. Tom Vattakkuzhy and C.Bhagyanathan came to magazine illustrations in late 2000s which after almost one and half decade changed the illustration scene of Kerala for good. In fact today once again many artists work freely as illustrators though the compensation packages are minimal and sparse.

(work by Tom Vattakkuzhy)

Magazine illustrations, when it comes into the hands of a gifted artist, operate quietly independently of the literature once freed from the context. It creates another interesting scenario; once the illustrations declare their independence outside context of literature, it becomes imperative for the literature to make efforts to belong to those pictures. While the illustrations of the stalwarts like M.V.Devan, Namboothiri and so on showed their indebtedness to the literature those were based on, the illustrations of Tom and the artists of his ilk stand independently, creating a new world for themselves. This does not mean that these artists challenge the autonomy of literature or supersede the demands of it. On the contrary an artist like Tom has generated a creative mechanism and style that is autonomous even when it is done for a piece of literature. Hence we get a scenario where two autonomous entities are brought together and in the conjoining a strange familiarity is created. I would call it an event of mutual catalysing where the components remain unaltered while together they undergo a process of change. Tom, of late has become a master of this process, by deliberations of his artistic imaginations and executing skills.

(work by Tom Vattakkuzhy)

Tom is a bit like J.K.Rowling, the author of Harry Potter series of magical novels. Rowling turns the familiar London into a magical world; there are trains, stations, schools, colleges, students, hostels, vaults and so on as in the contemporary world. But the moment they enter into the narrative mode of Rowling, they transform into magical entities. There is nothing in Tom’s painterly world that is strange and unfamiliar. But when we see them within the emblematic narratives that Tom chooses to paint they look ethereal, distanced and divined. Clad in a Renaissance hue, each mundane act of life turns into Eucharistic. They look like the moments culled out from the Bible or Tohra or any divine book of order, morality and punishment. Each person and object in Tom’s paintings assumes Biblical connotations; perhaps that is the only device that both the artist and the viewers have to see and interpret. A sense of guilt and confession looms large in the paintings of Tom and he finds almost impossible to dispel that pall of gloom by adding some cheerful element in it. Each character, even in the intimate relationship with the other, cannot escape the Biblical connotations. For example, his series ‘Lessons of Life’, the mother and child never look like an ordinary mother and child; they are painted with mythological and epic strokes.

(The controversial illustration by Tom Vatttakkuzhy)

My observations gather momentum and weight when we recall the incident where Tom’s illustration on a piece of literature was withdrawn from the public after some church authorities registered their protest against the said illustration. The story of Mata Hari was the theme of the play which was published in Bhashaposhini, a major literary magazine with a considerable history behind to back it. Tom’s illustration, which was published as a cover page also, showed a nude Matahari sitting amongst group of nuns in a Eucharistic moment. The illustration was an independent painting (in the sense I explained earlier) and the artistic intervention was only in the ‘denuding’ of Mata Hari. When the protest against the painting gained momentum, the magazine apologized to the church and the believers (that’s how a magazine with a lot of history does these days) and withdrew the magazine from the stands and re-issued with a new cover page by another artist (which also met with protest from another caste community on the same case of hurt sentiments). During all these commotions, Tom maintained a stoic silence and he never explained his views on the controversy. In hindsight, perhaps that was a good strategy that he adopted which would make his and his family’s life smooth. Tom is no confrontationist though a good conversationalist and a declared sceptic in approach.

(an illustration by Tom Vattakkuzhy)

I believe, Tom’s grounding is in religion; not in its ritualistic and dogmatic side but in its aesthetic side. He more or less lives in a time where Da Vinci and Michael Angelo could have easily lived. I am talking about the period of Renaissance. Tom’s aesthetical approach is that of a Renaissance artist and also that of the Dutch artists during the same period. Apart from the said Renaissance masters, Tom adopts his thematic schemes from the masters like Vermeer, Jan Van Eyk, Rembrandt and so on. Also in some of his recent works like ‘Song of Dusk’, he relocates the American painter Edward Hopper in his works as very subtle visual reference. Tom almost Malayalisises Edward Hopper in the case of lights that he uses to illuminate his painterly images. What we see in this painting is an eerie moment, which perhaps for a rural Malayali is a normal daily moment. A group of boys (four of them) go for an evening dip in a pond near their ‘home’. The steps leading to the pond show that the home is a raised ground and it gives an indication that it is a hilly region. The liminal light of the dusk almost gives an eerie feel to the painting and we understand that the foreground of the painting and the boys there are almost rendered in near darkness.

(Song of the Dusk by Tom Vattakkuzhy)

The more I look at it the more I see a moment of Baptism. The boy in the water is like John the Baptist. The one who gets into the water could be Peter. There is someone who has already done his ablutions and is drying himself. He wears a red loin cloth. Another one who stands with his back to the viewer is a witness. I am interpreting this taking Tom as the unalterable author of this painting while assuming that he turns the mundane into divine; the quotidian into painterly or literal. Seen in this context, the ‘home’ above is no longer is a home but a church built on the rock of faith. One could clearly make a comparison between the yellow light outside and the sanctum/altar space drenched in a red; the sacrifice of Jesus Christ? Or is it a nativity scene? The yellow sheen could evoke the light of the pen in Bethlehem. The sanctum must be the delivery room in red. The sky is lit up. The three kings are taking bath with one witness/angel to lead them to the place. They are cleaning themselves up to receive the Son of God. Or am I just imagining things. But that is where Tom wins as an artist. He could create a series of ambiguities within the textual traditions available. At the same time he could remain free of the clutches that would otherwise hold a religious artist within the fold.

(an illustration by Tom Vattakkuzhy)

Finally, I would like to give a very different and normal interpretation of this work, ‘Song of Dusk’. I would strip all the religious connotations and the possible biblical hue away from the painting. It is just an evening scene. In the rural belts in Kerlala these days one could see labourers from other states (Anya samsthaana thozhilaalikal) who are called with a generic name ‘Bengalis’. They do any kind of work starting from washing cars, working as home helps, masons, carpenters, plywood factory works, restaurant workers, security guards and you name it they are there to work. They call Kerala as Indian Gulf. You wouldn’t believe that for their financial remittance there are evening branches of banks and some banks even work on Sundays. The book stores and music and film stores stock Bengali, Hindi, Assamese and Odiya books, films and music. There are schools for the children of the migrant labourers. Some have even passed the school final in Malayalam medium. And as icing to the cake, some act in mainstream Malayalam movies!

(Song of the Dusk by Tom Vattakkuzhy)

Many of these ‘Bengali’ labourers who live and work in the hilly regions (as farm and plantation workers) often rent out an old style house that is lying abandoned for long, for dirt cheap rents and live together, saving money on the rent front. This house in the painting seems to be one such house where these labourers and farm hands live. Despite the lights you don’t feel the ‘homeliness’ of a home in its depiction. It looks like an abandoned house which has been occupied recently and is not fully functional. The absence of a woman or women is palpable in its bareness and lost nature. The four men who are bathing at the pond must be four labourers cleaning themselves up in the cool water after a long and hard day’s work. The silence that is felt embracing the painting shows the silence of these young men lost in thoughts about their hearths back home in that killing twilight moment. The time looks so pivotal at this moment; the twilight. They are neither here nor there. They are in transit. The Malayali migrants have experienced it once in the Gulf countries. All the migrants have felt the twilight moments as incisions done by surgical blades in the soul. Tom too has gone through it and experienced it. This painting perhaps is an autobiography of an ordinary Malayali camouflaged in the stories of the Bengali labourers. Who knows for sure? That ambiguity is the charm of a good work of art.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

T.M.Krishna Needs the Dalit Musicians, Not the Other Way Round

(TM Krishna, source net. all pics sourced from net)

Parai dance and Paraikkoottu are subaltern dance-music cultures from/in Tamil Nadu. Subaltern is a very academic word. To make it more straight, let me say, they are the Dalit percussion and dance forms, sometimes played in the occasions of death. T.M.Krishna, the Magsaysay award winning musician, in his book titled ‘Reshaping Art’ quotes Deepan, a Parai dancer: “The reason we perform during death is simple. If a human being does not dance listening to the sound of the Parai, then we can confirm that he is dead.” I am fascinated by this statement. This book published by Aleph in its spotlight series at once a good read and a problem in itself.

(Reshaping Art, book by TM Krishna)

This book is problematic because of the author himself. Hailing from the Brahmin community, after excelling in the technicalities and nuances of Karnatic music, and even after gaining considerable number of rasikas for himself, T.M.Krishna decided to chuck it all. Slowly and steadily he realized how Karnatic music had become an exclusive caste-ist and classist genre where the paraphernalia of its teaching, learning, practicing and performing is fixed around a dominant religion, its upper caste value systems. Krishna explores the history of Indian dance and music which are hailed to be classical these days and says how these genres had to fight with the western art forms to gain legitimacy as classical forms. In the course of such authentication, these forms demoted some original forms and styles as vulgar and made the performative spaces sanitized of subaltern/Dalit music and dance forms.

(Gana exponent Michael)

T.M.Krishna made waves in the elite music scenario of Chennai which is the high seat Karnatic music as he decided to take his performance to the sea beach where his audience where random people from the fisher folk and the curious onlookers who generally did not attended music concerts of ‘this kind’. The aversion of the audience slowly turned into curiosity, then to engagement and later into participation. Today T.M.Krishna is a champion of the idea of democratising music and dance and to this end he even barges into the public transports with his team and performs kacheris. He also works with NGOs working in slums and performs for the slum audience and also has initiated ‘poramboke music’, music from the left over places/spaces.

(Marana Gana Viji, one who sings of death)

Krishna means well and he tries to puts it across well but often he climbs up on the high horse of preaching about the sublimating side of art. Though he debates the word spiritual and spirituality in the book, the language slowly climbs up to the abstraction that stands close with the classical understanding about classical arts. Krishna knows one thing that even if he is a pioneer in breaking the barriers from the up to include the ones from the other side of the fence, the ones who work from the other side of the classical line of art and music do not need Krishna’s mediation. Tamil Nadu has this rich tradition of folk and subaltern/Dalit/Adivasi music and dance traditions and with or without Krishna’s intervention these will survive especially in a situation where Dalit discourse is gaining traction and parlance among a larger audience.

(Paadariyen Padippariyen scene from Sindhu Bhairavi movie)

While discussing this aspect of the varieties of musical performances, Krishna feels the heat and he is anxious about the fact that his interventions may go redundant sooner than later. So he warns the practitioners that the popular culture is out there to incorporate or co-opt these subaltern musical and dance experiments for commercial purposes leaving the masters of subaltern music high and dry. The fact is that it has already been done and it has been going on for quite some time. It was Ilayaraja who in early 1980s brought in the subaltern sounds and music into the mainstream Tamil film industry but value addition that he did was the smooth camouflaging of those music styles with the dominant Karnatic styles. But Ilayaraja has always been unapologetic about his heavy borrowing from the folk traditions. In a film called Sindhu Bhairavi (1985) by veteran director K.Balachandar, there is a sequence where the protagonist who is a Karnatic musician is asked to sing in local music style by one of the female audience. Ruffled by the demand he mockingly asks her to sing it and prove whether lofty ideas could be sung in local music. She sings. That song brought National Award for Chithra. Krishna has not minded this fact.


If you follow the episodes written by Krishna you would come to know that it is Krishna like a missionary going around and attending the Gana performances, Koottu performances and parai performances. The practitioners of it don’t come seeking Krishna’s interventions. If you look at the number of Gana singers in Tamil Nadu, you would come to know that many of them are much more popular and influential than Krishna himself. But mind you; they are dark skinned hip hoppers who do not articulate themselves in English. Listen to the Gana music of Marana Gana Viji, Gana Sudhakar, Gana Michel and so on, you would come to know that Krishna is a nobody to preach them and in a way ‘include’ them. The reality is, they just don’t want. But Krishna tries his best. If you look at the Tamil film industry, the major fast numbers that have become cult songs are taken from Gana styles and Parai style or Koottu style. Aalumma Dolumma of Ajith, Anjele of Surya, Varuthapedathe Vaaliba Sangham of Sivakarthikeyan, Mari of Danush and so on come directly from Gana base. D.Imman, the new music sensation of Tamil film industry picks up his songs from the street, I say.

(music director D Imman)

Krishna feels the heat of being rendered redundant by his ilk with the arrival of Dalit music. In such situation he can do nothing but join the subaltern force. In the early 20th century in Kerala there was a social movement called ‘To make the Namboothiris human beings’, which meant Making Brahmins into human beings. The Brahmins where ill treating their women almost confining them into homes and rendering them as sex slaves. The rebellious Brahmin youth wanted the things to change. So they made several efforts to change the discrepancies in customs and rituals so that humanitarian revolutions could be effected within the community. To certain extent they had won it through theatre activities. What Krishna has to do today is to go back to his Brahmin origin and try to change the thing there. That means, there is a huge need for him to fight within the community than seeking allegiance of Dalit musicians to push his idealistic views on inclusive music. Krishna tries a very done to death rebellion; taking Karnatic music to sea shore villages and into the public transport system. Of late he has also started singing the poems of Perumal Murugan. I feel that he is just cashing in on the popularity of Perumal Murugan’s literary life and the controversies around it. Tomorrow he would sing a chapter from Arundhati Roy’s essays or novels. Or he would sing a chapter from Das Capital in Karnatic style. But what difference would it make? It remains in the Karnatic style. To change the content you need to change the form also. Filling in content in a given form was the early modernist tradition where the poets filled the poetic forms with erotic content. When the real modernists and progressives came in, they facilitated changes in ‘form’ also. Sad thing is Krishna could never become Gana Micheal. He can be T.M.Krishna only. There is a latent book inside this book because someone from the other end of the spectrum also should write a book on how they see Krishna’s Karnatic music at slums and in buses. Gayatri Chakravarty Spivak asked, can the subaltern speak. I say, of course, not only they can speak, they can sing too. They would say, please, Krishna, mind your business.

Friday, June 22, 2018

The Patriots - A Short Story

(Source: net)

The Patriots

They are around thirty people. Young and raring to go at anything.

All of them have different haircuts. Some are mushroomed. Some are puffed at the sides just above the ears. Some are taken off completely making a patchy curve starting from the right temple and reappearing at the left.

I could feel their breath around me. I think of snarling dogs in animation movies. They are just that. But they behave as if they were directly from the war movies, complete with armours and assault rifles. They have even camouflage lines all over their faces.

I am just imagining things. Am I frightened while standing right in the middle of this young crowd that exudes a sense of aggression, definitely not adulation?

One of them has a T-shirt on with camouflage pattern. Rs.150/- for anything, I think for I have seen them in the pavement. But he feels so confident in it. He is taller than me and I looked down as he talks about his country. Yes, ‘his country’. I see the seams of his trousers rolled up and pushed into the ankle boots.

He holds his mobile phone as if it were a grenade to be lobbed at me, if there is a provocation. I know anything could happen then. I have offended them.

You would be surprised to know the scenario. I have just finished a speech. A few minutes back I was on the stage there inside these huge door panels, where these young men now crowding me were my audience. Something I have said about the country seems to have understood differently.

Someone opens the door and walks out and with him a mild fragrance and a whiff of cool air come out and follow him to the foyer like a trusting dog.

I look around and see similar crowds in some parts of the foyer.

These young men have come from different colleges and they are there for an integrated workshop for the youth. Male and female experts from different walks of life have come to give them short speeches. Yes, short speeches but sooner than later I realise that each short speech could last for an hour.

My speech was short indeed. But the interactive session was a bit longer.

Now in this foyer what you see is the continuation of that interactive session.

‘How could you say that soldiers and primary school teachers are to be given the same respect?’ They insist asking. I feel a strange hiss in their voice and the rising aggression in their bodies.

Their fingers twirl. They could catch hold of my neck at anytime. Between those terrifying fingers and my logical neck there is a very small distance which could be measured by the satisfaction that my answer would give them.

I smile, first unto myself and then to them. I have faced such situations before. Facing hecklers is a part of my job.

“For me, primary teachers do a better job than the soldiers at the country’s borders,” I say taking special care of the smile on my lips.

‘Do you have anybody in the army?’ One of them asks.

“No, No relative of mine works in the army,” I say.

‘That’s why you don’t know the pain’.

“Is it necessary to have an army man at home to know the pain of a soldier?” I ask.

‘Because of them you could sleep without worries’, one of them pitches in.

“I am not sure about that. My sleep does not have anything to do with the soldiers. But I do lose sleep over what they do at some places not only in our country but elsewhere too,” I reason.

‘We are ready to sacrifice our lives for our country’, the guy in camouflage T-shirts moves in.
“What else does a primary teacher do?”

He does not sacrifice anything.

“So according to you, fighting in the army fatigue is the only way to serve the country? Or is it always necessary to make sacrifices to serve or love one’s country?”

‘What do you do with the enemies then?’

“This is exactly where I talk about the primary school teachers. If they teach you who is our enemy and who is our friend, and also tell us ultimately there are no enemies or friends, then this overt love for the country wouldn’t arise at all.”

‘But we have enemies.’

“What do you do if I say having enemies is a sort of illusion spread by the state? If we understand history and economics, we will understand this whole idea of war is just a game played periodically by vested interests not by the soldiers. And soldiers in fact should be peace keepers not war mongers.”

The boys go silent for a moment. I find a gap to insert another argument.

“A bus conductor, an engineer, a nurse, a doctor, a carpenter, a cobbler, a vegetable seller or anyone who pursues any job diligently does serve and love his country, if really has one. It all depends whether the country wants his love and service or not.”

The boys look confused. But at the next moment they regain the density of their blindness.

‘We are patriots. You are a traitor. You fail to see the enemy. It is as good as colluding with them.’
“I don’t have enemies from across the border. They don’t make my life hell. But my fellow citizens do it. They beat up my brothers and sisters for sitting on a chair, riding a horse in a wedding procession, for sporting a moustache, for taking a cow to the market, for passing an examination with good marks, for washing themselves in a public pond, for dressing up well, for just being free and proud. What do I do with those tormentors? Will the soldiers of this country save my brothers and sisters from such insults?” I shiver while I say this.

‘Sir, you are a guest here. Otherwise.....the answer would have been different.’ Someone gnashes his teeth.

“This is what exactly I say when I say primary school teachers are important when it comes to the shaping up of a country and its psyche. I think your teachers too have lost the plot and they have taught you something else,” I tell them politely and try to move out.

‘Hail thee Mother Country’, they call out behind me, obviously to jeer at me.

I hold my head high and walk out of the foyer as their exhortations grow high, wild and frenzied.

 Still I could feel the loud slogan ‘Hail thee Mother Country’ stalking me with a bare dagger clenched in its fist.  

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Honourable Prime Minister, Please Consider Making No Comments on Art

Portrait of PM Narendra Modi by Veena Abhyankar (pic courtesy Indian Express)
Post-modernism gives this freedom for anything to be an artist. It also does give the freedom to anyone who would like to be an art lover. If anybody could make art whether it is shallow or deep in terms of meaning, then anybody else also gets the right to make a judgement on that work of art. Hence, if our Prime Minister, Mr.Narendra Modi congratulates a home-maker artist for her efforts in paper-quilling art we cannot complain. But there is a danger; that too a very grave one! If the Prime Minister goes on congratulating the works of art being sent to him by enthusiastic artists (who are academically trained or self trained or partially trained under a real or virtual tutor), it could create certain roadblocks in the art history and criticism in this country. Before I go into that let me tell you why I am forced to write an article like this.
Hanuman, Karan Acharya, PM Narendra Modi (pic courtesy Financial Express)
Today’s (24-5-2018) Indian Express, a national daily, in its Delhi edition publishes a four column story complete with a picture of the Prime Minister, Mr.Narendra Modi, which is created by a Pune based home maker, Veena Abhyankar who has been practicing paper-quilling for the last three years. Paper-quilling is an art form created out of differently coloured papers of different properties by cutting, pasting and twirling them aesthetically. I do not have any problem in an artist who does paper cutting and twirling to make that particular genre of art. Though not in the same mode there are contemporary artists in our country who use paper in various ways to create their works of art. For example, Sachin George Sebastian makes wonderful city-scapes and complex art works out of twirled and twisted paper and his works are internationally exhibited and appreciated. We have also Dilip Chobisa who uses paper in various ways in order to create 3D illusions. Paper has been a favourite medium of many especially the hobby artists. But remember Post-modernism gives complete freedom even to the hobby artists to claim a place in the larger history of modern-contemporary art of any country. It is only the discretion of the art historians and critics save the country out of such onslaughts.
PM Narendra Modi
Of late our Prime Minister has literally taken a cultural route to win the hearts of the people (read voters). Cultural nationalism that his parent organisation (the RSS) preaches is slightly different from the cultural expression that many an artist practices in this country. But the Prime Minister of our country is neither an art historian nor an art critic, nor is he a connoisseur of art and aesthetics. When you are rich, yes aesthetics and a love for the cultural comes naturally to you because that is the only way that the rich could claim a place in the collective memory of the country for there are many rich people doing the same thing such as buying the same brand high end cars, living in cosy farm houses in the same posh area of the city, flying to the same tourist destinations, playing in the same gambling dens, staying in the same five star hotels, wearing the same high end fashions and mixing with the same right kind of the people/celebrities. But when it comes to art, they all prefer to be unique and individualistic. Yes, they do all buy Damien Hirsts and Subodh Guptas, but they also buy works of art that are not possessed by any other rich man. Power also gives a right to the people to make an opinion about art. When the rich and the powerful talk about art or anything, that becomes the rule of the day and many people emulate it. Mr.Prime Minister can privately love a work of art that attracts his imagination. But when he does it in public, it might become a national example and such an aesthetic could become a national benchmark, dismissing or suspending all the other kinds of aesthetics prevalent or practiced in the country.

Karan Acharya, Hanuman image
When Mr.Prime Minister was touring Karnataka, campaigning for the recently held assembly elections, he had praised on Karan Acharya, a boy from North Kerala, a self trained graphic artist who has set up start up company with his friends to do business with the big animation houses and graphic design studios. He came to limelight a few years back when he did an angry Hanuman’s face, going by the macho image of the Bajrang Dal, a extreme right wing Hindutva outfit established in the name of the monkey god Hanuman. This picture of Hanuman was made into a sticker and it had found its ways to the windscreens of Mumbai taxis and it had got its due press space at that time. Like any other sensational news in this world, this too had its run for a couple of days and had subsided. It was Mr.Prime Minister who picked it up again during his Karnataka campaign trail and praised the artist for making such a ‘wonderful painting’. It was suiting to the purpose of Mr.Prime Minister and he did not mind saying good words about a work of art though it was done in whatever intention had turned out to be a fuel to the aggressive right wing male politics that gets played out in the Indian streets, especially in the places where the minority communities live. Mr.Prime Minister was definitely turning himself into an aesthetician for He simultaneously paid rich tribute to a cartoonist who turned out to be a plagiarist and a provocateur by doing vulgar and misogynist cartoons.

Angry Hanuman poster
Ms.Veena Abhyankar from Pune might not have thought of any of these when she sent a portrait of Mr.Prime Minister in the medium of paper quilling. But the Prime Minister praised her high saying that ‘her passion for learning new things is admirable...’ This may sound a very simple and patronising statement from a senior statesman who heads the country. But we have to understand that Mr.Prime Minister has chosen to praise a work of art which has a portrait of his in it or rather I would say that it becomes a work of art for him as it is his portrait. Still I give the benefit of doubt to the Prime Minister. Even if it was a painting of a sun rise he would have definitely praised it. But then the problem is, what kind of a sun rise it is and why he has chosen to praise it. The praising from the state head comes unqualified. The statement then becomes irresponsible because the majority of the populace in the country is unsuspecting about an apparently humanitarian and aesthetical comment of the Prime Minister. Even his worst critic would say that at time the Prime Minister is very sensible and sensitive. But unfortunately, I have to say that the Prime Minister is indiscreet when it comes to praising works of art or it could even be said that the Prime Minister chooses certain works deliberately to praise not just because his portrait in it but because it suits to his political purpose.

His foraying into the field of art should be seen with apprehension. I say this mainly because the Prime Minister is not a natural appreciator of arts. He may be receiving thousands of paintings and thousands of books, pieces of music and so on. As the state head he deserves all those gifts and artistic attention. But he does not choose to see all of them and we cannot expect him to do so also. It is here we expect him to be a bit discreet about making comments of works of art and finding easy ways to be an aesthetician. The Prime Minister is at fault here even if he is making an innocent comment on an otherwise harmless work of art, he is doing a great damage to the contemporary art of this country. The main reason is that the Prime Minister is not looking at the contemporary art that are being presented in the major galleries and museums in our country. He is not picking and choosing the works of art from there and making such comments of accolades. He is not even finding a few minutes from his busy schedule to speak about the great artists who are still alive in our country. He is not taking a few minutes to speak about the artists who are bringing us international recognition to our country. We have been a country where the entourage of the Prime Minister carried artists, musicians, historian, journalists, scientists and so on during his/her tours to the international countries. Mr.Prime Minister has severed that tradition. Okay, no issues. But how can the Prime Minister choose the worst kind of art (I humbly make use of my professional standing to make this statement) and showers praises on it? It is in effect altering the vision and aesthetical approach of at least those people who believe in him. When he has an aggressive majority, his words become almost dictums and laws, especially in the tender issues like aesthetics. When Karan Acharyas and Veena Abhyankars are brought to lime light, what happens is our reputed artists get removed from it and they lose their social as well as mental space. That in the long run would put the country in danger.

Karan Acharya
Mr.Prime Minister could make any number of opinions on art. His right as the state head and his existence within the post modern discourse allows him to express his views freely. But they should be conveyed privately and discreetly. If it becomes a norm, the artists who are simply doing their hobby and have an infantile or childish enthusiasm to hear good words from the higher ups get undue social space which would corrupt the minds of the people who otherwise think and view art in a totally different way. Our country’s hobby artists and mediocre artists have turned the Lalit Kala Akademies into degenerating cultural establishments. I was one of the national jury members for the national exhibition selection by the LKA, New Delhi. I found at least twenty per cent of the artists sending the portraits of Mr.Prime Minister in various guises including doing yoga, thinking that these images would give them the right to be in the national exhibition. It is a very dangerous sign. Either the Prime Minister should consider not making any comments on art or he should do it quite often about the contemporary art and artists of our country. Our media also should think about whether such loose statements of the Prime Minister should be highlighted in detail or not. While today’s Indian Express covered the Man Booker Prize Winner and the Polish Writer, Olga Tokarczuk in one column in the 21st page Veena Abhyankar gets four columns in the 9th page. That puts everything in perspective.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Conversations Abundant and Abandoned: Art of Vishnu Priyan

(artist Vishnu Priyan)

Some of his works exude the feel of the widely known Mexican Murals. But a closer look reveals that these works do not have anything to do with those murals. Ask the artist, Vishnu Priyan, he would tell you that all his works are about conversations; an image conversing with the other image or images. They are also conversations without any particular reason. What Vishnu Priyan loves to do is to allow his stream of consciousness flow freely on to his canvases. A post graduate in painting from Kerala’s Sree Sankara University, Kalady, Vishnu Priyan also had won a first rank in graduation in the same discipline. He stands at the crossroads of life, waiting for a major decision to happen and the precariousness that he feels at this juncture is perhaps palpable in his recent paintings. Emotions, aspirations, desires and dreams overpower him while he stands firmly rooted in the materialistic reality around him, confronting people, witnessing events, participating in conversations and eavesdropping in village grapevine. They all together forms a stream that spreads like a thick liquid resembling blood and there each organic part of human or animal body gains autonomy and speaks as well as acts for itself while the inorganic objects cling together each other to form metastasising structures enveloping the organs that have just gained autonomy.

(work by Vishnu Priyan)

In the Mexican Murals there is always a movement; a movement to the right or to the left or bursting out from the centre and going towards all the four sides. There are no disparate movements so that the whole picture looks shaky and flimsy. The Mexican murals have structural cohesiveness like the march past of a trained army. It may be army or the ordinary people but as they are anticipating progress and forward movement, their movements are rhythmic and coherent. There is heroism in each face and magnanimity in each act. Even the humblest of farmers look Grecian heroes even in their ordinariness. Make a contrast of these qualities with the paintings of Vishnu Priyan, we would come to see his works stand for all what is not said about the Mexican murals. What I want to say is that his works should not be seen as a takeoff from the mural tradition of the west. Rather, they are more like dream like expressions, merging socialist realism with surrealism, and Expressionism with the refined cubism of Fernand Leger. We could also see some works taking inspiration from the works of the great Travancore mythologist, Gopikrishna and some works travelling back in centuries and landing up in the Mughal courts where miniature karkhanas were established. Vishnu Priyan also likes to take a detour all over the contemporary art scene and find quirky examples to embellish his works.

(work by Vishnu Priyan)

‘Here is a Bus Waiting for You’ is a large watercolour work done by Vishnu Priyan in 2017. This work has the quintessential features of his thinking and handling of the images. The artist simulates the form of the popular red and yellow fast passenger bus run by the state transport corporation in Kerala. The bus is just a shell. It has no seats, platform, engine or tyres. But the bus is seen filled with people. Even on the top of the bus one could see a couple of passengers; a bull and a monkey. The crowded bus has a large variety of people; both male and female. Their dresses show that they are from different religions. Their feet are on the ground, which doubles up as a road but is strewn with colourful weapon like forms. Those forms could be some kind of network leading information to some other place. At the same time, as in a cross section of ground, we could see the underneath side of the road, which leads us to some sort of a nether world which is filled with strange plumbing networks. What does it all mean? Does it come as a critique on the current political scenario in which the artist is meant to live with all satisfaction? From his facebook profile I understand that the artist is a supporter of the left front in Kerala and believes in the future offered by the dominant party, the CPM. However, this belief seems to be thwarted at times and the artist seems dissatisfied with the kind of ‘progress’ that the party is making today. That may be the reason why the bus doesn’t have any tyres and people have to push themselves to the places where they want to reach.

(work by Vishnu Priyan)

That means, Vishnu Priyan believes in the human aspirations and desires, and also in the collective will to move forward despite their religious and racial differences. It is one way of presenting the progress that could be achieved even within chaos and the chaos that an ordered society often carries it in its brain and belly. What makes me think about the works of Vishnu Priyan fondly is the way the images and their handling form a language pattern that is often followed by the free and regular societies. Any linguistic usage/conversation in a ordinary life situation starts with a particular purpose and after fulfilling that it veers into the areas that it was not intending to enter. That means human conversations in a daily situation are not ‘ordered’ the way language is ordered in specific situations like operation theatres, political summits, science conferences and academic classrooms. In non-specific situations language breaks loose of itself and goes into the directions, creating a series of webs and interestingly each web creating its own sense and remaining there unaffected while another web creates another meaning. That means in our life, we live in such webs of language/s that move between purposeful conversations and idle talk. Vishnu Priyan seems to take each of the images in his paintings as a piece of conversation and let it develop on its own and leaves it there once its aim is achieved and engages with another stream of images.

(work by Vishnu Priyan)

The autonomy of the organic body parts emblematised in the images like a tongue or a piece of intestine climbing a stair or coming down by it in Vishnu Priyan’s works also exemplifies the autonomy of a conversation. That means, each layer of conversation (here in Vishnu Priyan’s works they are the layers of images) could be peeled off to see the underlying layer. However, as the artist makes each layer transparent it becomes easier for the viewer to follow another layer without really peeling off the first one. It is interesting to see that the artist paints a train entering into the platform in a very realistic style and suddenly he leaves it there and starts another layer of images just beneath it as if those human images were run over by the train, which in fact is not the case. We see some human images resembling the red volunteers of the CPM party turning themselves into animal incarnations. They must be the visions of the artist and without connecting them logically with another image ensemble for deliberate meaning creating, he leaves them off. So we have a series of images in Vishnu Priyan’s works that are owned up by the artists and at the same time by abandoned by him. It is same with the conversations that we do in our day to day lives. We do not own up all the words that we utter even if the ownership remains with us. But we ruthlessly abandon some words and sentences and even ideas as if they were not ours. That means our linguistic sphere is filled with utterances disowned by the speakers. Vishnu Priyan just makes a visual statement of the same. And with shock we come to know what are the images that we dream up and abandon half way exactly.

(work by Vishnu Priyan)

Vishnu Priyan uses stock images in his works in order to emphasis the fact that human beings think of the same thing repeatedly without any reason but leave them halfway. Also such topics come into our conversation just for the sake of talking about it like some meaningless words or expressions. The artist has stocked up such images in his repertoire and one of them is a woman in purdah eating bananas. Also there are many people seen eating bananas. Another stock character is a man-camel figure running towards some place. The image of banana bunches and the act of people eating bananas is interesting because it at once shows a banal act and a very erotically suggestive gesture. The presence of banana has multiple connotations; it shows eroticism for sure but at the same time it tells us that the act of eating banana is a banal act because it does not make on doing something very heroic. At the same time one tends to feel that we are living in a banana republic where the rules are created and twisted as per the need of the dictators. The people look absolutely foolish in such banana republics. Vishnu Priyan does not say that he lives in one or all of us are living in one. But he always shows the possibility of all of us falling into one. Besides, what I see is the proliferation of male values and patriarchal arrogance that most of us carry around in the society. The bananas look good but they are the gestures of blind arrogance also.

(work by Vishnu Priyan)

If we consider the canvases of Vishnu Priyan as a land, then we could definitely say that it is filled with the words and symbols of the people who live there. They are not only the words and symbols that manifest in reality but also take shape in imagination, thinking and dreams but not yet manifested in physical forms. So there is an etherized state of existence in these works. The dominant Hindu philosophy says that one should stop the act of thinking in order to achieve peace of mind and find salvation. Buddhism says that we just need to watch the thoughts that come and go often. They are not connected at all and the moment we look at the thoughts and their disconnectedness we understand the absurdity of it and as time passes the thoughts too will vanish and we achieve a sort of tranquillity. What Vishnu Priyan does in his paintings is simply watching the thoughts and recording them in his canvas in order to present the absurd drama of life and the life that blooms in the thought process. By doing this the artist must be getting some sort of tranquillity and happiness. In one of his latest works we see the image of Sankaracharya in his iconic posture and eating bananas. Vishnu Priyan studied in the Sankaracharya University and the presence of the iconic figure in the campus must have made him to come up with this image. The serene and meditative image of Sankaracharya becomes a bit banal and comic when he is seen eating a banana. That means, taking anything out of context or adding anything in a specific context would change the meaning of a thing completely and also would collapse the whole ideology behind it. It is like adding a moustache to Monalisa. Vishnu Priyan somehow subverts the dominant Sankaracharya ideology that had once thwarted the Buddhist philosophy which was more accommodative and had asked people to just look at their thoughts.

(work by Vishnu Priyan)

Of late Vishnu Priyan has been working in large canvases. He says that he takes around seven to eight months to complete a canvas. And he explains why his canvases are now becoming more crowded now. According to him, as he keeps sitting with the canvas for many months, he develops a sort of intimacy and the canvases assume certain ‘life’ in itself. Vishnu Priyan have long conversations with the canvas. He fights with it, abandons it and comes back and patches up with it. In the meanwhile the images that he takes away and brings back keep changing. “There is only a nascent idea when I start a work. But as this conversation starts with the canvas the whole thing changes. Working a painting means developing a love-hate relationship with the canvas and I do not know what could be the outcome of it. Sometimes, the works surprises me. Perhaps, life is also like that. We start somewhere and however we try, we reach somewhere else. I am not talking about destiny; but I am talking about the encounters that we have at every juncture in our lives. My canvases are full of such encounters. I enjoy these encounters now,” says Vishnu Priyan. In one of his works we see a purdah clad woman stitching a dress resembling a human body. And I reminded of the description of the terrible beauty of a young boy by the French poet, Lautreamont, “beautiful as the chance meeting on a dissection table of a sewing machine and an umbrella.”

Monday, May 21, 2018

A Young Magician in Printmaking: Meet Rama Chandra Majhi

Printmaker Artist Rama Chandra Majhi
“I like Haren Das,” says Rama Chandra Majhi, a twenty one year old graduate in Print Making from the Government College of Art and Crafts, Khallikote, Ganjam District, Odisha. Looking at Majhi’s works, especially the woodcuts one could understand why he likes Haren Das so much. Haren Das (1921-1993) was a master printmaker who proved that one could be an excellent story teller, documenter, visual chronicler and a fine artist and the medium was never a limitation. The fineness of his lines surpasses the expressionism that Chittoprasad Bhattacharya, one of his early contemporaries had brought to his works. Haren and Chittoprasad worked in two different lines and employed their creative prowess for different purposes. Haren Das was a Romantic and Chittoprasad Bhattacharya was a Realist. Haren Das did not want to change the surroundings that he thought were beautiful, serene and slow moving despite all the tribulations such a rural place would have. Chittoprasad wanted his surroundings to change and the existing oppressive system to collapse. He believed that art had the power to move people. Rama Chandra Majhi confesses his liking for Haren Das and his works don’t betray this confession. Besides, Majhi adds that he has not yet begun brining ‘politics’ into his art. “But I am aware of the fact that art cannot live without it (politics).” 
Work by Rama Chandra Majhi
Born to a family in Mayurbanj District of Odisha, disadvantaged in many ways that includes the remoteness from the city life, hard labour in farms and lack of proper educational facilities, Rama Chandra Majhi has fought odds to gain his degree from the Government College in Khallikote. His woodcuts are huge in size (123x 235 cms) and the size reflects the size of the wood surface that he uses for making his works. The industrially made plywood planks are available in the said size and that has become a fascinating size for many of the young printmakers who would like to go for daring experiments. If I am not wrong, the early indications of using plywood for making woodcut prints were seen in the printmaking department in Hyderabad, which later found its full blooming in the Printmaking department at the Fine Arts Faculty, Baroda. Out of the box thinking had led many young artists to experiment with these plywood planks, an unusual and ambitious surface for an art practice that had found its satisfaction in smaller size wood blocks that could be worked on and from a table top. Pratap Modi is an artist who found early success in large scale woodcut only to be followed by many in the Baroda school. Among the women artists, Sohra Khurasani has adopted plywood as her working surface so that she could produce ambitious woodcut installations predominantly red in colour, which has become her hallmark style by now.  
Work by Rama Chandra Majhi

One could imagine the artists working on plywood surfaces going all down on fours like careful animals armed with a spoon and pressing the paper down on the wooden surface and taking the impressions carefully. Those people who are familiar with the traditional woodcuts are in for a shock here because the new technique has allowed them to come up with multicoloured prints thought it demands patience, perseverance and tremendous skill. If someone is creating a large scale be sure that the artist behind the work is a highly skilful person, knows the spatial dimensions well and also knows the impact of the final work on the viewers once the final impression is done. Rama Chandra Majhi comes to us as a highly accomplished artist and it is difficult to believe that this artist is just a graduate. Majhi has not yet hit the art market and he may take more time to do so for the simple reason that these days, due to the lack of an active art market the gallerists are not really looking for potential artists. If at all they are looking they are looking those sophisticated artists who make nonsense inanities and hang them from the ceilings and add a lot of autobiography to it. Majhi’s works too have the artist’s autobiography in them but one could test it, taste it and even love it. Hence, it may take time but I am sure if not today, tomorrow the market cannot overlook the artistic contributions of Majhi. 
Work by Rama Chandra Majhi

Now let’s take a look at the works of Majhi. He works both in woodcut and large scale watercolours. At present, as he is so tuned to the vertical size of the plywood boards, even his watercolours take shape in the same format; vertical. He could go for horizontal articulations, but Majhi finds it comfortable to stick to the vertical format. This verticality has given him a different stylistic advantage. First of all, instead of spreading over a large panoramic space, he could stick to a focused space, like a piece before the vision sliced up and placed for scrutiny. At the same time, it allows him a sort of virtuosity to develop a narrative the way the Mughal miniaturists had approached their sceneries. We see some sort of a crowded space in Majhi’s works and there are several areas where contours of the images and figures overlap. But take a careful look at them one would find that one image does not dismiss the other on the contrary it comes as a layer that supplements or complements the previous image or layer. Majhi has a very special tendency to present the flora and fauna of a place, that place is nothing other than the place in and around his village, and make them look very beautiful. The complicated arrangement of the flora at once functions as a border of the prints and also as a mode of embellishment. However, for Majhi they are the integral parts of the work that set the mood and backdrop of the ‘events’ that take place in his works. And if anyone of you have noticed that there is something quite Henry Rousseasque about his works, then yes, Majhi gleefully admits that he loves the works of Rousseau. 
Work by Rama Chandra Majhi
As mentioned elsewhere in this essay and as asserted by Majhi himself, his works are ‘not political’. But it is up to us whether we should see politics in his works or not. May be we could go by his words and say that there is no politics in these works and they are very beautiful one. True, one should not always look for political issues in someone’s works. But what one should do when the works subconsciously gives away the hidden intentions or the very subconscious of the artist himself. So here we look at a work where we see a herd of cattle, mainly of cows, is led by a few cowherds. And they are walking forward and one could even think of the Godhuli time, the beautiful twilight time, as in some of the works of Nandlal Bose, Binod Behari Mukherjee, Gobardhan Ash and so on. But something is different elsewhere in the painting. There is an absolutely unsettling act on one side of the painting. There you see a group of people beating or taming a defiant bull/cow. What exactly is that? Ask Majhi, he would say that in the village he often sees such scenes. There are very obedient animals and unruly ones. Some need taking. So there is nothing exceptional about it. But considering the present political scenario in the country where cow is a scared animal and the killing or hurting of it could get you killed (and even yesterday something of that sort has happened in Madhya Pradesh). This may be a subconscious expression of the artist or it could be absolutely a normal scene. But an onlooker cannot overlook the implications that it brings forth. I am reminded of a side show within a painting of Bhupen Khakar where two angels try to kill or dominate each other.  
Work by Rama Chandra Majhi
In one of the woodcuts, we could see a forest space interspersed with a village space and young men with their bodies tattooed to the wrist making a sort of circular movement. What intrigues us is that presence of a woman inside a basket and apparently is being carried on the shoulder by a young man. Is she being abducted or is it a rural ritual? Majhi has an answer about it. They are the present youth who are devoid of any respect of the elders. But at least one of the many still has it for his parents like the mythical character, Shravana Kumar. He also says that though there is a practice of boys tattooing their bodies in the village, it is not customary that they should cover their bodies with pictures. Majhi does it out of his will to embellish the painterly feel. In another work, one could see a host of sheep, as it is normal in the case of Majhi’s works walking towards us and one of the goats in the forefront has a magically transformed face; the face of the goat is now transformed to that of a young woman who has a pair of goggles, ear rings and lipstick on her lips. Majhi may refuse to say that he has done it with a message or commentary for he wants to keep his works ideologically neutral. However, we cannot avoid seeing the obvious; a young woman becoming a scapegoat or getting fattened to be slaughtered on the altar of marriage or other social demands.  
Work by Rama Chandra Majhi

There is another interesting work that Majhi connects directly to a series of accidents that have occurred near his village. A new road is created in his village to ease the traffic. First of all there was no such busy traffic to ease. But something else was happening on the other end of the village. Big business was coming and they needed big road. So a new road came and accidents became a normal sight. Majhi says that he has witness several car accidents in that road. So here is a work where he has captured his pain and the irony that he has felt about the whole thing; a door is opened and what you see is a series of cars tumbling down into the dark recesses like toy cars. Majhi laments the loss of human lives and happiness. He says that it is what development brings to us. But he does not want to critique it directly. He says that at present his intention is to capture whatever seems attractive to him. And he wants to make his works attractive. And true to his intentions, Majhi’s works are attractive. (When he talks about roads, accidents and developments, I think of Manjhi, Dasrath Manjhi, who is also known as the Mountain Man, who had created a road through a hill in Bihar using only a hammer and chisel just to connect his village to the city so that the villagers could avail medical facilities faster than otherwise they could by circumventing the hill. He took twenty two years of his life to bring about that ‘development’).
Work by Rama Chandra Majhi
How does Rama Chandra Majhi develop the images for his works? For Majhi, his village is the repository of a huge number of images. He says that he uses his mobile phone to register the images that he likes as he moves around in the village. Later on, in his college studio, he makes the initial sketches on paper by picking and choosing images from his photo gallery. He does not use them as they are but make creative alterations to fit to his woodcut works. Then he does the lay out on the plywood before going for the carving. It is a painstaking process and he makes at least five impressions in every work. His young teacher, Trinath Mohanty says that Majhi is a highly talented and devoted student and a look at his works proves that Mohanty is not wrong in his assessment. Majhi likes to do a post graduation in Printmaking and yes, from Baroda. He has given the applications and is waiting for their call. He loves the works of Laxma Gowd and A.Ramachandran. And what does he want to learn from Baroda? Perfection and more perfection. And what is Majhi going to do with more perfection which he already has? “I am going to work more and find out new expressions in printmaking. Baroda is a place that I am dreaming of,” says Majhi. Baroda, listen, ain’t you still accepting talents?