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.
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.
|PM Narendra Modi|
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.
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.