Friday, September 20, 2019

‘Choral Monologues’: Why They Sing it All Alone?

(Devidas Agase, artist)

The title ‘Choral Monologues’ or ‘Sing a group song all alone or all by oneself’ could mean many things and those meanings could include a wide range of attitudes and mental state of the one who does those monologues as well as that of the one who reads/listens to it; from existential pangs to sarcastic critique of the state of affairs around. When there is none else to sing along, it is the fate of a lonely man to sing it all alone. Also true is the case when one decides to sing along even if there are many to sing along. Equally important is the case when one finds oneself amidst a cacophony of voices it becomes imperative for him or her to sing alone but remember, in many different voices. That is pleasing at least for the singer if not for the listener; but eventually the listener or even a passerby is forced to stand and hark upon the notations that the lonely singer’s choral renditions evoke. That is the power of the pangs or critique. Even in the darkest of times, like a lonely window lit in yellow light, seen from afar, gives the hope that there is someone who is awake for the sake of humanity; either he is committing suicide after writing his last words or he is plotting for the final overthrow of the present situation. He may be failure in both the attempts however, what becomes important for him is that he is awake, he is writing or he is plotting for the impossible.

‘Choral Monologues’ is a solo exhibition by Devidas Agase, a young artist based in Mumbai and is curated by Sushma aka Sushma Sabnis. Both the artist and curator are closer to my heart because I have been keenly watching their progress in their respective careers and it is a pleasure to see them working towards the public presentation of the latest body of their works. For Devidas, like any other young artist working from a metro city like Mumbai, a curated solo exhibition is something like a dream coming true. It is important on many counts; first of all, in today’s socio-cultural and political scenario, a solo exhibition could be seen as just another exhibition displaying beautiful pictures or works of art, or an exhibition with interesting works that lead to nowhere in terms of aesthetics or socio-political and cultural critique. While the former is intended to satisfy the art for art’s sake idea of aesthetics the latter could also mean the same by pitching neither on aesthetics nor on politics. In that sense many an exhibition around us goes astray evoking the Shakespearean saying: ‘full of sound and fury signifying nothing.’

(Sushma Sabnis, curator)

There is definitely a sense of awfulness in the present living contexts. It is quite Beckett-ian; Nobody comes, Nobody goes, Nothing happens, it is awful. Samuel Beckett was referring to the waiting for the ultimate arrival the omnipotent; the God. But nothing happens. We live in a world/context where we have several Gods and Goddesses both in their ideal and idol form and in their corporeal forms. New political gods and patriarchs are in place and they patronizingly pat on the backs of the scientists and artists so that the weight of the patron/s’ hands is felt intimately and threateningly. But nothing happens, is the final result of such patronizing. We move from degeneration to putrefaction, raising a lot of stink and fury, in fact signifying nothing. The Bard of Stratford upon Avon has never been wrong in his findings.

I do not know whether Devidas and Sushma while working towards this exhibition were aware of these facts however, as their mentor for some years I am sure that they have been sufficiently aware of the traps that the subject of their exhibition would pose along the way. For the artist, within the dominant Hindu-Hindi-Hindustani discourse it is a challenge to use and sub-use (let me coin such a word to qualify use of something to subvert and perhaps use the same in/with a different potential) the images that could apparently hint at the fractions and portions of such a discourse. He should be doubly carefully while doing so. It is a tightrope walk; when one does not have a different ensemble of references to forward a critique and is forced to use the repertoire of the same linguistic paraphernalia it becomes a search for exploring the possibilities of the subversive faculties of such a language. It is seeking a needle in the darkroom. The artist has to accept the primary fact that it is pitch dark in the room and what has been lost is nothing but a needle. It is a search of the ultimate kind; having accepted the ignorance rampantly thickening around us, searching for the needle of knowledge and truth is a real task. And that is what Devidas is trying to do in this exhibition.

(Invitation card for Devidas' show)

To make my point further clear, let me say that he uses the dominant Hindu visual parlance mostly with a difference; even if I say with a difference, I should accept the fact that the only referential frame work is that of the hegemonic Hindu cultural ethos. Even when the artist tries to deal with the good-bad-ugly part of life and also to emphasize the aspect of the victory of the good over evil, ultimately he has to use a language which is immediate and less exotic. The difference that Devidas creates is a via mode of folk tradition and the fair-ground entertainments where puppets/pata chithras/bhopa or kawat ensemble etc are used for depicting the stories in the collective sub/unconsciousness of the people in general. These kinds of entertainments function with on the apriori fact that the stories are known and it has to be retold adding sufficient varieties of rendering. It is poetic because people willingly suspend their disbelief not in the stories that they already now but in the ways in which the stories are told with a variety of inflections and intonations adequately chosen by the narrator. Devidas speaks about a fragmented society that pretends to be a whole, an anxious face that masquerades it with affected confidence, a society that hides truth in lies and projects lies as truth. And possibly Devidas found the best way to express them through the images of puppets. He has also experimented with them by turning them to three dimensional assemblages as well as ephemeral shadow based kinetic apparitions.

For a young artist who lives in our times in a metro city with less space for a studio and less money for a good life, it is one of the fiercest of fights that he could ever wage in his life. Perhaps he is a lucky person because he got the right time to be young and aware in the most difficult of times in the history of India and when seen against such a backdrop his personal tribulations and trials may look less severe and easy to handle. However, with each passing day with choking spaces of articulation and for words of courage, and compromise is the word through imagery negotiations, someone still doing his work from a suburban studio is an act of faith in itself. Devidas, whether he believes in the religious practices or not does not bother me much because somewhere one could see how as an artist he is doubtful about the whole thing that is happening in today’s time and that is what making him to sing his varieties all alone.

(A work by Devidas Agase)

Before concluding my views on the forthcoming exhibition, let me say a few words about Sushma. She has been under my tutelage for almost eight years whose transition from an artist who worked in a variety of styles with ample amount of misunderstandings about the very idea of ‘modern art’ and its visual expressions to a highly perceptive and sophisticated art critic and curator is phenomenal. It is not the morale booster shot from a mentor; it is rather a testimony that is to be made public at this juncture as she embarks on her journey as an independent curator. With an MSc in Marine Biology, Sushma came to the scene as an artistand when she started communicating with me I found her views on art much refined (though with her own doubts and confusions about art’s history) and the language sensitive and expressions highly effective. Taking her under my wings was an act of faith for me too and she has not disappointed me in that. Following my instructions and reading well into art history (perhaps much better than a regular art history student does) and assisting me in mega curatorial projects, Sushma has gained enough hands on experience in curating and with Devidas’ solo exhibition she does it all alone, another Choral Monologue for her. And like a distant tenor of that chorus, I too am singing my own choral music all alone. Sushma and myself enjoy when we sing ‘mile sur mera tumhara’, the legendary video of national integration, a visual and lyrical staple on which we grew up along with the history of Indian television. This voice has eventually become ours. And who could forget the song, ‘Tu jo meri sur mein sur mila de sang gaa le to zindagi to ho jaye safal. (Sing to my voice and blend it, sing it along, let the life be fruitful).

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