(Akhlaq Ahmed's Painting displayed outside the India Art Fair 2017)
Each time when an open discussion takes place regarding the alternative avenues of showing art to people, often the whole talk veers towards the idea forming artists’ collectives. I have been observing this for quite some time especially when I involve in a discussion with the artists in Kerala. This idea of forming collectives has something to do with the general ideological milieu of the state, which has made several such collectives successive in other professional fields. Formation of collectives has come into the Malayali psyche mainly through two sources; one, most of the late 19th century and early 20th century social reformers had underlined the need for standing together and forming organizations. One of the highly influential philosophers and social reformers, Sree Narayana Guru had asked the people to ‘strengthen themselves through collectives’. The second reason is more universal because by 1930s itself the socialist streak had crept into the thinking of the nationalists from Kerala who believed the Marxian dictum of ‘uniting of the world proletariat’ for they did not have nothing to lose but chains. If you want to look beyond the 19th century you could the influence of Buddhism in Kerala, a religion which had emphasised the aspect of ‘unity’.
Like fish love water the Malayalis love unions. The problem of Malayali unionism is this that they multiply as they unite in as strange aspiration for individualism within the unions. Hence, as facebook these days shows, each Malayali is an ideologue, a pedagogue, an orator, a law giver, a path finder or path breaker and at the same time terribly united with society. That means a society is heavily ridden in and by contradictions. The Malayali artists’ liking for unions and organisations in order to demand their rights from the government or government agencies and their perennial liking for membership in certain organisations stem from this socio-intellectual milieu. However, the causes for their disintegration are ingrained in these organisations. Any organisation automatically sets up a hierarchy where some people take the leadership and rest of the people follow them. Whether you like it or not there is always a sense of regimentation in such organisations and each person in the organisation feels that he or she is undeservingly made into a follower or rather his or her talents are not recognized or respected. While neglecting the fact that a highly talented artist could be a very bad leader and a very good leader could be a very moderate talent, each one in an artists’ organisation thinks that they deserve leadership. Many would like to make their voices heard and when it is not possible the chances of lobbying comes up. Then the story is the same.
(For representational purpose only- source Net)
The fact is this: highly individualised artists cannot be members of certain unions. Even in the highly authoritarian states artists either become parable and fable painters or painters of apparently innocent themes or abstract works so that they could hide their real views behind those expressions or they become completely regimented artists who would do anything for the government or organisation. That’s how, anywhere in the world they generate propaganda art. Propaganda art need not necessarily be propagandist in the conventional sense. An authoritarian government with very conventional ideas of art would always prefer to have mediocre artists who stick to certain norms of art making. The readable symbolisms which are often highly euphemistic and sycophantic are taken dear by the authorities. My point is simple; artists can create lose organisations which could be open platforms where one is not expected to agree with the other or even if agreement is there it could be expressed in the most surreptitious terms. But artists can never create organisations which has a clear hierarchy and an agenda. With the high sense of individualism and a lot of aesthetical as well as existential hangovers artists are at their best when left alone; organizations are impossible for them. Often people see it as egotism of the artists who do not want to agree with the other; but that is not really the case. They do not want to agree with the other because they have other ‘fantastic’ ideas; sometimes they may be absolutely imaginary and impractical but these differences are to be registered. So an artists’ organisation means tremendous amount of cacophony, disagreement, murder if not suicide. Forming a co-operative society of the artists for creating a housing colony is a different thing. But think of pooling in money for starting a studio complex.
That’s the fate of the artists anywhere in the world. They are different people inside though they conform to the society at various levels for reasons of day to day survival. Who doesn’t want a peaceful family or personal life? So they often keep off from so many other issues and behave like ordinary people while living a fantasy life inside and that is the fantasy that we see as their art. Now, the real question is how are these artists going to show their works to the public? Or they want to show it to others at all? If they do not want to show, then the case ends there. They could do their work and keep it in their studios. But that is a very remote thing to happen. Everybody wants appreciation. For a stand up comedian, a singer, a dancer or anybody who is performing something for people, their applause matters a lot more than the pay cheque given to him/her by the end of the performance. Similarly, a visual artist’s life is fulfilled and a sense of completeness occurs only when his/her work is seen by others. The very visual of someone standing in front of his work and look at it gives him the ultimate satisfaction. To be seen or to be visible is the most important thing for a human being; and for an artist is of perennial importance. So we have a conclusion here; artists want to show their works to people. But here comes the next problem.
(for representational purpose only- Source Net)
Who is going to show your works? Are there enough galleries around? Even if there are, are they interested to show your works? If they are not interested are you going to keep the works with you and fester and get frustrated? What would you do? Would you approach the government agencies and ask them to provide spaces for showing your works? If they say what would you do? There was a time when artists used to present their works on the roadside and pavements. Now are the pedestrians really interested in your works? Do they have any idea what you are showing them from the fences or walls? If they need to stand and stare just a few colours and forms wouldn’t do. They should feel that they need to take a second look at it. They should know that ‘of course that these are paintings and the artists want to say something to us through them.’ How is it possible? How could you attract people to your works? I have the answer.
To attract people to your works, people should know that your works are aesthetically valuable and meaningful for them. This is possible only when you start showing your works at home. Home? Yes to your people at home. I have seen several artists in Kerala and elsewhere where artists keep their family members out of their studios. They do not even allow their little children to come and take a look at the works (there are many artists who interact with their wives, husbands, mothers, daughters, sons, grandparents and so on. I do not deny that). If you are like a person very secretive about your art, then change today. Make the change in your attitude; you need to show your works to children and wives or husbands. Here I need to say one more thing: Many artists do not paint nude because they think that children are there at home. Married women artists hardly do any male or female nude thinking that it would show upon their ‘character’. Husbands do not allow women artists to paint nudes (of course there are husbands who don’t mind but they are rare gems). Make the thorough change in the mindset. Whatever you paint, that is your freedom and that’s the image that you conceive not practice. So bring your dear and near ones to your studio and show the work/s. Each time a work is finished, sit with your family members and discuss it. Do not teach them art history or make critics out of them. Just talk to them about what you feel about your work. And listen what they think about it.
(for representational purpose only. Source Net)
Once that is done, let me assure you that your family is going to respect you. They will give you the space and peace to do your works. Now here is the next step; show the works to your neighbours. Do not mind what they think about you. But bring them to your studio, give them a cup of tea and tell them why and what you have painted. Create sympathetic viewers in and around your home. And next step, do a show in the local community hall. Do not think about lighting and other paraphernalia. Once you have your family, your neighbours and friends with you, full of awe, respect and love for you, then they would do the rest. May it be a Saturday or Sunday affair. The whole village would turn up to see what you have done. Talk to the people. Let your wife/husband/children/friends who have already acquainted with your works and your ways of looking at the world to talk to more people. Then next morning you go to the junction just like you used to do before, you will see the difference; you would be treated as an artist. Next step, get a few of your village people to a friend’s show in a gallery in the nearby town. They would enjoy it. Give them some brochures free. If possible gift them with some post cards or small drawings. Then next step, have your show in a gallery. I am sure your village, the next village and your friends’ village would turn up for your show.
Imagine, all the villages in Kerala (if not in India) are doing this. Then everyone in the country would be aware of what art is. I am not talking just about paintings. I am talking about any kind of works, sculptures, installations, photography art, assemblages, floral decorations (devoid of the religions bend) and what not. Then in that situation, when you exhibit on the road side in a city, people would stand and look at your works because they know their village painter/artist. They know that ‘sister’ or ‘brother’ of their village do something like this. They would strike up a conversation with you. They would be happy to meet yet another artist. Do you think this is impossible an act to perform? No, I think it is possible. Late Rajan Krishna when he did his work ‘Ore’, he had asked a lot of people to collaborate with him. He had the large heart to get all of them for his opening of the show in the Bodhi Gallery, Mumbai. This is not just a community work. It is the work of love without hierarchy. We often think that our old mothers or wives do not understand art. They do but they do not have the time or you just don’t invite them to your studio or you don’t take them to an exhibition. Do try, there would be a sea change. It is not a community work but a thing of pride. When you call your neighbour, you think that he is well off financially than you; he thinks that you are one of those ‘useless arty types’ so he keeps off. This helps growing the mutual suspicion and hatred. He may have a car but you have your painting. You think he looks down upon you. But he thinks you are too arrogant to call him a friend. Go to his home, invite him to your studio and see the difference. Who knows he turns out to be your biggest collector and well wisher and a closest friend? Yes, you can do; only you can do it.