Monday, May 31, 2010

An Untitled Installation at Eranakulam

(Untitled Installation- Inside view)

(Artists working on the installation)

(A view from front)

(Inside the installation)

The Town Hall building in Eranakulam is quite impressive though not too imposing. The architecture is a mixture of the Roman and the local styles. Symbolic remnants of royal past and modern times lay scattered in its vicinities. There is a grand old tree on its left giving shelter to hundreds of crows from the truant pre-monsoon rains. Adjacent to the Town Hall building, the management has erected a huge shed with a tin roof. When it rains, the drops make incessant clattering noises.

During the second half of the month of May (2010), a group of artists who studied at the Fine Arts College, Thrippoonithura, converted the shed into a gallery- not with paintings or sculptures, but with an impermanent installation.

A motor bike painted in pink automotive paint stands fixed on a metallic pedestal with its carrier holding a number of cardboard boxes flying up to the tin roof. On the cardboard boxes you see the images of families drawn in ink and charcoal, and collages made out of colorful magazine covers. Behind the bike there is an ensemble of found objects welded together and painted in pink. They look like a set of musical instruments kept aside by the musicians during a rehearsal break. Further behind it, almost in the middle of the shed, there is a huge rectangular cabin made out of magazines and newspapers. The outer wall of the cabin has the images of women from the glossy Malayalam women’s magazines. Inside the cabin, which is accessible through both the ends, the walls sprout in rolled up newspapers. And there is a urinal and a washbasin.

It was Antony Karal, an artist who has done more than hundred altar pieces in Kerala, who took me there. He teaches at the Painting Department of Thrippoonithura Fine Arts College.

The installation, for me as a Malayali is quite revealing and direct. One could easily discern the average Malayali’s intense association with newspaper reading and analyzing everything through the perspective of journalism. It starts from toilets and perhaps, ends up in public toilets. The outer cover of the cabin tells you how woman is becoming a commodity. One cannot but notice the fact that no magazine publishes a dark woman’s picture on its cover page and the irony is Kerala has a majority of dark skinned women.

“A lot of people came to see this installation but they did not ask many questions,” says Abhilash Unni, who led a team of artists to do this installation. “Perhaps, they understand the subject matter very well. Or they were curious but reluctant to ask questions.”

Why installation? I asked Abhilash Unni. “All of us are practicing artists. Though we do exhibitions in Kerala, only a limited audience is interested in gallery based art. Eranakulam has a long history of public art. My idea is to revive public art as a movement. Inexpensive and impermanent installations is the only way to do it as we don’t have any funding system for public art,” says Abhilash.

But still you need funds, I chipped in. “Yes. This is funded by a group of friends who were doing a cultural seminar here. They supported us financially. And we are planning to do more works in public spaces by involving with other cultural groups.”
But when it comes to Kerala artists, ethics is a big problem and they still need to find out ways to negotiate between praxis and ethics. “A liquor company was ready to sponsor some of our projects but we could not accept that money as a few friends were against the very idea of taking money from a liquor company,” says Abhilash.

“You all consume liquor, don’t you?” looking at their faces I ask. They nod in agreement. “Then what is the problem? Raising funds strategically and using them ethically is more important than rejecting funds on the basis of ethics and doing nothing. If you dig the funding structure of many museums that display the highest forms of humanitarian and ethical art, you find arms dealers and stock brokers who deal with liquor companies, funding it,” I tell them.

Abhilash Unni and the team of artists (Amal Jyothi, Arun Paulose, Arun Vijayan, Ananthan KT, Chitra EG, Davis, Jalaja, Jasinther Rockefeller, Jyothish, Kunjukuttan, Libeesh, Prince, Sijo and Suresh Arukkootty) are now ready to do more works in and around Eranakulam. “We want our works to be locally involved so that it could adequately reflect the micro level problems arisen out of globalization. It should be critical and knowledge based,” Abhilash adds.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Art Writing and Regional Newspapers: Findings from a Writing Workshop

(JohnyML with Art Writers at Suryakanti Art Gallery, Trivandrum)

(JohnyML at Suryakanti Art Gallery, Trivandrum)

Have you noticed how the journalists working in regional language newspapers write about art? They all write with a lot of confidence and the language used in these articles looks like a garden in spring time. You see the flowers named ‘existentialism’, tender shoots named ‘Vincent Van Gogh’, buds named ‘Picasso’ and memories of the last spring named ‘Raja Ravi Varma’.

This is a spring in stock. They use it any time to describe any artist. I call this stencil art writing. You put the stencil on any artist and it looks quite suitable. When a work of art or the personality of an artist is translated in to this language, what you loose is the sense of art. You get the flourish of your language; its ability to make you nostalgic.

The major drawback of regional art writing has been this, perhaps throughout the history of our art writing. There were and are great regional writers, but they are as sparse as islands in a rough sea.

Why is it so? What explains the dearth of good art writers in regional languages? From my experience with regional art writing, I have deduced the following reasons:

1) Art as a subject does not demand any special attention. Anybody could write a few paragraphs about art, especially when you have a press release in hand or the artist present for giving you an interview.
2) The other extreme of this argument is that art is something so special that a journalist cannot handle it. So better avoid writing about it or if you are forced to write, embellish your ignorance with the flourish of language.
3) Art does not demand any public attention so push it to the feature pages, whose reading is always optional.
4) An assumption that the nuances of art cannot be explained in a regional language because the whole of our art writing tradition revolves around English language and its specialized jargons. Regional languages are incapable of translating these jargons for its homegrown audience.
5) Art is elitist and the elites read only English language newspapers. Hence, reserving space for art writing is a waste.
6) Art can never become popular because people don’t understand it. And art does not have entertainment value like film or music.
7) Art is intellectual and intellectual topics are to be discussed only in academic journals.
8) All the artists don’t have an interesting life that demands public perusal.
9) Art does not have much economic value. If at all it has, a box item could be written about it using a language tone verging up to cynicism and wonder.
10) As art does not need any special scholarship, crime reporters and city page reporters could do it.

You can add a lot to this list from your experience.

Each time I listen that art is an obscure thing/subject which obstructs public access, I come to this conclusion that this generic opinion is the result of journalistic apathy and callousness.

What is the remedy?

1) Those art writers who have made their mark in the mainstream art scene could impart their expertise to the respective regional language journalists through workshops and symposiums. I think, most of our mainstream art writers (English) are bi-lingual and they do have a mother tongue. If they are not handicapped by the view that regional languages are less capable and they do not have proficiency in both the languages, they can definitely do it through the regional agencies.
2) Regional academies (LKAs) should take the responsibility to conduct such workshops regularly.
3) Galleries functioning from the regional centers could take up this task as their outreach programs.
4) Each regional newspaper organization should select young scribes from their teams and send them for intense training in art and art history.
5) Visual mediums also should do the same.

This is possible.

I have been debating this possibility with many agencies for a long time. Artist friend Somu Desai and myself had approached several organizations with a proposal for doing writers’ workshop, but in vain.

In Trivandrum, Suryakanti Art Gallery led by the former bureaucrat and artist, Ms.Lizzie Jacob has been interested in this project and finally this time I could conduct this workshop for regional art writers at the Suryakanti Art Gallery.

Six students from the Trivandrum Press Academy attended the two days workshop along with the senior art writer in the Hindu newspaper, Ms.Bhavani Theerath.

The approach was simple. On the first day, I lectured them on the developments of art both in the West and East since late 19th century to now. Also I analyzed how different types of art writing is possible.

On the second day, I gave them assignments to do spontaneous reviews on certain works exhibited in the Suryakanti Gallery. And to my surprise, they came out with good pieces of writing, though limited at times by the set patterns of writing that they are familiar with.

It was a small but significant step. I am not here in an ego trip. It is a humble way of telling you, ‘Yes We Can’.

Friday, May 28, 2010

LSD:Chintan Upadhyay on Page Three Culture and Chintu, the Nature God

Smart Alec Babies are the hall mark of Chintan Upadhyay’s creative style. When they reach the latest solo show, ‘Nature God’ at Sakshi Gallery, Taipei, these babies are called ‘Chintu’. Chintan Upadhyay does not say that they represent his surrogate self. Instead Chintan reiterates that he likes to be a ‘factory’ artist and wants to reinvent the ‘karkhana’ style through his contemporary mediations. In this candid interview with JohnyML, Chintan Upadhyay not only speaks about his latest works, but about his personal life, its trials and tribulations, page three culture and its consequences.

JohnyML: Chintan, recently you were in Mexico and how did you find the contemporary art scene there? Are they still interested in Mural art?

Chintan Upadhyay:
My Mexican trip was really refreshing and fruitful. They are very proud of their mural tradition and culture, though the height of this tradition was seen during the modernist period. I came across a lot of artists, who have radically moved away from the modernist philosophies and are interested in conceptual art. They are going very strong in that. The Mexican contemporary art scene is quite different from ours. I met many artists, collectors and curators. Interestingly, after knowing my background and works, they have invited me to do a performance at an Art Biennale there, which is the oldest and exclusively devoted to performance art.

JML: How exactly do you describe the contemporary art in Mexico? Are they very much in tune with the contemporary and global (art) practices elsewhere?

CU: It is a very logically distributed and spread out art scene and they are in tune with the contemporary art happening elsewhere in the world. As you know, the geographical location of Mexico is closer to the USA and you can see strong affiliations and exchanges with the contemporary art of the United States. They have a strong conceptual art scene and have a very progressive collector base for such art too.

JML: Yes. During your stay, could you identify any artist, who you thought was almost like you, sharing your kind of ideas and artistic outlook?

CU: No…They are very interesting artists. But of course not the way I am interesting to you.

JML: What about the newspapers and journals? Do they give enough space to art reviews? Do they have a page three culture vis-a-vis art and artists?

CU: There are a lot of magazines and journals. And that predicates the presence of art critics and art writers. Unlike in our country, they have very strong and different opinion about the stuff they write on and are always tolerant enough to initiate a dialogue. They are open to critical opinion and not so judgmental.

I know, you are very curious about Page Three culture. That is everywhere and artists are shown as an integral part of this Page Three culture. They are portrayed as the emblems of glamour and achievement. I feel good to see that. The Page Threes there really love artists and they are equally passionate about art. Mexico is the land of Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. They were not just famous for their works, they were the fashion icons of that time. So I could see the continuation of that tradition there. The art scene in Mexico is very sensuous, a lot of parties, affairs short and long, fashion, style statements, conversations and so on. It was there in during our Modernist period too. Now we miss such egalitarian Page Three culture, which was not called Page Three culture then.

JML: I understand from your talk that there is a continuity of Page Three tradition from the time of Kahlo to now. Could we say that the page threes and the parties and the affairs reflect the newly happened economic boom?

CU: If I initiate a dialogue on Page Three in India, based purely on my encounters and experience with it, I would say, Page Three concept is a very new one and it has been understood in a unilateral way by the people who make it and who consume it. Page Three in our times is not just about glamour or sex or power. It is all about the celebrities from all fields. And definitely the economic boom has played a big role in projecting the lives of celebrities. Media make it and supply it to people. They consume it voraciously and the process helps to invigorate the production of consumerist desire in a big way. Fortunately or unfortunately, Page Threes are seen as an outcome of party culture, which is absolutely unmindful of contemporary socio-political realities.

JML: As a person who is so much interested in the page three popular culture, how do you rate Page Three in India and Mexico?

CU: (Laughs) Who said I am interested in Page Three culture? In fact, it is they who put me in their pages. If I was interested to appear in Page Three every day, I would have been moving from one party to the other. I never do that. Whenever I appear in Page Three I am in an art opening or an art related event. If art openings have become page three events, what can I do to prevent or promote it? And how do you I rate this phenomenon in India or Mexico or anywhere else? There are artists who love to party whether it is an art related party or not. They just don’t care whether there are page three shutter bugs and journos.

JML: I want to disagree with you at this point. Almost five years back, in a conversation between us you had said that you used Page three as an ideological vehicle, perhaps the way Andy Warhol used the page three/glamorous spaces in public for extending his philosophy..

CU: I remember what I had said at that point of time. It was like this: I don’t refuse Page Three. In fact I see a lot of dumb faces amongst these page three pictures. And I would like to see the faces of creative and intelligent people too. Page Three is the best place to be seen. May be a lot many people don’t give any damn to it and they have very strong opinion about that. When the Page Three people came to me, I mean when I became a celebrity, I did not say no to them nor did I hide my face from the shutterbugs. You know, I love camera lens being trained at me.

Secondly, I have been talking about a changing India with its changing cultural spaces. Economic boom has played a huge role in it. During the years of boom, art changed, artists changed, viewers changed, critics changed and the whole look of the art scene changed. It was a sort of revolution not seen in terms of ideologies. We were breaking free from all those conventional ideas about art and artists. Page Three was one of the sites where we could show our rebellion. Most of the artists accepted this space and a few rejected it. But I am conscious about one thing: page three is not about art. It is about the artist and how they live their celebrity status.

JML: But whether you like it or not page three representations make you a public entity and your life becomes something to be scrutinized by people. Gossip and scandals also find place in it as consequences. In short, your celebrity status comes along with a price tag. Were you aware of these consequences when you were taking the page three status as a part of your life?

CU: I think, the moment you are different from the so called ‘mass’ or people you have a different position in the society. This position would help you to challenge the conservative cultural ideas and this aspect is often not seen or taken nicely by the people. This results into scandals and gossips. Page Three status transcends itself from being just about individual and personal life to a sort of public responsibility when you show your works in public. You become more than a private person. If anything happens in a public person’s life, it will have news value. People would like to know about it. Your opinion and observations interest people and they want to know more about you. People read biographies because of that.

JML: I can agree with you on reading biographies. But don’t you think that the artists are not like film stars or well known authors. Film stars have an international mass appeal and their constituency is so large. Meanwhile the contemporary artists' constituency is very small. Not too many people know about them. So don't you think that it is just a part of the economic boom and the page three appearances of the artists have only a limited constituency and life? For example, even before the boom there were film magazines but not many devoted art magazines. Now look at the print run of the film magazines and art magazines. Seen against this reality, in what way are these artists 'different', even if they are different, don’t you think that they are different for a very few people?

CU: I will not agree on this point. Everybody knows Raja Ravi Varma and M.F.Husain. Art has always been pushed into a corner and shown as something created for a limited constituency. By doing this our communication mediums force the people to believe that art is made for the elite. Even the public art debates end up with a selected group. When the public money is misused in the name of art, nobody from the public comes up to question it.
In India, we have public institutions like Bharat Bhavan (Bhopal), National Gallery of Modern Art (New Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore), Jawahar Kala Kendra (Jaipur) and so on, which are mismanaged absolutely. But we have never heard a public outcry on this. Only artists raise their voices against these institutions. What do we do when the public itself is not interested in ‘public affairs’?

When economic boom came, everyone wanted to have a share of it. Now many institutions want to showcase Indian contemporary art. It has become a brand and I am sure this brand is created by none other than the Indian contemporary artists. I take a lot of pride in calling myself an Indian contemporary artist. Now people have slowly come to see the difference. You talked about the movies. But experimental movies have no takers here. The popular film stars come closer to the lives of people because they entertain people, never challenge them. Contemporary artists challenge the people.

JML: You have digressed a bit from the core of my question. However, I would say there is an audience for experimental movies, that's why we have a lot of young film makers these days. In your answer you demand the expansion of the constituency of art and artists. And you accuse people of being callous and apathetic, that too despite the efforts of page three. You say, artists challenge people's taste that's why artists don’t get approval of the society. I find these arguments a bit old. Could you please suggest solutions for expanding the audience community thereby the artists' and arts' constituency?

CU: I think, you are missing the point. You have told me about the mass and film stars. Now you are talking about the special niches made by viewers for the experimental films. I don’t disagree with these points. But I told you clearly that page threes are not about art. And the expansion of artists’ constituency cannot be facilitated by a single individual. It should be done collectively.

JML: I am not talking about Page three as medium to communicate art...but I was mentioning it as a vehicle for artists' presence in public life. Anyway, I want to take the question in a new direction. On the next day you left for Mexico, an Indian daily published a news item on your family problems. How do you react to this situation?

CU: The issue is whether people want to know about my life or not. If they want, what can I do? I was shocked when people called to inform me about that particular news.

JML: Several people thought, considering your romance with page three, that this news item was given to the paper by yourself.

CU: I have been accused of being party with the reporter of that particular news. To be frank, if I was behind it, I would have done it artistically. It would have been my performance in public space. I would have brought the whole issue with a sense of taste. The report that came around the familial problems was in bad taste; absolutely tasteless and disgusting. I would never wash dirty linen in public. In fact, no one would prefer to do that. But now everything is in public.

JML: One of the senior artists', in her blog observed that it was an outcome of the boom time life and careerism that both you and Hema pursued. Do you agree?

CU: Rubbish. It is shortsighted, old fashioned and judgmental.

JML: It could be one way of reading from her side. But may I ask you, what exactly went wrong between you people?

CU: That is extremely personal. I don’t want to talk about it. But you may ask the artist who wrote the blog and the reporter who wrote it in the tabloid about this. They are interested in writing about my personal life and giving an opinion without knowing anything.

JML: Okay...let us divert the issue. What is your next show?

CU: I have just finished the works for my next show, ‘Nature God’ at Sakshi Art Gallery, Taipei.

JML: What is this ‘Nature God’ all about?

CU: Nature is the supreme power and beyond any manipulations by the human beings. However, we are witnessing a kind of self destructive attitude by the human beings and they want to play the role of God by interfering with nature in every aspect. They vandalize nature in an unprecedented way. I have been involved in environmental art through the activities of the art initiative, Sandarbh and similar projects. The first designer baby painting that I did long years ago was called ‘Nature God’. And now I have decided to take the ideas around it further with the ‘new’ babies.

JML: Why babies again?

CU: ‘Baby’ has become a canvas for me now. I can communicate my ideas through them. They have a controlled look on their faces. But each time they look different in their size, postures and the paintings over their skin. Those who have been following these baby works could make out how they have evolved all these years.

The babies are not just about sculptures or paintings with a hall mark style of mine. Through them I want to forward the ideas of miniature Karkhana (factories), where a master’s style becomes important rather than the artisans who realize it. Each time, as the artisans change, minute differences come to the style also. So does change the subject matter.
In the current suite of paintings and sculptures, I explore the possibilities of Shekhavati painting and the post company school images that the painters have used in Skekhavati school. It is perhaps for the first time in our times an artist takes a re-look at the Shekhavati school of painting and re-employs its aesthetics for debating contemporary issues.

I have been experimenting with a hybrid language, using traditional and contemporary art languages, where I am able to break continuous narratives. Through this fragmentation, the viewer is able to weave in his/her own narratives. I want to impart different experiences to the viewer using the same baby figure. They have been there in my repertoire for a long time. They used to be called Smart Alec babies and now they are called Chintu. I will not be tired of making them so long as they are capable enough to reflect the confused contemporary human beings within the gamut of globalization.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

New Artists from Fine Arts College, Thrissur

(Thrissur Fine Arts College. Pic by Mathai Tom)

(Abul Hisham)

(Basil Baby)

(Dibin Tilakan)

(Midhun Gopi)

(Mohan Padre)

(Nimya U)

(Prince M)

(Sanal CS)

(Sanoop PC)

(Sinoj PB)

(Midhun KG)

(Sree Syam)

(suman Muraleedharan)

They call it 36 Degree C. ‘They’ means the students of the Fine Arts College, Thrissur. It is their annual show. And they are very proud to have this show because this show also contributes to the centenary celebrations of this college.

One Hundred years. You feel like adding ‘of solitude’. Yes, those people who are familiar with the art scene in Kerala must have heard of Trivandrum Fine Arts College. It had all the glory, perhaps it still has, but not in the way it used to have it.

There are three more fine arts colleges in Kerala; Mavelikkara, Thrippoonithura and Thrissur.

People take things for granted. If you are a fine art student from Kerala, seeking admission for higher studies elsewhere, others assume that you are from Trivandrum. And you also prefer not to talk about your ‘college/s’ because they are not as famous as Trivandrum Fine Arts College.

Hence, one hundred years of solitude. Today things have changed. Students from Thrippoonithura, Mavelikkara and Thrissur are making their presence felt elsewhere. Perhaps, Thrissur has become the most prominent fine arts college in Kerala.

There are several names attached to Thrissur college: T.V.Santhosh, Murali Cheeroth, Jyothi Basu, Riyas Komu, Reji Arakkal, Sujith SN, Sujith KS and the list is quite long.

The celebrations were modest. However, the presence of artists like Atul Dodiya, Riyas Komu, Jyothi Basu, Binoy Gopal (graphic designer), Bose Krishnamachari and several other artists and art critics added special relevance to the celebrations. There were illustrated lectures by the above mentioned artists and open discussions with the guest artists and specialists.

Thrissur College (located seventy kilometers north from Kochi) is a degree college with three departments; painting, sculpture and applied art. One good thing about this college is that the teachers are self-less in their attitude and approach. They may not be illustrious artists as their disciples later turned out to be. But they teach well.

The annual show of 2010 proves it. The confidence in their approach to their respective mediums shows how they have been taught.

One good thing about them is that they are not simply ‘gallery ready’. They want to become successful, at the same time they have their reservations and their interest to learn more. They just don’t make their works thinking that there is a gallerist round the corner to be impressed.

They are professional enough to produce a good catalogue and convert their class rooms into galleries, with the full support of the teaching staff. A rare and a commendable feat.

I was lucky to be there with my artists friends namely Antony Karal, Manoj, Sajeev Visweswaran, Mathai Tom, Reji Arakkal and K.S.Sujith.

The names to be watched out: Abul Hisham KH, Basil Baby, Dibin Tilakan, Midhun Gopi, Mohan Padre, Nimya U, Prince M, Sanal CS, Sanoop PC, Sinoj PB, Sreejin CS, Usman P, Vysakhan TM (all painting graduates) and Mithun KG, Sreesyam R.Krishnan and Suman Muraleedharan (sculpture graduates)

For more details :

Friday, May 14, 2010

Prasad Raghavan: The Man Behind ‘Shot Tilt’ at BMB Gallery

BMB Gallery, Mumbai presents the first solo show of the Delhi based artist, Prasad Raghavan. The show opens on 17th May 2010. Titled ‘Shot Tilt’, this exhibition features the major and ambitious works by Prasad that include the highly finished ten serigraph panels (Decalogue), another ten panel digital work (again titled ‘The Decalogue), a video adaptation of the former Decalogue (Prasad Raghavan’s Decalogue), a huge sculptural installation titled ‘And the Ships Sail Away’ and a set of paintings and drawings.

The title of the show, ‘Shot Tilt’ itself tells the viewer about Prasad’s referential points. As an avid student of world class movies and also a movie buff who has been screening movies for his friends in a specially built mini-theatre in Delhi, this artist looks out for creative inspirations amongst the movies that he has seen and studied closely. ‘Shot Tilt’ is a tilted take on a technical phrase involved in the movie making, ‘Tilt Shot’. Tilt shots are used by the movie makers to suggest a different angle perception to the particular moment or moments in the narrative. Through such shots, the director establishes, underlines and accentuates that particular moment in order to transcend its generic narrative value to the realm of artistic truth.

Prasad tilts even a tilted shot. By calling the show, ‘Shot Tilt’, he makes critical interventions in the very aspect of viewing even a tilted shot. And Prasad would like to call himself a ‘director’ rather than an ‘artist’. Of course an artist he is as his creative contributions were recognized when he was awarded by the Cannes Film Festival for his creative interpretations of world classic films by ‘re-creating’ posters in the digital medium using the core elements of the referred movies.

“In the production, distribution and consumption chain of movies, posters play a pivotal role. Posters talk to the audience directly about the theme of the movies and use images and typography in such way that the intentionality of the director is conveyed directly and sharply. As an artist who has worked in the advertising field, while watching movies I felt like making new posters for them and that was how it started,” Prasad remembers.

There was a time when the art world used to look down upon the artists who were trained in Graphic Design or worked in the field of advertisement. The anti-historical and the a-historical view that advertisement was craft oriented rather than intellectually creative caused this discrimination amongst art forms. With the collapsing of boundaries between graphic design and other forms of visual art thanks to the advent of globalization, creatively inclined graphic designers got their due.

“My generation of graphic designers was affected by this outlook. They never thought of exhibiting their works mainly because the art world was not sympathetic to them. But a new breed of curators started recognizing their worth. I was making my ‘poster’ works and had no intention to exhibit. Only my artist friends and colleagues from the field of advertisement used to see my works. They knew that I had received several awards from the field of advertisement for my creative works. Then, almost four years back, Bose Krishnamachari visited my studio and he recognized the potential of my works. Once my works were out there in the public, the perception of the audience changed completely. Now I am lucky to work with several distinguished curators from India and abroad,” says Prasad.

Graduated in Graphic Design from Trivandrum Fine Arts College, Prasad came to Delhi during the early 90s and started working in the field of advertisement. He worked with major agencies like O & M and Saatchi and Saatchi. As a keen observer of the art scene, Prasad used to visit all the exhibitions and go for most of the film festivals. And he has got several interesting memories about his tryst with film festivals and film making.

“There is a lot of competition in advertisement field. With lot of highly talented people around, one has to be really competitive to climb the establishment hierarchy. With my colleagues, I used to make short films and send them for competitions. I had received a few awards and the career graph was also going high. But that is an inside story. You always wanted to know more and see more. So it became imperative to hop from one film festival venue to another,” remembers Prasad.

‘Delegate Pass’- that’s what you want and you never get during the film festivals. “So we found a way to solve this issue. I think, many fine arts students have done this. We used to make fake passes for ourselves and friends. They looked as original as possible and you know were trained graphic designers. The funniest thing is, when you do this, the word would spread. One fine morning I was woken up by the doorbell and found a young girl standing there at the door with a few hundred rupee notes and asking for a ‘delegate pass’,” Prasad laughs.

Whoever talks about Prasad cannot skip this particular anecdote of establishing a state of the art mini theatre at the basement of a rented apartment in Chittaranjan Park, South Delhi. A shy smile comes to Prasad’s face when he recounts the incident. “I always wanted to start an art cafe and mini theatre. My friends were also interested, especially my colleague at O & M and Saatchi, Mr.Immanuel.”

At O & M, Prasad and Immanuel were assistant creative directors. Saatchi and Saatchi offered them the Creative Directors’ posts with independent charge plus a heavy pay packet and perks. But their over enthusiasm with work proved detrimental to their stay at Saatchi and Saatchi. “Establishment politics was becoming too much for us and we decided to leave the organization. And we got hefty compensations while resigning from the organization. So with that money we went ahead to do our dream project; an art café and film theatre.”

“Most of the money was used in setting up things and buying equipments. The landlady was nice to them, but the neighbors were not. They feared that too many strangers would hang out in the café and it would pose security issues in a residential area. There was a point in it and we agreed to scarp the idea of café. So my theatre ‘Adoor Art’ was started in 2004. By that time money was over. So I went back to work with O & M again where I had great friends like Sunil (now head of W+K) who still support me in my Quixotic ventures.”

Adoor Art mini theatre was demolished in 2009. The Municipal Corporation of Delhi did not want any one to run a commercial establishment from residential areas. “Adoor Art was not a commercial establishment. It was place for friends. But the law of the land is different. It does not care for art always,” says Prasad.

Prasad video taped the workers stripping off the Adoor mini theatre. He later converted the video grabs into a piece of video art and called it, ‘Hollow Men’ (It was shown in the ‘Video’ show curated by JohnyML at the Sylvaasa Gallery).

When he makes the solo debut, Prasad Raghavan is a happy man. But he is not happy about the world in which he lives. “This is a war torn world. Everyday, everywhere a war is waged. All my works deal with this situation and I use movies as a point of departure in every work.”

In the catalogue essay by me, I qualify Prasad’s works as ‘Post-Poster’ art. In my view Prasad is the only artist in contemporary Indian art scene, who has used the constituent elements of posters to create works of art, which are fundamentally different from the quality, quantity and unilateral intentions of the posters.

Prasad is reclusive in nature. He goes for long drives in hills. He practices yoga. He is soft spoken and has a tremendous sense of humor. He listens to classical music and sings fairly well. He likes to wear denims, designer shirts and jackets. He has an interesting mane. Prasad is an artist who is going to go places.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

An Open Letter to Prof.Rajeev Lochan, Director of National Gallery of Modern Art

Dear Rajeev Lochan,

First of all let me congratulate you for organizing a show of Rabindranath Tagore’s works at the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA), New Delhi on the occasion of Tagore’s 150th Birth Day celebrations.

The Hindustan Times of Sunday (9th May 2010) had a half page notification ( I don’t want to call it an advertisement because Tagore does not need advertisement) about the show.

It read like this: ‘A specially curated show’ to be inaugurated by Dr.Manmohan Singh, Honorable Prime Minister of India. Open to the public from 3 pm onwards.

I am not a Bengali but I believe that Tagore belongs to all of us and the world. So I went to the NGMA by 3.45 pm on the same day. There were not too many people around.

I know the Delhi mindset. None wants to spoil a lazy Sunday afternoon by venturing out into the traffic mess. Also, people are not very comfortable with the high security protocols as it attended by the Prime Minister. You may give it a try if you have an official invitation in hand. But as you know, NGMA is very selective about its guest list.

Forget all those stuff. My interest was to see the curatorial interventions that the curator had made in the Tagore collection of NGMA.

I saw a few banners heralding the exhibition hung from the façade of the NGMA building. The scale of it was quite befitting to the grandness of the occasion and the artist who was featured.

Inside the exhibition hall I was desperately looking for the curator’s name but in vain. There is a flex board that indicates the milestones in Tagore’s life. And inside the main hall there is another flex board with a write up on Tagore’s works but is not signed by anybody, I mean, the curator.

Spread among the walls where the works are hung in the inner rooms of NGMA, there are small little boards with Tagore’s takes on art and aesthetics.

There is a film projected on the wall. It shows the works of Tagore. The audio track is barely audible and there is no ‘text’ to tell the viewer what this film is all about. I could see the logo of Film Festival of India in the projection.

I started going through the works. I wanted to know the dates of some important works that I had only seen in reproductions. But again in vain.

Once I finished viewing the whole show I asked the following questions to myself, mainly because I too wear the garb of a curator in my professional life:

1) What was I looking for in this show?
2) What did I get out of it?
3) If I was too much concerned with the curatorial intervention, what kind of intervention was that?
4) If I were the curator of it, what would have I done with the works in this collection?
5) Why did the curator refuse to acknowledge his/her role publicly?

Now let me answer the questions one by one.

1) I was looking for the works of Rabindranath Tagore and I could see them. But suddenly I realized that except for a few, I have seen most of them during several other occasions in the NGMA itself. So I was not looking for just works. I was keen to see them in conjunction with the history of early 20th century art practice, Tagore’s aesthetic philosophy, the philosophy of stalwarts like Anand Coomaraswamy, Stella Kramrisch, Abanindranath Tagore, Gaganendranath Tagore, Nandalal Bose and so on.

As an art critic and curator, I have come to hear very divergent opinion about Rabindranath Tagore’s art practice from the contemporary generation of artists. Many like him but dislike his art. Many dislike his philosophy but like his art. I thought this show would be an occasion to create a dialogue between the Tagore scholars and contemporary artists.

2) Once again, let me tell you, I got to see the works of Tagore once again. Nothing more nothing less.

3) As a curator trained in one of the best colleges in the world (Goldsmiths College, University of London), with a practical experience in curating for almost a decade and an art critic with two decades of relentless involvement in art, I am really concerned about curatorial practice in India.

There is a section of art scene people in India who still believe that we don’t have ‘curators’. I don’t believe in this argument. However, I understand why that particular section thinks so. Today, anybody is a curator if he/she could ‘put together’ an exhibition. It could be a political activist or a journalist or a television reporter. What you need is the guts to call yourself a curator. Besides, the former section suffers from this belief that only a curator from a foreign country, no matter even if he/she is from Nepal or Bhutan, can deliver things to general satisfaction. I think most of the former colonies suffer from this syndrome of self-depreciation.

Coming to the point, I was looking for the scholarship and vision of the curator involved in the Tagore project. I expected him/her to create a new context to see Tagore’s otherwise well publicized works.

Thanks to Face Book, I could once again read a well informed article written by none other than the Noble Laureate, Prof.Amartya Sen on Tagore. He debates Tagore’s relevance through his political, aesthetical and global views and also contrasting them with those of Mahatma Gandhi. ( This article by Prof.Sen was posted by art critic, Amrita Gupta Singh). Simultaneously I was reading another article by the Art Newspaper critic, Tyler Green, who says how the private collection shows are an insult to scholarship and curators ( This article was posted in FB by the Art and Deal Managing Editor, Rahul Bhattacharya).

While Prof.Sen reveals a special kind of Tagore scholarship, Tyler Green reiterates the necessity for curatorial interventions in museum shows. These arguments, when put together, inform us how scholarship should be incorporated into curatorial practice, which is absolutely lacking in the NGMA Tagore show.

4) The pertinent question, if I were the curator of this show, what would have been my approach.

Let us take a hypothetical situation: By default I become the curator of this show and I know well that apart from my curatorial expertise, I am not a full fledged scholar of Tagore’s art or philosophy. So what I do is that I would devise an exhibition plan, which a trained curator is capable of doing. I would take a few elements in Tagore’s repertoire of aesthetics and philosophy and work a strategy around it and use the works in NGMA collection to explain my curatorial strategies (For example Tagore and Nationalism, Tagore and Globalization, Tagore and Women and Tagore and his contemporaries- to look for convergences and divergences). And at each point I own it up by saying that I have done it and I am answerable and accountable to any questions raised by the public that comes to see this exhibition.

It is easier said than done. If I were the curator, first of all I would spend at least two months to study Tagore’s life, philosophy, literature and all what the important scholars have done on Tagore’s art and life.

I would form a committee of experts to advice me. For example I would invite the veteran art historian, Dr.Ratan Parimoo, who has written extensively on Tagores (Three Tagores). I would request the veteran artist scholar, K.G.Subramanyan to join the advisory committee. I would try to get art historians Partha Mitter, Tapati Guha Takurta and R.Sivakumar on board.

If they suggest that I could look into Tagore’s contemporaries and make an exhibition to position Tagore’s art for the new audience communities, I would immediately do that.

After that, to implement my curatorial strategies, I would form a team of young and vibrant trained art historians and critics to do research on the concerned topics.

Finally if I am not capable enough to design the exhibition the way I want, I would involve an exhibition designer, of course from India.

Now you may ask who are all these young critics and curators who could be trusted. I would produce a quick list. The members of it would not be necessarily trained curators. But this kind of involvement gives them enough training to become future curators. And some of them are already proven their worth as curators.

Anshuman Das Gupta, Soumik Nandy Majumdar, Sanjoy Mallik, Parvez Kabir, Oindrilla Maity, Monal Jayaram, Jayaram Poduval, Abhiram Poduval, Abha Seth, Santosh, Santosh Sakhinala, Amrita Gupta Singh, Shubhalakshmi Shukla, Kanchi Mehta, Rita Sodha, Rahul Bhattacharya, Akansha Rastogi, Rikimi Madhukaillya, Binoy PJ, Kavita Balakrishnan, Bipin Chandra, Chandran T.Payyannoor, Vidya Sivadas, Bhooma Padmanabhan, Avinja Bhattacharya, Swati Chatterjee, Mrinal Kulkarni, Suruchi Khubchandani,John Xaviers, Rajashree Biswal and the list can go on.

Dear Rajeev, don’t you think that given a chance, this is an army of talents that would take India’s curatorial visions forward? Then why do we hesitate in bringing them in curatorial projects as curatorial assistants, researchers or even as full fledged curators?

5) I vaguely know that there is a technical post called ‘curator’ in NGMA. I don’t know is he/she the same person who has curated Tagore show. But I strongly believe that a curator should own up his/her role in any project that is meant to be shown to the public. He/she should be answerable and accountable.

One more point to be mentioned. I am lucky enough to have visited a few international museums during my foreign trips and I have come across these fabulously equipped art shops in the museum premises. The art shops carry all the merchandise related to the theme shows happening in the museums. Here in NGMA I saw the pathetic condition of the art shop in the new wing. Except for a few reproductions of Tagore’s paintings, there is nothing about Tagore is seen there. And the general condition of the art shop gave me an impression that the shop was affected by a famine or something. You please try to refurbish this shop with adequate merchandise.

I am sure that this open letter would disappoint you. Perhaps, I will never be able to do anything in NGMA. But I am not worried, Rajeev. I believe that I talk on behalf of a nation and as professional curator I have the right to speak to you, and as a tax paying, passport holding Indian citizen, I have the right to know what is going on in this apex institution of art in India.

You must be remembering, in 2008, when I endorsed Girish Shahane’s campaign for a separate director of Mumbai NGMA, you asked me why I write such things without knowing the real facts. Then you had told me that you spent a lot of time running between NGMA and Sastri Bhavan with files.

I respect your work as the director of the NGMA. I understand India is a victim of red-tapism at the bureaucratic level. But as an artist and an art administrator with this many years of experience, don’t you think that by this time you should have found out a way to deal with things?

Here comes the relevance of a team of young experts. You assign them jobs, pay them well, respect them, treat them with dignity and trust them. They will do their job for you and you will get enough time to do the negotiations with the bureaucracy as an art administrator.

Once again, nothing personal about it in this letter. You are the only person I know in the NGMA. And I know you since 1995, as an artist, as professor and then as the director of NGMA. I take that freedom to write this letter to you and I make this public because this issue of curatorial practice is to be debated widely for the common good.

If I have gone wrong in any of the previous points, I am ready to correct myself.

With best wishes


Sunday, May 9, 2010

Mother’s Day Every Day- Finding Surrogate Mothers

I have a request- whoever read this posting, please see the two Youtube links also. I have posted them in FB. Even if you don’t understand the language, the visuals will tell you why I linked them up here.

For the last three days I have been driving around in Delhi for my meetings and was listening to the FM Channels’ efforts to enlighten their listeners about the importance of Mother’s Day. First two days I tried to ignore it by changing channels and going only for music. But today, I couldn’t avoid the onslaught of Mother’s Day festivities not only in the FM Channels but also in Face Book.

Though Sunday, I was busy throughout the day with meetings etc. Once back at my desk, curiosity took me to Wikipedia. I just wanted to know about Mothers’ Day.

So here it is for you. The concept of mother worship is there in every culture. In 1870, Julia Ward Howe, an American activist, made the ‘Mother’s Day Proclamation’ as pacifist reaction to the American Civil War and the Franco-Prussian War. Howe was a proto-feminist and believed that women had a responsible role in the society as conscious political beings. The phrases ‘Second Sunday of May’ and ‘Mother’s Day’ were in her proclamation and she was instrumental in forming the Mothers’ Day International Association.

I am not a scholar and whatever I said is very much there in Wikipedia and you may see details for yourself.

However, seeing the unprecedented madness for ‘mothers’ and ‘Mother’s Day’, I realized one thing; mother has also become a commodity. The malls have been sending out bit notices along with morning newspapers and were attracting the people to buy stuff for ‘mothers’.

Yesterday evening I visited one of the biggest malls in Faridabad, Haryana and the ‘mother’s day madness’ was quite palpable there. Fat mothers in salwar-kurtas were wobbling behind their jeans and T-shirt called ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ who were flaunting their newly acquired riches by buying and buying for mothers as wells as for themselves. The young mothers accompanied by their trophy husbands and prize kids were feeling very special as husband was shelling out money as the kids were demanding presents for their beloved mothers.

I was amused and still am amused because I don’t believe in these kinds of ‘days’ specially designed for your mothers and fathers. You love them unconditionally (if property disputes are not involved) and they love you the same way.

Here, a bit of reality check. I don’t like my mother at times. She reads newspapers and watches a lot of news channels and calls me every other day and asks me whether I was alright or not. She is anxious because she has seen some news in the television regarding a bomb alert in Delhi or the rising temperature in the north or a robbery in some ATM counter or an accident. She thinks that in all these events her son is involved directly and of course as a victim.

That’s the way mothers behave.

I get irritated on my mother when she treats me like a child. Also I pull all my hairs out when I explain certain things to her, however educated she is, she pretends as if she doesn’t understand a bit.

You try to be patient and caring. And even question your own hypocrisy of treating others’ mothers with a lot of respect and rubbish your own mother.

But still you love her unconditionally. And I don’t think you need a special day to call her and tell her, ‘I love you.’

I have this feeling that as we grow old we create a safe emotional distance with our mothers. Instead of emotional intensity that makes them too dependent (on you) you create a logical relationship with her through which you make her feel she is still important in your life.

But you cannot run away from the emotional attachment that you have with your mother. So you find out aesthetic mediums to connect with your imaginary association with your mother, which any Freudian might say, is partially sexual. And that is true to certain extent.

During my late teen days I had found a couple of surrogate mothers in movies. In movies sons are ready to do anything for their mothers.

Mannan, a Rajani Kant starrer, has a great scene in which the hero (Rajani Kant) takes care of his disabled mother. And the emotional attachment between the son and mother is explained through a song. And while watching this scene you wish your mother be disabled so that you could take care of her like this.

In ‘Thoongathe Thambi Thoongathe’ (Don’t Sleep Brother, Don’t Sleep), Kamal Haasan becomes a drug addict and he is saved through the loving treatment by his illiterate mother. One day he sings a song for his mother and you wish you be a drug addict so that you could be saved by a mother like her.

I find these two song sequences as the paramount examples of Mother-Son relationship in Indian screen. May be you have more examples to provide, of course more compelling, moving and engaging than these two.

However, when I think about my mother and convert my emotions into logical reasoning, deep within my mind, I sing these songs and I see myself as Rajani Kant and Kamal Haasan.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Wear Condoms and Use (I) Pills to Do Away with Honor Killing

Let us keep the names out of this discussion. Recently, a very young journalist was found dead at her Jharkhand home. The mother of the girl was arrested for ‘killing’ her. Newspapers and the visual media dubbed it as an incident of ‘honor killing’.

The deceased girl, supposedly from an upper caste family, was working as a journalist in Delhi. She was in love with another young journalist from a comparatively lower caste. The girl’s family was not in favor of their marriage.

The telephonic conversations and text messages between the girl and boy tell us that the girl was kept under house arrest by her parents and relatives. She was trying to escape from them and she was assuring the boy that everything would be alright, soon.

Now as she is dead and her mother is accused of ‘honor killing’, my artist friend, who has become a bit aggressive in blogging these days, is an agitated woman. She says that ‘we should change our attitude towards the women’ to facilitate social changes and avoid these ‘honor killings’.

I agree completely with my friend, when she says the society in general should change the attitude towards women. But this demand has been there for long. If we are not too cynical about things, our society has considerably changed its attitude and approach towards women.

But my friend and the people, who think like her, perhaps do not perceive these changes. The moment they see something reported in the newspapers, they become morally agitated. They would cite any odd incident and say the society as a whole shows the same deranged tendency.

There is something so fundamentalist about such arguments. Why?

Let us see the circumstances under which the girl was ‘killed’.

The autopsy report says that she was twelve weeks pregnant. No parents want their daughters to conceive out of socially accepted wedlock.

Now, what happens when they come to know that their daughter is pregnant? Either they would marry her off with the person, if they are convinced of his abilities to give her a decent life, who caused the pregnancy or they would insist that she should terminate the pregnancy at any cost.

Here, in our case, the parents might have insisted that the girl should yield to their demand for the medical termination of pregnancy as they found the boy who is just 22 years old and a struggling journalist therefore incapable of giving their daughter a decent life.

The caste angle is added to the case later.

Let us take the case differently. The girl was pregnant and the boy was a bit senior and holding a high position in the corporate or bureaucracy. The scenario would have been different.

Don’t try to fool ourselves saying that all the families are caste oriented and prone to the feeling of honor killing. There are so many marriages these days, which are not only inter-caste but also inter-state. In all these cases, you don’t find any aspect of honor killing.

Reason is simple: the boy and girl involved in such marriages are economically independent and are sexually careful.

Coming back to the death of a young journalist: The parents might have tried to terminate the pregnancy by administrating some crude medicines on her as they don’t want the world to know about the ‘shame’ the girl has brought to their family.

Result is this: the girl died. The parents are accused of ‘honor killing’.

But let me say it again, the parents were trying to save their family’s honor, of course. But not because their daughter brought a boy of lower caste into their family but because she had become pregnant.

If you collapse the boundary between ‘honor’ killing a girl for marrying a lower caste man and accidently causing death of a girl while trying to terminate her illegitimate pregnancy for keeping the ‘honor’ of the family intact, things will go wrong and one would see that this honor killing is a rampant disease of Indian society, which is not true at all.

It is not the first time a girl gets pregnant from her boy friend. In such cases, the girls take medical help most often with the support of their boy friends and their friends.

Our society, which is prone to honor killing according to my friend, actually needs to change the attitude towards our young generation.

Let the parents advice their daughters to be careful while having sexual intercourse. Use preventive tablets like I-Pills etc.

Let the parents advice their sons to be careful and always use condoms, even if some of them have alternative sexual preferences.

How can it be possible? Indian shop keepers still pack sanitary napkins in black polythene.

If a girl goes to ask for I-pill or similar tablets, she will be looked as if she has done a heinous crime.

Even boys, who would like to buy condoms, find it extremely difficult (again malls are a safe deal).

While discussing related issues, my wife was telling me that we had a curious scenario in India. She says, “The government advertisements tell the men to use condoms. And ask the girls to abstain from sex. How is it possible? Either you are sending the boys to brothels or making the girls to have unprotected sex and become victims of a biased society.”

It is true that we need to change our attitude towards women in many areas. But at the same time we cannot be hypocrites.

We should tell our kids to be prepared for it. Let us learn it from Khushbu.

When preparedness meets opportunity, there happens success.

Sex is not different.

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Give Him Gallows

You know, what is our problem? I mean our problem as intellectuals. We tend to intellectualize anything and everything to be politically correct. When we are politically correct, we escape from the responsibility of having a strong opinion. We can enter into the zones of intellectual ambiguities and distract the core issue towards fringes.

Yesterday, the whole of India, perhaps was waiting for one verdict. What would be the court decision on the fate of Ajmal Kasab, the Pakistani terrorist who gunned down so many people on the fateful day of 26/11 in Mumbai? We have clinching in camera evidences against him. Pretty much like a Hollywood FBI movie villain, this trained, calculative and ruthless criminal was moving around in the CST and was indiscriminately firing at people.

Lucky we are. We still can hold faith in our judiciary. It has found Kasab guilty of 80 out of 86 charges against him (as per HT report). Now what we need is the sentence. In a democracy like India, the majority of people have already given the verdict; he should be given capital punishment. I don’t have any problem in saying that I am one among them.

But the problem is this; the moment we come to know that he is sentenced to death, our political correctness masquerading as intellectual rigor would raise its Hydra-heads. We will start our debate whether it is right to give him capital punishment or not.

The indications are already there. One of my artist friends posted in her blog that we should be looking into the working of Kasab’s mind. The reason for her saying so is simple; Kasab, ever since he is taken captive, he has been cooperating with the police in investigation, showing good behavior, learning languages etc. She suggests that had things gone good for him, he could have become a gold medal winning shooter for Pakistan in Olympics. Or he could have even become a translator. Lucky we, she did not say that he could have become a translator working in Pakistan Embassy in India.

My artist friend is justified the way several of her intellectual ilk are justified. They would say, ‘Give Kasab a Chance’. For what? ‘For him to repent, reform and become a good human being again.’ Let there be fair trial, they would say. They see him as Raskolnikoff in Dostoevsky’s ‘Crime and Punishment’.

We are not against Pakistanis. They are people like us, suffering from the same ill political maneuverings. Those people who have traveled in Pakistan even after 26/11 say that Pakistanis are not particularly against India. And it is a time when cross-boundary marriages are happening more than before. Kasab is a criminal created out of the terror dens of Pakistan.

Pakistan has not owned up Kasab. It has its own reasons to do so. But the political realities in Pakistan are such that in their home grounds they cannot openly disown the criminals that work against India. That does not mean that we need to be lenient to the disruptive elements that come to our land and kill our people.

It is high time that we send a message across the world that we are not a country, which spends endless hours in discussing the ethics of capital punishment. Kill Kasab and tell the world that India is not going to put up with the terrorists who think that India is a soft target.

Our intellectuals who want to peep into the mind of Kasab do not understand one thing; he and his team killed 166 people. Out of them many could have become intellectuals, businessmen, gold medal winning Olympians, good farmers, good security professionals and good human beings. The criminals did not give them a chance.

So why should we give the criminals a chance?

When I demand capital punishment for Kasab, I sound almost like a right wing politician because they are the only people who demanded the same. Congress and the ruling coalition are very cautious in making public statements. They say that the law of the land would prevail. Let it be so.

But if we let Kasab to live in Indian jails, the same intellectuals will debate for his release. Our intellectual film makers will make films on him. Novelists will write novels. As Kasab has already shown interest in Bollywood, he would even be invited to make guest appearance in popular films.

This is how we brainwash a populace. We make icons out of criminals because we, the intellectuals believe that the criminals do (the disruptive acts) what we ourselves fail to perform in our theoretical wrangling.

Why don’t we simply do away with Kasab? Just kill him. So many individuals are ‘encountered’ because Indian legal systems do not want to face certain issues. Here we have the daring to face an issue because we have strong evidences against him.

Just finish him off because we don’t want the Indian tax payer to pay for his security and well being.

Just finish him off and tell the world that we not only do psychic babblings but also act when it is needed.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Art, Deal, Radical and….

It has been there in the air for sometime. ‘Radical: Possibilities/Ruptures’, the thirty first edition of Art and Deal Magazine, was announced almost a month back by publishing its cover page and the editorial piece in the Face Book. One could say that the readers were anticipating the release of this journal as the thematic was built around the term, ‘Radical’ and this word and its embedded notions seem to be the ‘in thing’ in our contemporary art scene now.

You may wonder why this much maligned word till a few months back, suddenly gained currency amongst the intellectuals and survivors of erstwhile radical tremors and traumas. Before we get into that, let me explain the origin of the word, radical. It comes from Latin and connotes ‘roots’. Hence, Radical is someone who goes back to the roots. It also connotes how one wants fundamental changes. A radical aspires for and tries to facilitate thorough changes. In 18th century, this word was used in political discourse, which demanded total changes in the socio-political systems. Radicalism also gave birth to political liberalism. It was inevitable that the word ‘radical’ also came to have the meanings of ‘fundamentalism’ and ‘extremism’. When boundary lines of connotative meanings are collapsed in the process, radical or radicalism comes to have negative meanings. Hence, a radical became someone who worked against the ‘mainstream’ society and its conventions.

This negative connotation of the word was one of the reasons why the radicals were looked down upon as trouble shooters. But trouble shooting has its own charm; it destabilizes the generic thinking. In the social sphere a radical assumes a different personality. This ‘difference’ is something that makes a radical charming in the long run. Che Guevara, one time radical became the darling of international market mainly because of his ‘different’ personality. Any market works and thrives on ‘difference’. What they market is this ‘difference’. We produce difference, the market seems to say and ‘once you consume our products, you too become different’. Though it takes a long time for the radical to get mainstream acceptance, even if they don’t aspire for it, it is inevitable that they get absorbed into the system of consumption as their ‘difference’ engenders desire amongst the consumers.

A market, which has been thriving on the contemporary and the spectacular, after consuming the possible differences that it could create, now looks for the ‘available but not yet consumed differences’ in the aesthetic realm. This could be one of the reasons why there is a sudden spate of interest for the radical(s) or radicalism in Indian contemporary art. There is a bit of romanticism and nostalgia involved in this, but art historically speaking ‘radicals’ have always been romantics. But how do we locate the radicals and radicalism within our discourse on contemporary art practice? And how do we locate the difference that they had generated at one point of time? And how do we re-load the radicals and package them for the potential consumers?

Answers to these questions would not be historically justifiable if we seek them only in the generic notions pertaining to the words radical or radicalism. The attention should be trained at the Indian Radical Painters and Sculptors Association, which for the first time used the word Radical as an adjective to the social roles of its members (artists) without hiding their scorn for mainstream art practice prevalent during the 1980s and the nascent market structure that supported such practices. In that sense, it was an extreme form of art activism fired by both personal convictions and collective responsibility towards the field of aesthetics and its operational and operative society.

The major folly, if at all we could call it a folly, of the Radical Group was this that they questioned a market, which was absolutely nascent and protectionist in nature. The radicals sought their support base amongst the people (like the fisher folk in Trivandrum and the left sympathizers in the street in general and bureaucracy in particular) and thought that such support base would be sufficient enough to prolong their art and art activism. This romantic idea was proved wrong and fatal within a few years of existence (1989). Most of the associates in the movement when into hibernation and a few of them re-surfaced in the scene after almost a decade.

To gain social acceptance, these resurfaced artists either had to eschew their association with the Radical Group or they had to overtly forward critiques on the follies and foibles of the movement. This apparently guilt ridden process was painful for many but the carnival art that followed after such resurfacing was so glamorous and mind-numbing that many chose to shun any discourse pertaining to the Radical Group. But after a decade of celebration, it became imperative that such avoidances were anti-historical and a re-assessment of the same became necessary.

Whatever be the agency, the celebration of the works by the artists like Anita Dube, Alex Mathew, E.H.Pushkin (though it was short lived in his case) and K.M.Madhusudhanan (both curated and facilitated by JohnyML), Anshuman Dasgupta-Grant Watson’s collaborative effort on Ram Kinkar Baij and the Radicals, a seminar on the Radical Group, keeping K.P.Krishankumar’s works as the point of departure at the JNU and a projected intention of the BMB Gallery, Mumbai to have a curated show on the Radical facilitated and necessitated a situation for recognizing the ‘difference’ of the radicals, which was too alluring to be rejected by the market. That means, the market now pines for a ‘radical difference initiated by the Radicals’. Now they just want to know how to package the radical thinking for profit making. Also, the reassessment on the Radicals is an act of atonement by many and they want to draw the lines of linkages, affiliations and associations through reclamations and forged links as seen in the cover page of the KHOJ volume, which is published recently in Delhi.


Let me come back to the latest issue of the Art and Deal (issue 31). The cover page of it screams Radical: Possibilities/Ruptures. Rahul Bhattacharya, the editor of the magazine, has done a good job in initiating a dialogue on….Yes that is the problem. His intention is to see how the notion of ‘radical’ is perpetuated in our contemporary art practice by the young and upcoming artists’ generation. But as a person who has done some studies on the Radical Group, Rahul knows it for sure that it is very difficult to forge linkages between the kind of radical notions cherished by the Radical Group and the present generation of artists who are not too close to the rigor of the Radical’s radicalism. Also, Rahul understands negotiating the guilt factor of the post-Radical radicals cannot be done through a lose collection of articles.

However, giving a preamble of the recent Telengana uprising, Rahul attempts to see how the radical thoughts are still prevalent in a society, which is forced to wear party dresses perpetually in the name of contemporary art. He rightly suggests that the Marxian notion of profit, which has to be embraced at every point of production, dissemination and consumption, somehow gets diluted when it comes to the actual practice of art vis-à-vis radical art practice. It is a historical folly, first acted out by some members of the Radical Group and later by many. Rahul observes, “.. the mainstream has always excluded the market and its workings from its pedagogic structure. As a result of which an average artist or a critic enters the domain of praxis having no knowledge of the market, its structures and their operations.” One has to see what Rahul suggests as mainstream is nothing ‘radical’ mainstream that excludes the practitioners from the functioning of the market.

The magazine could have probed the actual identity of this ‘radical’ mainstream because all who are out of it and work within the circuit of the mainstream galleries are well aware of the workings of the market. As young people if they don’t know, once they get into this structure, they naturally learn the nuances of it. Instead of the proposed radical mainstream, the magazine suddenly shifts its focus to (art) ‘activism’. In my opinion the thematic of the magazine could have been something like, ‘Art Activism: Possibilities and Ruptures”.

I stand vindicated in my observation (as a person who has read the magazine cover to cover) mainly because the ensuing pages after Rahul’s editorial definitely focus on ‘art activism’ or a bit more euphemistically, ‘alternative art practices’. This hard nut of ‘alternative’ is still not cracked in our art discourse. When we assume that we are doing alternative practices, we also establish and recognize the fact that there is a mainstream. When mainstream has its on ‘Marxian’ profit theories intact with them, what are we aspiring to gain in the ‘alternative’ platforms? Are we considering alternative art platforms as the testing grounds for the mainstream art systems? Or alternative platforms are the recruiting fields for the mainstream by default? If we look at our recent history of alternative platforms, I will not be accused of twisting history, they function as preparing grounds for the mainstream galleries.

Hence, we have an issue here: we are not talking about ‘radical’ notions involved in our art practice, but we are talking about the activist-ic and performative qualities of art, which are not waiting to be absorbed into the mainstream systems. H.A.Anil Kumar’s lead essay focuses on activism directly and he is right in saying that often art activism reduces itself into self-referential acts, which leads to the birth of individual heroes. And as you know, individual heroes, whether they want it or not, end up in the mainstream (of whatever).

This aspect of activism, which could have been read it in the right context had the thematic of the magazine was a bit more clear and spelt out, is recurrent in most of the articles. Samudra Kajal Saikia’s documentation on the theatrical practices in and around Santiniketan is a strong example for my observation. Saikia documents a series of art activism but never debate what is ‘radical’ in all these practices. Sandhya Bordewekar traces the ‘radical’ scenario in the Fine Arts Faculty, MS University. Sandhya says that it is important to discuss the radical possibilities of the current scene there. But then, what was this article written for? The articles that follow instead of generating a debate become just documentations, which I find quite unfortunate. When you expect the writer to debate and detail the thematic by citing the concerned documentation as an example, what you get is just an elaboration of the example.

At times I am thrown into a pit of doubt as I see a few ‘alternative research’ and social activists’ platforms turning into artists or art projects in themselves. Raques Media Collective is one example. Perhaps, it is the most self-evident example how radical activism can become mainstream art practice. An article on Blank Noise Project written by Lina Vincent Sunish tells the reader that this group was started by a girl who was harassed by eve teasers. Slowly, she found liked minded people and founded the Blank Nose Project. It is an ongoing social project. But of late I have heard about them exhibiting in galleries. The question I would like to ask myself is this; where do you differentiate social activism from art or vice versa? The photo feature on Art Karavan and the article on Khoj Bihar also do not give me answer for this question. But then you may ask, why shouldn’t social activism enter in the art scene? Of course it can. Hans Haacke has done it. Christo has done it. I expect the Pink Panty Movement also would soon turn into an art project very soon.


What makes this edition of Art and Deal palatable and loveable is the section of interviews. Designed in a reader-friendly way, the two interviews run parallel, thereby making them mutually referential, at times they supplement and at times they complement and at times they give an opportunity to see the historical incidents narrated in one interview against a critical light thrown by the other interview.

Jayaram Poduval’s interview with K.G.Subramanyan is one of the best interviews that I read recently. K.G.S revisits the Gandhian views on art and social activism vis-à-vis Santiniketan’s role in articulating the ‘national’ through visual projects. Throughout the interview, Jayaram holds on to the focus of Gandhian nationalism and pokes the veteran artists to comment on the Gandhian ideology inspired works by contemporary artists. Rahul and Abhiram Poduval interview Rajeev Patel, who has been campaigning against prohibition in Gujarat. And this interview runs parallel with the KGS interview. Rajeev in bold in his statements and clearly says that art is one of the ways that he uses for the revocation of the prohibition law in Gujarat. It is a pleasure to read these interviews together in one go.

Akansha Rastogi, a young art critic based in Delhi, after a keeping silence for couple of years, has come out with a strong sense of critical responsibility in her interviews with Ram Rahman and Vivan Sundaram. Akansha grills them as if she were an art police officer (no negativism intended) and ekes out the ideological, sociological, political and cultural affiliations and agendas of the organization SAHMAT. She makes both Ram and Vivan to re-visit their creative lives and political indebtedness to the party. Through their objective and subjective observations, the history of SAHMAT and the art history of alternative curatorial efforts come out clear before the reader. These interviews also run parallel and are mutually critical and complementary. Vivan ends up his conversation in a self critical mode and tells that SAHMAT also has become a routine stuff. Akansha, also a poet in making, is existential, skeptical and sharply objective in her questions; something to be appreciated.

Gopika Nath’s interview with Anupam Poddar is simple and Anupam does not complicate his collection of Pakistan art using high sounding theories. What I like in this interview is that his vocal support for the traditional and modern art. This aspect of his collection and attitude towards art had been deliberately obfuscated by many who wanted to portray him as the only ‘cutting edge’ collector. In this interview he has proven himself to be an ardent art collector rather than a classified collector of reject(ed) art. Sunil Gupta’s conversation with Vidish Saini is also sincere and direct.


A few things to improve Art and Deal:

1. Select pictures that in some way illustrate the ideas discussed in the articles. The pictures in the lead essay by H.A.Anil Kumar are just ornaments.
2. Art and Deal is not Lalit Kala Contemporary. It need not justify its democratic nature with publishing too many reviews.
3. There is some sort of clumsiness in this issue. Try to identify this and try to avoid in the next time.
4. Justify the Deal section again. It is not clear yet.
5. Ask the writes to avoid too many footnotes. Seriously speaking, the footnotes do not help. They could be incorporated in the articles.