Thursday, December 31, 2015

Try These New Year Resolutions: Exclusively for Artists and other Art Players (2016)

Let me start with a cliché: New Year resolutions are broken sooner than later. It is exactly like the proverbial drunkard’s promise unto himself that today is the last day. “Tomorrow onwards I am going to be a different person. I will have a healthy life. I will eat moderately. I will sleep early and wake up early. I will keep a lot of positive attitude towards like. I will not get angry. I will not beat my wife (husband). I will hit gym. I will spend more time with my family. I will spend less time in social media. I will make real friends. I will …I will.. I will..” Remove the word ‘drunkard’ from the initial statement and keep our own image there, things will fall in place.  We never come to know how 365 days run with us, taking us along, and at times overtaking us. I would like to talk about the possible resolutions and workable decisions that one could think about on this New Year eve. 

In fact who said drinking liquor or smoking tobacco is a bad habit? We know that the companies that make these products exhort us to be the consumers (of these). But the governments tell us not to consume at all. There are rules and regulations for the selling and buying of these products and rules and regulations are always meant for restricting people from consuming harmful things. I don’t get into a moral discourse on whether alcohol consumption is good or bad. But I would like to say this much: If you want to stop drinking or to drink moderately then start it now. If you want to quit smoking do it now. Many say, it is difficult to quit things that easily because they have become a habit. Habit is the catchword here. Habit is man-made while nature is not man-made. Human beings are naturally capable of being intoxicated. That’s why there are poets, artists, writers, fashion designers, film makers, musicians, actors and revolutionaries in the world. They are intoxicated by both life and their own need to express. All what is taken externally are part of habit formation than natural outcome of living.

In fact, I do not consider drinking or smoking as vice. But I could stop both when I decided one day. People say it you need will power. You don’t need will power to stop drinking or smoking. You just need to shift the perspective. If you love everything natural to you, including your spouses and kids, friends, houses, garden and so on, then you do not need any other diversions in this world. You may call it selfishness. But drinking or smoking is the real selfish activities. With those activities none other than you derives pleasure. When you sing, or draw, or write a piece of poem, all those who could have a look at it would enjoy your creativity. Then you may ask why everyone drinks. Everyone drinks because they think that they will be excluded from an imaginary world of pleasure if they do not drink. A scientist is not seen drinking while at work. A doctor does not come to the operation theatre drinking. Creative people drink because they believe that it helps to say things without social constraints. But if you could liberate yourself from all social constraints then why should you drink at all.

Anyway, I do not want to be a moral preacher for anyone here. But what I could say is that I am not excluded from the world of pleasure only because I keep myself away from drinking, smoking or partying. You may say that I have turned spiritual which most of the forty plus men do as they find out health problems. I have a very considerable amount of contempt for the ‘spiritual seekers’ for the sheer belief that one need not ‘seek’ your spirit because it is right there with you; you just need to open your eyes and see it. I detest the idea of going to hills for peace for I can stand right in the middle of a mall and feel absolutely peaceful and happy. I hate the idea of traveling for gaining experience because when I read a book I could travel the world that the author shows me. I do not think it is pertinent to attend some Kumbh Melas to feel or know Indian spirituality. If I were photographer I would have definitely thought of going to capture the demented, perverted and the hypocrites there. Also I might have come across real gods too. Who knows? However, I have been to holy places but never did I think that I needed to go there to gain peace. May be I will go there if I find that I could get food and shelter without working for it and a good computer with high speed internet connection. I will be perfectly okay there too.

It is my humble suggestion to all the artists in India that they all should make the following resolutions (you may break it but try it before really leaving it aside): 1) Every artist, except senior citizens, differently abled and also ill in certain way, in this country should decide that they should drink water from home and carry water from home. They all should take the vow that they will not buy a bottle of water from the shops (if there is no other way, one could). India is a country where water is given for free. But now in the urban spaces (also in most of the small towns and developing villages) you could not get a glass of water for free. The decision should not be for defeating the companies that sell bottled water but for reiterating the belief that we have the human kindness in us to carry water with us and also share it with those who need it.

2) The artist friends should also decide to leave their cars and scooters in their garages and use public transport. The abovementioned categories are exempted.  It is not just about Delhi; anywhere in India. Walk if possible, pedal around if need be, use public transportation it the first two options are not viable. As travelling by vehicles has become a habit, like drinking one finds it difficult to kick it. But it is not nature. In the beginning there were no cars and buses. People walked. The pathways and roads all over the world that we see today as huge highways are the same places where primitive men walked and cleared the paths.

3) The artist friends should also take a vow that however rich they are, they should avoid eating fancy food outside. Once in a while yes. The idea of weekends is the import from the western countries where the working people were treated ruthlessly by the systems so that they wanted weekends to unwind. In India people are not so hard pressed to work. In winters you could see people basking under sunlight in the lawns not in the pubs. Eating and drinking synthetic food or exotic food again is a habit; it is not nature. None ate pizza a few year before. Eating pizza is not a problem but making it at home may be more interesting. Many youngsters drink soft drinks and chips even after they know that it is unhealthy. They risk their lives just to appear cool. It is foolishness.

4) I request all our friends to make a vow unto themselves that they would promote the local grocer than the super stores in the malls. The local grocer sells the same thing. The local vegetable vendor sells the same thing. They look unimpressive because they are operating from the small shops. But if you start buying from they will start stocking what you need. You can save your petrol, effort and money. The local man or woman would serve you with a smile. I go to the local shop. I need not even say anything. He picks up the things that I want and I need not ask how much for I exactly know how much does it costs. We exchange a smile and feel good about it. Promote everything local. If you want ‘desi’ things go to a Khadi bhandar; you will get everything you want for affordable price.

To do all these, one needs to think a bit deeper. The primary lesson is this: We are not that important. We are just like any other being on this earth. We do not have any privilege. If we believe we are better than the other, then it is only in a limited context. Take a metro coach or a bus. The man or woman sitting next to you may be a Sahitya Akademi prize winning novelist but with a latest book in your hand you may think that you are one supreme being on a metro ride. Every human being is important in certain ways; the unfortunate thing is that most of them do not realize it. Instead of recognizing their own importance and relevance in the larger scheme of things, they try to accumulate all what they are not, which is called habit. That’s why people think that if they eat out, shop big, travel by big cars, pretend importance, do a lot of socializing and so on, they will be seen/taken important and seriously. It is foolishness. The moment one recognizes that we are just one of the beings in this universe, the world will definitely look much simpler and beautiful than ever. Let our New Year resolution be this that we are going to be very simple people with no pretensions. Are we ready?  

PS: Once you become simple, all the complaints in the world cease to exist. How can you complaint about the things you yourself have discarded?

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

2015, the Year that was, for Indian Contemporary Art

(Ansari (2002), Chintan Upadhyay (2015) Indelible Images in My Mind)

2015- No other year would be the same and any other year should not be the same as this one, for Indian contemporary art. Since 13 December 2015 not a single day has been passed in my life without thinking about two friends. Hema Upadhyay was brutally murdered and her estranged husband, Chintan Upadhyay is now in police custody for his alleged involvement in the murder. The more I think about both of them the more I think about a man whom I did not know when he was alive; Harish Bambani was his name. He was not a curator or an artist or critic. He was a reputed lawyer who fought the alimony case for Hema in the Mumbai High Court. Death has brought him into a part of the art world, though only the newspapers and the police reports speak of his name along with the deceased contemporary artist, Hema Upadhyay. Over the years, I have grown weak in my heart that I cannot stand sad images. However, when I close my eyes, holding myself alone in Delhi’s wintry nights under an old duvet the image of two inconspicuous cardboard coffins shrouded by white cloth, like two amputated and bandaged limbs of my own memories come to my inner eyes and I shiver. I do not know I am afraid of ghosts or I am shuddered by the very remembrance of a double murder. With equal force what comes to my mind is the picture of Chintan folding his palms over his lips with his face contorted in pain. This strangely resembles the plea of Qutubdin Ansari, a tailor by profession caught in the middle of the right wing rioters in 2002 in Gujarat. I close my eyes tight and try to sleep. 2015, for Indian contemporary art is nothing but this sad but sensational deaths; death of bodies and death of trust.

 (Israel artist in exile in India - Achia Anzi)

I am not an art pundit who could really assess the status of Indian contemporary art and the totality of it that took place in the year 2015. However, I would like to capture an over view of it in my personal way; as it is personal view there could many different views and so long there cannot be an official view about this particular aspect of art in 2015, those who are interested could view the year through my perspective. As far as the production of art was concerned, the year was like any other post-boom years before. Performance art that had come in a big way in 2014 somehow did not really take off in 2015 except for artists like Murari Jha doing it consistently in 1 Shanti Road and in Delhi. Video art remained one of the great sufferers in 2015 also as not many videos were shown or seen in the art scene. In the conceptual art front Delhi witnessed one of the very best conceptual art shows in 24 Jorbagh where Achia Anzi, the Israel artist self-exiled in India presented his site specific solo project ‘Silent Call of the Earth’. Though Azni tried to substantiate the exhibits that included a lot of found objects and also a bit cannibalizing the existing architectural elements with the definitions of art, nature, truth etc by the German philosopher, Martin Heidegger, the works stood out in their bare starkness and shrouded in their eerie beauty and silence. I do not know whether any conceptual art of that force happened in any part of India this year.

 (Navjot Altaf)

In Mumbai, moving of the Guild Gallery from Colaba art district to the far away Alibaug was one of the major ‘movements’ which Shalini Sawhney, the director of the gallery justified by saying that if the rich and affluent go to this land for their weekends there is no problem in taking art into their retreat. They could walk in to the gallery with no burden of going to a ‘gallery’ in a bustling city, see the works in leisure and also make some deals if need be. Only thing is that art in such contexts become a very ‘exclusive and private’ affair which may be seen as a bit undemocratic. However, practically speaking, Shalini sends an auto at the jetty to ferry the visitors to the gallery. One just needs to inform the gallery beforehand, a luxury perhaps you may not avail from any in the Colaba art district. Other major galleries like Sakshi and Chemould stuck to their own artists; while Sakshi did most of the rejigged shows from its collection, Chemould held solo shows of its artists including one of late Hema Upadhyay and recently of Archana Hande. Guild recently presented Navjot Altaf with a book written by Nancy Adajania. The two shy galleries, Maskara and Mirchandani respectively had their share of shows which often remain a bit recluse. Mirchandani exhibited Manish Nai with a book. Tarq is one of the galleries that showcase regular cuarted shows and it did not disappoint the viewers in 2015 also. Clark House is still on an experimental mode which seems to be working well for Sumeshwar Sharma who is the director the space. Tao presented a blockbuster show of Ratan Saha’s sculptures. Gallery Beyond and Gallery 7 showcased interesting shows but somehow did not make much impact in the scene. Delhi Art Gallery and Bhau Daji Lad Museum presented interesting projects throughout the year.

 (Burning Against the Dying of Light- Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam at Khoj)

Delhi was more impressive this year than Mumbai. Starting with the National Gallery of Modern Art, it could showcase exhibitions of Subodh Gupta and Prabuddha Dasgupta. If the NGMA was a bit more friendly space, definitely it would have attracted more people to its premises. The National Museum showcased special shows of Ramayana in Manuscripts and also Buddhist Art from the Indian subcontinent. Kiran Nadar Museum is one place where one could find an alternative to the National Gallery of Modern Art. ‘Constructs/Constructions’ curated by Roobina Karode was a well laid out show. Dayanita Singh’s ‘Museum Bhavan’ was another show that made 2015 meaningful. However, across the road, Khoj International put the KNMA a little bit in shadow with the very poignant and impressive exhibition titled ‘Burning Against the Dying of the Light’ by Ritu Sarin and Tenzing Sonam, a couple who have been documenting Tibet, the Chinese occupation in Tibet and the Tibetan government in exile in India. Exhaustive in documentation, this well preserved and curated exhibition touched the soul of a viewer with the videos that showed the live suicides of the Tibetan Lamas by setting themselves in fire in an act of protest against the Chinese government. The installations would burn the viewers and it would continue burning them for days to come. Though the artists do not take sides, they clearly capture the growing dissent within the hierarchy of the protestors against the Chinese occupation. At times the supreme authority of the Tibetans, Honorable Dalai Lama and his position (the middle path) are questioned vehemently by the younger generation in Tibet and elsewhere. Perhaps, it is political art, not the kind professed as political art by certain artists who use Gandhi’s images or sickle and hammer image to make their art.

(Indira Gandhi by Raghu Rai)

Moving of a few galleries from Delhi’s art district, Lado Sarai to elsewhere (some to their places of origin) was one of the interesting scenes in 2015. However, galleries like Art and Aesthetics, Art District XIII could come up with interesting solo exhibitions like those of Mahula Ghosh and ManilRohit. Though Latitude 28 and Exhibit 320 are two ‘intellectual galleries’ in Lado Sarai, I could not find anything intelligent in these two galleries. Across the road, Anubhav Nath of Ojas Art at Qutub could come up with wonderful projects on Gond Art and also could showcase the solo of the ace photographer Raghu Rai, with a book. Vadehra presented a few good shows including those of Arpita Singh and B.V.Suresh. However, B.V.Suresh’ was a bit crowded by the negligence of the curator. Delhi witnessed, Delhi Photo Festival’s 3rd edition, at the IGNCA premises. Moving from the India Habitat Centre and the IHC coming up with another Photo Festival brings out the picture of clash of interests between the IHC curator and the founders of the Delhi Photo Festival. Young photography artist, Chandan Gomes came out with his first photo book and Ram Rahman turned sixty in 2015. Gallery Espace was a disappointment in the year 2015. Delhi Art Gallery broke its own record of publishing large volumes by bringing out two volumes on Nude and Naked art in India written and edited by the in house curator, Kishore Singh. Young entrepreneur, Manu Narayanan opened his Neu Hous Gallery in Delhi and its first show was curated by Veer Munshi.

 (Mapping with Figures:K.S.Radhakrishnan-photo Tashi Tobgyal -IE)

Bengaluru witnessed one of the major exhibitions of the season with the inauguration of ‘Mapping with Figures: The Evolving Art of K.S.Radhakrishnan’ curated by R.Sivakumar at the NGMA, Manikyavelu Mansions in November 2015. Throughout the year in 1 Shanti Road there used to programs which showcased not only experimental and ephemeral art works and activities but also conventionally curated exhibitions in its eclectic space. Suresh Jayaram came out with a book on the alternative spaces in Bengaluru with several articles by scholars, keeping the activities of 1 Shanti Road in focus. In Kochi, the city of Kochi Muziris Biennale, the viewers could see interesting exhibitions including the solo show of Ajayakumar. Durbar Hall witnessed a lot of interesting shows including ‘Clip Board’ and ‘Objects Rehabilitated’. In Talassery, North Kerala, Bhagyanath, one of the most promising illustrator, graphic artist and painter, Bhagyanathan C, presented a solo show of his exquisite drawings done for the two novels ‘the Hangman’ and ‘Choyi, the Umbrella Repairer’ by K.R.Meera and M.Mukundar respectively. Trivandrum witnessed a flurry of street painting and public art projects headed by the Government or Kerala’s Tourism Department and executed by an agency named ‘Arteria’. In Pune, the second edition of the Pune Biennale was done successfully and I am proud being its Project Director for this particular edition.

 (Bhagyanathan with K.R.Meera and M.Mukundan)

India Art Fair, while rumors of its ownership changing hands doing the rounds, once again proved that it is the unparalleled Art Fair in India. In 2015, it was reported that the number of cutting edge art was less compared to the previous years and most of the galleries could make money out of the moderns and the senior contemporaries. In Delhi, in the name of affordable art, a few ‘fair activities’ took place in 2015 of which Alla Prima tanked well. But with a never say die attitude, I am told the organizers are again on a comeback trail. In Mumbai, in Index Art Fair, the Aura Art Developers presented their mini art fair for the second time and came out unhurt. India Art Festival, though there are no big names to support it, and also with some important cultural theorists backing out this time from its ‘intellectual part’, the director of the fair, Rajendra Patil could pull it off its 2015 edition also well and according to Patil, the participants have made enough sales to participate in the next edition too. With this confidence, Patil is planning to test the waters in Delhi with the India Art Festival’s first edition in January 2016. This is a time to stand a ten seconds of silence on the memory of United Art Fair, Chennai Art Fair and Bengaluru Art Fair and also those fairs that have been killed by the entry of greedy elements. Kochi Muziris Biennale declared its readiness with the third edition slated to take place in December 2016 with the announcement of the curator for this edition, Sudarshan Shetty. Let’s wish him all success.

 (Mrinalini Mukherjee)

Before I close this stocktaking article, let me remember those senior artists who passed away in this year. Mrinali Mukherjee , Sunil Das and Shamsad Husain will come to us through their works, if not today, at some point in our lives.

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Horoscope of Indian Contemporary Artists for the year 2016 by JohnyML

Many people believe in horoscopes and many don’t. There are so many people in the art scene who start their day looking at the horoscope columns in the newspapers. There are people who get daily alerts on horoscope by email or by special apps. Horoscope generally helps people to feel good. From my experience I could say that each prediction for the day, week, month and year is a mixed bag, beating it hot and cold so that those who read it will always come out with some amount of optimism and happiness. I have an artist friend who picks the best one out of the twelve stars and believes it as his for the day. Horoscopes are custom made and are meant to keep the people in good mood. The best way to understand this would be reading the horoscope columns in the in-flight magazines; there the people born to each star are supposed to travel different fancy locations, especially to the destinations where the company has service operations. Knowing this, one need not take horoscopes too seriously but even at some level one feels good at a good premonition and feels horrified at the suggestion of an impending accident. My horoscope of 2016 for Indian contemporary artists therefore is jovial in nature and could be easily discarded after feeling good about the good things that are going to happen in your life.

Aries (March 21-April 20): Born to this star an artist has to be ‘emotional and aggressive’. In the current scenario of Indian contemporary art being emotional will not help but being strategic could be one possible way out but unfortunately the Arians are not strategic. Aggression also is not going to help as both aggressive working and aggressive marketing may not find enough takers. One should practice self-restrain throughout the year and beyond till your contributions are recognized. Artists can direct their emotional and aggressive fervor towards sincere working patterns within the studios or wherever they are and focus should be on creating a body of works for the posterity to assess. Those artists who get married in this year would definitely change tracks and become professionals in the related fields. Women artists show their prowess in setting up good homes alone or in the company of their spouses. Gallerists born to this sign may think about launching new projects but chicken out in the last moment. Curators and critics will do well in 2016. Love life seems to be exciting for most of the Arians as there will be ample amount of time to focus on romantic matters for diverting mind from adverse situations. Buyers and collectors could refurbish their collections by acquiring a lot of works in dirt cheap price. 

Taurus (April 21-May 20): Born under this sign, the artists are sensuous people with an eye for beauty. As they are reliable there are a lot of chances for them either to become highly sought after independent artists or good assistants for already established artists. Hard bargainers, these artists are going to make good money in the market as they are very particular about their finances. The problem with these artists seems to be their disinterestedness in reinvesting money back into their art. Hence, their works will remain moderate in scale. Most of the artists born under this zodiac sign are generous and family bound. This may result into selfishness if you don’t set up enough check points to your generosity and family orientation. Critics may find themselves in spot as their generosity could lead them into writing about the wrong works of art in the right way. Medium level gallerists under this zodiac sign will make a lot of money in this year. Love life seems to be limited within the family boundaries. Buyers and collectors may not buy enough works this year. Health is good.

Gemini (May 21-June 21): Most of the artists who are born under this zodiac sign are very adjustable and liberal. This adjustability and liberal nature would make them less exciting artists but they could improve their chances of being very charming people by turning the very same qualities into virtue. They could adjust their prices and also liberal with the art critics, curators and gallerists. As they are very versatile people, most of them would be doing installation and conceptual art in the coming year and ending up making no money. As they are enthusiastic, they would jump into discussions about things that they really do not have a real grip on and there will be clear symptoms of projecting themselves as budding intellectual artists. Love life is going to be really trying as these artists have the tendencies to put off the spouses by reading out from theory books in the middle of the night. Health remains satisfactory as restlessness would help them to be active throughout the year. Critics may not make much progress. Buyers will show the signs of buying but will not buy at all. Gallerists may not do any show this year but will have talk shows in their galleries.

Cancer (June 22- July 22): Cancerians are going to have a very tough time in this year as they are fickle in nature but they are going to be really productive. There will be a lot of changes in the mediums and the artists are going to try from oil on canvases to installations, from digital photography to performance art. They keep strong resentment for the critics and their anger cannot be contained. This will be a negative point in 2016 because they are going to be neglected by the critics and gallerists. But they need not lose hope;  they are good workers and good team members. They could get chance to work as volunteers in bigger projects like Kochi-Muziris Biennale and so on. The curators benefit in this year because there are so many projects coming up and all of them need interns. Critics will find it difficult to figure out whether they should side conventional art or cutting edge art. Gallerists will remain mostly in the angry mode. Buyers will show resentment towards those who buy art. 

Leo (July 23-August 23): Born under Leo, the artists are generally schemers and doers. Driven by ego if they get into the making of anything, they will stop only after finishing it. Determined to the core these artists do not think much about the consequences of their doings even if those would scar them permanently. 2016 seems to be a good year for the Leo artists for they could get a lot of chance to work on different projects in different places. Critical acclamation would come to them but often the benefit will be reaped by others. Leo’s could harm other artists also as they have this snatching quality. But they do care about the people who stick to them and at the same time they could just change their colors depending on the situations. Leo artists are going to make some money through fair and unfair means this year. Love life is aspirational and dreamy. Health may give trouble at times. Month of December seems to be crucial for the Leo born artists. Some artists might stop doing art completely and turn to managing art. Critics will not know what to do this year. Gallerists will wander like lost souls. Buyers will visit a lot of art fairs.

Virgo (August 24-September 23): Virgo artists are going to be stable in their art even if they are not going to make much money out of it. But as their primary concern is not money but relationships they remain happy with their families and gallery relationships. Even if galleries reject them outright they will show their loyalty intact. They will show symptoms of being intellectual but throughout the year they will be confused about their future. Do not worry as you are not worried about money or fame and have a lot of patience your confusion is going to pay for you eventually. Love life is stable and as cold as usual. Critics also will remain confused and will attend many writing workshops instead of spending time in real writing. To make themselves feel good they will hit the social media with photographs of themselves sitting at their computer and ‘writing’. Gallerists, like the artists also will remain intellectual and confused alike. Buyers will go out with a lot of clarity and come back in confusion after seeing works or exhibitions.

Libra (September 24-October 23): Librans are called ‘cold Librans’ because they are so balanced that even a balance will fail before their balance. They are good hosts and hostesses so most of the artists born under this star are going to spend more time in shopping and in kitchen. That means they are going to throw parties; which means a lot of success in the market. They are friendly people and they can keep people in good mood. Hence their success is going to be depended on how charming they are to the gallerists and to the curators and buyers. It does not mean anything; charming means they could charm with their personal behavior more than with their works. As they are balanced people they have this tremendous patience to work on something consistently. They may not be prolific but will get noticed for the limited number of works that they have done. This is year looks like dull for the love smitten people because even if you are charming the winner of that hand will be one of them in your audience. You walk back to your home alone. Health will be okay and lot of exercise by hand is seen in chart. Critics should keep a distance as their forearms are going to be strong. Gallerists also will remain balanced between conventional and cutting edge. Buyers will keep checking their bank balance before they set out to see a show.

Scorpio (October 24-November 22): Medium says that Scorpio born artists are vindictive, jealous, moody and sadistic. They just cannot get along with Aries and Gemini. Hence, artists of this Zodiac sign should be vary of gallerists born to the abovementioned stars in the coming year. Though it sounds a bit negative, the characters of the Scorpio born are good for being an artist. Moodiness would give them enough time to think about the coming days and jealousy would keep them always in competition. But the problem is that their ability to feel happiness is all dependent on other people. Their sadistic nature is legendary so they can become good performance artists in 2016. Critics of this sign will find it difficult to make a presence for their moodiness and vindictiveness. They will turn masochists in their private journals. Gallerists of this sign are going to torture more and more young artists this year. Buyers and collectors show this trait by pushing a lot of works in the secondary market thereby destroying market for several artists. Love life seems to remain moody and cloudy. Health depends on your dietary plans. 

Sagittarius (November 23-December 21): There is good news for all forty plus self taught abstract artists who are born in this sign. Their spirituality or their belief that they are spiritual is going to help them in making a lot of abstract art that would be doled out for dirt cheap prices in highly paid stalls in the second rung art fairs. Artists born to this sign are very sincere and passionate about their art so that they often tend to listen keenly the words of the critic, respect it and toss it aside the moment the critic moves away from the vicinity. They pursue their will to make the kind of art they believe in therefore this year also would look the same for them. Most of the artists born to this sign would travel all over the country or all over the world on others’ money. Love life seems to be exotic than exciting. Health remains steady on tablets. Critics born under this sign should take care of their comments made on artists this year. Their spiritually inclined comments may not go well with aggressive artists. Gallerists will visit and spend time in international seminar venues and spiritual retreats with not much results. Buyers will look for figures in abstract art.

Capricorn (December 22- January 21): Capricorn is a Goat sign and they have this tendency to be perched on safe places with some amount of stubbornness. Artists born under this sign would refuse to change their style this year. Even if applying minor changes in their works and attitude could bring wonders for them, they being pessimistic about their future would remain wherever they are. That does not mean that these artists do not have any hope in 2016. Their very stubbornness will help them to make some serious art. Photographers born under this sign will come up with very interesting photographs of the Indian poor.  Most of the artists will remain shy and depend heavily on social media than approaching real galleries or critics. Art critics of this sign will be saying the same thing again and again for any kind of art shows or artists. Some of the art critics are even prone to some forgery of their own writings. They will simply change the names of the artist and give the same article for publishing in different magazines or catalogues. They will not be caught in the act as none reads art criticism. Gallerists would stick to their promotion of bad art in 2016. Buyers will look for gloomy art from contemporary artists and indulge in bulk buying. Love life seems to be more virtual and the spouses are prone to check their social media while in love positions. Health is satisfactory. 

Aquarius (January 22-February 19): Artists born under this sign are very peaceful and peace loving kind and they could be seen in the steps of Mandi House or Jehangir art gallery or places like that. They are sort of recluse though they have a lot of friends. Most of the artists are going to be public figures for the right or wrong reasons. They could engage with the like-minded people, that means, they could even keep complaining with a group of complaining artists. As they have an intellectual bend they prefer to hang out in places where artistic discourses take place over several cups of tea or coffee often paid by others. These artists are going to make a lot of words in air and a lot of works of art in mind. 2016 seems to be a very exciting year for them as it is going to be less expensive because of their abstinence from doing works of art. They want to spend more time in the mental realm. They will find their spouses from the same tribe and many divorces are also in the offing. Travel is on card mainly because they want to attend more and more debates. Critics will remain in their small towns waiting for the right opportunity sometime in 2020. Gallerists also will behave like intellectuals and ideate more than doing actual shows. Buyers also will do the same. The financial condition of everyone involved seems to be very stable in this year as every luxury is going to happen in the mental plane. Love life will be largely intellectual and health is notional and debatable. 

Pisces (February 20-March 20): Those artists who are born in this water sign are natural water colorists and they are going to find a lot of patrons in this year as lot of the people who can afford to buy a work of art prefer to keep something beautiful as conceptual art is turning more and more revolting these days. There is always a confusion with the artists who are born in this sign regarding their cusp status. Some of them believe that they are Arians happened to be in Pisces side and some believe that they are Aquarius tossed into this side. Anyway this confusion makes them very pleasing characters to both the sides and they become pleasant artists. Medium says that they are supposed to make good bartenders as they socialize well and no need to worry, sometimes doing art itself is a sort of bartending, serve the right thing in right measurement as per the demand, show some gimmick, keep a smile and later wipe the table clean with a smirk on the face. Artists are going to make a lot of money this year if not by doing art but doing some other work. Critics may turn abusive in their personal lives and appear very saintly in their writings. Gallerists, fearing their money will flow away in the running water, keep sitting at the shore wondering when to make the plunge. Buyers will swim like fish and enjoy buying. Love life is fishy. Health is fluctuating depending on lunar movement. 

Monday, December 28, 2015

Manual for Surviving in Contemporary Art World in India

For this title I am indebted to Pablo Helguera, the Mexico city born American artist based in New York who wrote ‘the Pablo Helguera Manual of Contemporary Art Style’ (2007). Helguera uses a lot of sarcasm and irony in order to explain how the art scene functions in big cities while he draws a parallel between the game of chess and the positioning of each player in the art world, right from the artist to the museum director. My idea however, is not to write something similar to it lampooning the existing art scene in India, on the contrary I would like to delineate how the life patterns of the artists could be changed or re-arranged in order to ‘survive’ in this dwindling market for the contemporary art products. Lucky are those who get enough scholarships and travel grants to spend a better part of their lives abroad and most of them by the time the bursaries are exhausted must have found spouses or applied for emigration in the host countries. But everyone is not lucky in that way.

So one has to survive here, in this country and one has to negotiate the curves along the roads of survival. Some people might take objection to this word ‘survival’ because they think that an artist speaking of his or her survival is something below their dignity. One can do art, sell it and find a decent life. If one is not able to sell the works, he or she could do some other job and survive; with a high sense of discipline one could do his or her work even when working in a field that does not allow one to be a full time artist. There is nothing wrong in performing two different roles in a single life provided both the roles do not clash each other making the peace of mind fly out through the window. I am not talking anything new here. One has to live a dignified life and art need not be a reason for anyone to struggle materialistically. But the question then is do people need to do art at all even if they have studied art and claim a place in the field of art or in its market? Can’t one maintain an artistic mind and live a contended life without any conflict?

I believe that one can life a very satisfactory life without doing art; but with an artistic mind which would allow a person to see the world not only in ‘cubes and triangles’ but also in all the possible colors and shapes, in harmony with nature. For that one has to kill the desire to be an artist in him or her. It may sound a bit blasphemous for many people, especially when it is coming from an art critic. The killing of that desire has to be absolute and with the death of that desire one should give birth to a person who has an artistic outlook so that he or she could see anything and everything in the world through the eyes of an ‘artist’. I have seen people in slums keeping their one room living set up so clean, ordered and aesthetically appealing not because they want to be artists but because they have the sense of harmony that the artists generally have. In fact most of the people have this harmony in them but the problem is that all want to express it in some medium and to be hailed as an artist. During the boom years, so many people who have almost discarded art from their lives have come back with a desire to be ‘artists’ and make some money in the market. I had taken a lot of pain to explain to those people in their advanced ages that an artist is not suddenly sprouted from a dormant seed but a seed which has always seen the world through the eyes of a tree than a seed.

This decimation of desire virtually helps most of the aspiring artists to come to terms with their artistic self. An artist remains an artist only when he or she no longer feels the desire to show or brag. When there is art, it is like a stream taking birth at the cracks in the rocks of a mountainside. It cannot stay there; at places it will be a spring, at other places it will be a river, and at some places it disappears into the innards of the earth only to resurface elsewhere with huge force and become a Ganga or Jamuna till it finds its resting place in the sea (I am reminded of Ruskin Bond’s thoughts of a river here). An artist is like that. If he or she is a true artist, whether he or she does art every day or once in a while, it cannot stop until it is seen or found by many people. One has to have the optimism but conceptual artists perhaps do not believe in it. I should leave them aside and walk along my path. Those people who want to be perpetually troubled, as they enjoy the state of being troubled, cannot be forced out of trouble; they are afraid of being natural. That means, even if you have killed your desire to be an artist, if you are an artist truly, then you will leave everything behind and become one. 

(Google CEO, Sundar Pichai)

Jiddu Krishnamurty was asked what would have happened to him if he was not found out by Leadbeater and Annie Beasant from the costal Andhra Pradesh; he said, I would have continued what I am doing today in that costal village but in a different way. Sundar Pichai, the Google CEO, in his recent visit to Delhi, while answering to a similar question told the college students that if he was not selected as the Google CEO, he would have done the same work, may be in Chennai or in some other part of the world. So it does not matter where you are and what you are; if you are an artist, you will remain an artist. But an artist need not necessarily make works and force it on people through exhibitions. One could be a good art lover and by that one could be a good human being and that is the need of the time. Coming back to the river analogy, I would like to say that most of the artists who find everything conflicting in their lives, is because they seek acknowledgement, recognition and material success through art. In that case art is a vehicle for them to satisfy their needs which are extraneous to art. I do not intend to say that art should not bring money for the artist. Art should definitely help the artist out if it is worthy enough to be sold as a covetable object in the market and there are takers for it.

 (Yoko Ono, celebrity artist)

We need more artistic people who live (with) artistic ideas than artists who make works of art for the sake of exhibiting and making money. Once you have resolved this conflict and decide to live an artistic life then definitely things are going to get better not only for yourself but also for the world. Once you start living an artistic life, you immediately realize that what you have been desiring till date is no longer necessary even for your life. The moment you realize that you need not prove anything to anybody or your artistic worth to anybody, then all the efforts to please the galleries, curators, critics and so on become absolutely useless. You can go to your work and if you have a studio you can go there, sit there and work. As I already said, you need to find money to eke out a living. You cannot just starve yourself or your family. You need to work for your money. But then there are so many things that you can remove from your life slowly. The desire to have houses, many air conditioners, many cars, many clothes and everything in excess will slowly subside. One can live with minimum facilities. One need not drop their children to the bus stop by car or scooter only. Children can walk. One need not eat out. One need not shop for no reason.

 (The Guitarist- Picasso)

You may say the world will become very boring if you start living like that. First of all, I am asking one to leave art and then every luxuries of life. But remember we are all not here to pay our debts. We are here to live too. From my personal experience I have learnt that one could live happily with everything minimum. The idea of enjoyment that we get through consumption, recognition, fame, money, many flats and apartments etc is a huge falsehood. There is no problem if you have many houses and many cars. But you will have to realize that you cannot live in all the houses at once. You cannot travel in two different cars at the same time. You can live in different houses at different times and travel in different cars at different times but life is not always tuned to enjoy things in that way. Life has been made easy by technology only thing is that we as human beings have misunderstood technology. We use technology to complicate our lives. Apps are made to make things convenient but it does not make someone to order breakfast, lunch, dinner all from outside. Smart phones are supposed to liberate human beings from the amount of ‘toiling’ time but people have become slaves to the very tool which has come as a tool of liberation.

Artists are not different from common human beings. They too have to understand this basic factor that nothing matters. Nobody has ever asked the brand of the suits that Picasso wore or the kind of vehicles that Vangogh travelled in. Nobody asked whether Da Vinci ate Pizza or he made his bread and soup all by himself. Nobody even care whether they people used to take bath every day. In that case what worldly glory are we looking for through our art? Nobody is going to miss us or our art. The best way is to let the art happen in us and that will help us to be artistic that artist like. As we approach the fag end of 2015, my humble suggestion is here that please do not force yourself to be an artist. Just let the art happen. It will flow like a river even if you are doing conceptual art. Till then live an artistic life and once you live that you don’t even feel like going out of your studio. 

Sunday, December 27, 2015

Imagining a New Art Patronage by the New Year

(Subodh Gupta- image is for illustration purpose only)

Towards the end of the year 2015, most of us feel the quickness with which the year has passed right in front of our eyes. Many of us have not even forgotten the excitement that we had felt or the loneliness that we had experienced towards the fag end of 2014. We thought 2015 will stay a little longer but it has faded like a dream from the waking memories of a human being. This article is not intended to any kind of stock taking, which perhaps I would do in the coming days. What I really want to talk here is about the lives of our artists in general. As the years pass by we, the people in the Indian art scene grow a bit wiser or that is what all of us think that we should be doing. But are we? In the age of communication technology that grows leaps and bounds by day and by night, art people too have drifted apart. If people are sticking together it is just for keeping what is left intact; the fear of losing it is very evident everywhere. I hardly see a happy artist. Each one is seeking something that they themselves do not understand. And do they really find what they have been seeking? In 2008 September, one of the biggest financial services firm in the US, Lehman Brothers declared itself bankrupt which sent shockwaves all across the world crashing many markets including the art market which was in the upswing. It took a couple of years more for the aftershocks of it to reflect in Indian art market. The brave posturing was over by 2010 and the complexion of the contemporary art scene completely, perhaps, irrevocably.

 (Young artists at Khoj Peer workshop- image from Khoj website-illustration purpose only)

Five years have passed since then. I have not heard the name of one single artist who has made a strong impact in our art scene. It does not mean that the young artists are not working anymore. Somehow they are not showcased or not even looked at by the promoting agencies. There is a careful treading on the tight ropes that all these galleries have been walking since the collapse of the market, rightfully so. Nobody will insist that the galleries should put stake their wealth in order to promote the career of unheard and new artists, who once were the toast of the parties during the boom years. I am told that many have lost faith in the art scene and have migrated to other fields in order to eke out a living. And one will be surprised to see that this has happened in a big way in Baroda, which in fact had been the breeding pond for the gold fish amongst the new artists. Recently I had an opportunity to talk with a couple of young art students from a very reputed private university in NOIDA and to my surprise both the kids told me that they did not have any clue what they would next once they come out of the university as fresh fine arts post graduates. To my shock, one of them told me that she would perhaps become a drawing teacher. It is sad that these children are spoon fed with dreams and high hopes about the kind of art that are basically not skills based but idea based. They move around in the cutting edge art circles, most of which are foreign funded and wonder whether they could ever make it in their life time. The boys and girls coming from small towns to study in big town universities go back completely confused and dejected.

(Collapse of the Lehman Brother in 2008)

There is no dearth of lip service when it comes to the saving of the youngsters from some sort of impending doom. Senior artists as well as the established mid-career artists look almost like saints par excellence when they speak about the plights of the younger generation and their intention to help them out to do something. But it is quite human that nobody would make space for the youngsters unless and until they prove their worth and catch the space away from the already established ones. Look at the Indian cinema, both in Bollywood and in the regional cinema you could see still the market is ruled by the fifty plus artists. They are not going to make space for the younger lot; in fact there is a hidden competition between them. In the Indian art scene too, we see the lack of promotion for the younger lot from the senior and established ones. And expecting them to promote the youngsters is also not so ethical because the seniors and established ones have come to that place or come to occupy that space through sheer grit and hard work. Are the young generation artists ready to do that? The fact is most of the youngsters take a short cut. I have seen a few talented artists shifting the course to become performance artists and cutting edge artists. There is no problem if somebody becomes a performance artist. But the problem is whether the existing hierarchy within that genre of art would ever allow him or her to grow bigger and carve out his or her space in that field?

 (India Art Fair)

In my view, there are three kinds of young artists (I am just keeping the established youngsters out of this discussion); one, the artists who are terribly conventional and even when they are in big cities prefer to maintain their regional and small town identities. Two, the artists who are extremely cosmopolitan and highly visible in the cutting edge art circuits. Three, the artists who have had shows during the boom time but still are not in the success bracket and they too are very much visible. When 2015 is going to come to a close, I am really curious about the fate of these three different kinds of artists. The first lot is definitely going to survive because they are not really there for a competition or conquest. They just want to survive as artists and if they could manage to sell a few works every year they are happy with it. They do not have any problem to operate from a remote Jharkhand town or from Mumbai or Delhi. The second lot is full of those artists who want to be at the right place at the right time and to be with the right kind of people so that they feel good about what they are doing. May be this is a process of growing up in the big cities’ dirty art climate. There must be a fair amount seasoning happening in this. But unfortunately, these artists are heard only through certain channels and also not for their works but for their being there. The third lot is the most pathetic lot. They have had their share glory and page three space during the boom time. They were seen and shown with the happening and established artists but today they are just left on the way side. The bus has gone but they are still waiting. What distinguishes the third lot from the second lot is our ability to recognize them by face or name while the second lot largely remains obscure.

 (Why can't they be the new patrons of art with the trap of 1990s. picture for illustration only)

This is a very sad state of affair. The galleries, though I have exempted them from the responsibility of promoting the second and the third lot of artists, there should be some kind of a social responsibility to be shown by these galleries. The galleries are real weathervanes. Depending on what is sold they change their track. Not a single gallery could stand away from this blame. Fortunate are those galleries that have already established their position as agencies that promote only a minimum set of artists. We cannot complaint about them. They may be working with maximum ten artists or a bit more permutations and combinations with other galleries for the business sake. As they have taken that position, nobody can point a finger at them because what they would like to promote, they promote it with a lot of focus. But there is a medium level of galleries (they are more in number) that enjoy the good will of both the specialist galleries and the ‘commercial galleries’ at the lower rung alike. These medium level galleries promote all what is fashionable and they would drop the artists like hot potatoes during the time of adversities. It is literally crime. Either you should not pick up all and sundry or you stick to all those artists you have taken on board, giving them chances on a rotational basis. These galleries behave so funnily; if someone says this or that curator is good, they all will run behind that curator, if someone says this or that medium is catching up, they will go behind that and all these times, they remain in limelight and enjoy good will as serious galleries because the interests of the serious galleries are also partially served by these medium level galleries. During the last ten years we have seen curators from different countries coming here doing shows from Kochi to Kashmir and all the places fall in between and disappearing forever. We have seen curators displaying works of art on the ceiling even just for the heck of it (or they say that’s the new way of seeing art. I wonder whether these curators would ever display a work at the ceiling in their homes) and vanishing into thin air. We have seen galleries suddenly going retro and rural. But all have done injustice to the art scene in India.

 (from an auction. Picture for illustration only)

What could be done? I believe we need to wake up to a dawn of new age art patronage. The high end galleries and the auction houses have proved beyond doubt that they are here for the ageing and dead artists. They are here for auctioning the vintage. They are here for auctioning the weight of history created by the life and times of the artists around his or her works. If you really look at the names and works of these artists who periodically appear in the auctions and reap phenomenal prices, we understand that they have never been in the success bracket till their very ripe age. Lucky are those who have managed a decent and dignified life during their younger days. And also we should see the emerging pattern of these auctions. There seems to be a workshop in heaven where all the dead artists are still working at the behest of the collectors and dealers down here. So we do not know when this incessant stream of works of the moderns would ever end if at all it should. The emerging pattern shows that these people pick and choose those artists who have reached certain age. As far as the auction houses are concerned, whatever you say, it is history, only history that makes sense. So what about the young and the established mid-career artists? They should really work or their lives should be cut short. Which one would you prefer?

 (Shall it be applicable to art too?)

I am sure that most of the artists would prefer to live and work even if it is a bit cumbersome. The very idea of success in the art market should change and also a new age patronage should evolve. The developing stories tell us that artists are not really sublime characters. However, we have to make sure that the artists should live and work and they should live a dignified life and work decently. They need patronage. That means the new and emerging rich class should look around through their eyes not really using the help of the galleries as the only way to reach out to the right kind of art, and see a lot of artists who need support. The rich class should not think (unlike in the late 1990s) they are investing in art. Instead they should think that they are participating in the making of art and culture of this fast developing country. Over the social media interfaces and other connecting platforms, they could come across a lot of interesting artists and art works. This takes a lot of resolution and sense of responsibility and pride. What we need is the will power to promote art. I am not saying that there should be an effort though not organized, to undercut the role of the galleries. Let the galleries function or reform their functioning in the emerging scenario of new age patronage. It is possible. But only thing that I want to warn is that sourcing works of art over internet could be a bit tedious and less satisfying. It is where they need to look at the writings of the art critics and art writers, who would be following the artists sincerely and writing about them. Just do not believe the so called art consultants who by virtue of their wealth and access have made a career out of sophistication than real knowledge. When Mr.Modi speaks of Make in India, we need to see the real message behind it beyond the ideological issues. We should be proud of the art ‘made in India’ both in thinking and in executing. It should not be a western import as it has been for a long time. And also the skills of the Indian artists should not be left unused by favoring too much of conceptual art. We need both conceptual and skills based art. There should be a day when both skill and concept would go hand in hand in the Indian art scene and the world will sit up and take a note of the emerging Indian art. 

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Appetite for Revolution: The Art of Manil-Rohit


‘Appetite for Revolution’, a solo exhibition by the artists duo, Manil-Rohit at the Art District XIII, Lado Sarai, New Delhi signals a huge paradigm shift as far as the very idea of revolution is concerned. When the bearded youth rolled into the streets of Havana from the forests, people were literally thirsty and hungry for revolution. World emulated the rustic boys’ arrival both successfully and unsuccessfully in different settings and scenarios elsewhere. Each time when revolution raised its bodies clad in olive green uniforms from behind the bushes, rocks and forest hide outs, people safe in their homes back in towns and villages felt the ‘hunger and thirst’ for ‘it’, the revolution. In 21st century, with revolution becoming a thing of social media and once in a while in some city squares, the parlance has changed considerably. Now people have ‘appetite’ for revolution. As Sainath titles one of his books, ‘Everybody Loves a Good Drought’, in our present times everybody seems to have a good ‘appetite’ for a revolution. It gives away the feeling of a chunk of revolution, well marinated, grilled and sprinkled with salt and pepper, also with some salad for dressing, served before a lip smacking group mildly high on the best red wine available. The irony is sharp, salty and peppery, and of course tasty too.

Manil-Rohit plays up this irony in its shrillest pitch possible when they title their show as ‘Appetite for Revolution’ and serves before an art crowd that is mildly high on its own fakeness and pomposity. The show has works of this duo from 2011 to now and one could see how they have slowly perfected their ‘appetite’ for the glittering and sizzling language of the common and vulgar advertisements that we see right from the shop of the bone setter, tiny little shops that sell pirated software, malls that keep decking themselves up throughout the year like ageing street walkers who are about to be out of business to the tent houses and marriage barat bands. I am very particular in saying this because most of the people misinterpret the works of this duo as having the language of the high gloss advertisements of the classy products afforded only by the rich and the affluent only because one of these artists, Manil (Gupta) has an educational background in the Applied Arts. There are artists who hail from the applied arts background and do well in the fine arts scene too; for example Tukral and Tagra. From museology we have L.N.Tallur, who sticks to his educational training in the selection of objects and subjects.

(R.O.I, 2015)

Manil-Rohit has understood this catch, which I do not want to call as ‘trap’. They have overcome this expectation of the art lovers or curators by pushing the sophisticated language of the high gloss advertisements to the local and the popular, which are jarringly decorative and crowded with each element screaming out for attention. Except in a few canvases in rest of them we could see the chaos of images but eventually making a sense of their own following the logic of the erratic. Manil-Rohit gives intelligent clues via the images and metaphors that they use within the painting; at times they may be the sperm shoots with arrows, or tubular structures flowing out from the surrealistic machines and so on. One could follow these clever directions to reach the narrative epicenter, though there is logical narrative in them. What we witness through these tracing of lines by our eyes is the worlds that apparently look like chaotic in a glittering way have some kind of meaning to make. The dominant imagery, which has erotic and sexual orientation, besides having an affinity for the semblance of female or male genitals, comes to assume certain meaning underlining very pertinent social issues.

One perhaps really does expect a social issue from this kind of paintings that could be passed off as visual objects produced during the times of global market and senseless celebration of success. But Manil-Rohit moves slightly away from this generic view and the keen eyes could see how the overtly sexual but equally comical imageries pointing at the female foeticide issue in our country. There are little slogans, exactly like the bills pasted on the electric poles in the streets that talk about the difficulty of a sperm in reaching its egg and fertilizing and somewhere suddenly we come to know that the artists are talking about the difficulties of a female child to be born in this earth, especially in our country. As the artists are not using a particular geography or topography to place their characters, we cannot say that the story that unravels in these canvases speak about the people or things in a particular country. It is as important as going from the local to the global and coming back to the local from the global. In the case of Manil-Rohit, they often come to the local from a global scenario using a visual methodology which is very urban therefore global.

 (The Rigged Lottery, 2013)

If you ask me whether Manil-Rohit paints these canvases and ply boards with a specific idea of creating a meaning repertoire, I will definitely say that their works are spontaneous in execution except for the figure studies and the placement of those figures within the scheme and design of the painting. The surfaces evolve in some sort of a play between these brothers who in a way frolic and tease each other and at times outwit each other in throwing the paints on the surfaces. Then one of them takes over the canvas and starts with the basic placement of elements; then once again the play starts automatically when the other intervenes with his contribution of figures. It is a very difficult process and definitely the control is mostly with the senior of the duo, Manil who basically performs not only as a collaborator but also as a control knob. However, as the play goes on they find out the purpose and mission of the painting at some stage and meaning starts developing.

The consciousness about the meanings that they create and carefully hide (as if they just do not want to be seen as ‘serious’ artists) in these canvases at times burdens these artists and they are forced to go for the well balanced and symmetrically sustaining images and in these they are all the more interested speaking about the kind of ‘intolerance’ that has been going on in our country for the last few years. Though there is no criticism leveled particularly against anybody or any political outfit, as socially and politically conscious viewers we could identify where exactly their criticisms are leveled at. The Cow Protections, Ghar Vapsi and the overt importance given to the mythological characters etc become the points of references in their canvases. It is not quite right to pin point each of such metaphors and elaborate upon their political as well critical connotations. Rather I would limit myself in saying that they are typically Manil-Rohit as they raise critical points through the language of a contemporary folklore. One has to have intelligent visual training to discern them. One of the paintings titled ‘The Chronicles of Sitafal’ (2013), which happened to be a controversial painting at the Pune Biennale in February 2015, curated by me. Perhaps, this is one painting in Indian history, which was banished and transported out of a city of its exhibition fearing that it would hurt the sentiments of the city dwellers!

(Manil Gupta with his wife Aditi Khurana)

In the present exhibition, Manil-Rohit profusely uses the images of eyes and female genitals. While the eyes are directly referred, female genitals are suggestions but really intended to be those erotic/sexual organs. The predominance of the eye imagery, which at times assume the anthropomorphic forms and walk erectly around, at times dart sperms at a vaginal opening, at times become an integral part of the design of the painting itself and at times constitute the body of the sculptures cannot be ignored. Eye, when read along with the history of erotic art and erotic literature or rather its erotic reference in secular literature and art takes us to the realm of too many complicated psychological conditions. Eyes are liked to vaginal openings. Eyes, titled and seen almost look like human vagina. When in 1866, Gustav Courbet painted the ‘Origin of the World’, the imagery that he selected was a close up of a hairy vagina. Perhaps, this was the first portrait of a vagina giving it a very special identity (much before the feminist artists like Judy Chicago attempted giving it iconic status) and it was an ‘eye’ opened towards the world. Georges Bataille in 1928 wrote the ‘Story of the Eye’, a complete erotic narrative delineating the sexual perversions of a few teenagers. However, in his study of this work, Roland Barthes (The Metaphor of Eye- 1972) says that eye is not just an eye, but many things including the thingness of eyes, which would transform into various metaphors suggesting both erotic zones and zones of fear of castration.

Though we can say that Manil-Rohit, when paints and sculpts too many eyes in the latest body of their works, they are not only suggesting all those erotic things possibly related to the metaphor but also the predominant presence of the ‘big brother’ (as in George Orwell’s 1984) who keeps watching all the subjects 24x7x365. We have to live with this big brother watching and interestingly we all too replicate eyes of surveillance with our mobile phone cameras. It is not just about the CCTVs present in the streets, offices and even in washrooms (prophetically Chaplin showed it in his film Modern Times- 1936) but more about our willingness to be passive eyes that document but do not respond. This documentation becomes a sort of displaced eroticism which amounts to cruelty and displaced cannibalism. Two incidents recently reported cite how this cannibalistic eroticism has come to manifest in our daily lives even without us ‘meaning ‘ it. Recently there was an army plane crash in Delhi and the people who rushed to the accident spot kept on clicking selfies with a burning plane behind and burning human bodies inside it. One of the most horrendous incidents reported is the death of a scooter rider in a busy Delhi-Jaipur highway where the dead body of the scooter rider was run over many times by several vehicles, mangling it into several pieces while the cars in the other lanes stopped to take pictures of this horrible incident.

 (from Manil-Rohit show at the Art District XIII)

Manil-Rohit points their fingers at this kind of reality that we are living today. The eyes in their works are to be seen with the ‘eyes’ of such discernment otherwise they also would be seen like the celebration of eyes rather than the critique of it. In the name democracy and in the name of freedom of using tools of communication and in the name of freedom of speech we have come to develop a character which is lined with indiscretion and irresponsibility. Manil-Rohit paints that world with due irony and sarcasm. I am not here a judge to say whether they too are drunk by the power of their eyes; but as far as I am concerned and my critical views goad me, I would say that their selection of language and the critique are to be recognized in this context and read from this discursive platform.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Those Good Old Greeting Cards

There are a few things in our world whose beauty and tenderness increase as they become cheaper and simpler. Human beings are the foremost examples of this view though many of them do not really believe so. Look at the vintage furniture; they are beautiful, tender because they are simpler. But unfortunately, anything that becomes a vintage item automatically becomes costlier. In my view there are a few things that are still elegant of which I will count an ordinary cycle, clay pots for cooking, an ordinary sewing machine, good old glass bottles and so on as simpler, cheaper therefore beautiful and tender. But I am not going to talk about these things. Instead, I would tell something that has gone out of fashion along with snail mail and STD telephone booths. Its name is a ‘greeting card’.

Greeting cards used to become an important item in the wish list of the school and college going students during the month of December. Christmas and the New Year Eve fall in this month and is an occasion to have a few holidays for most of the students as well as working people. Greeting cards also used to play a major role during the wedding anniversaries, birthdays and also during the Valentine Day celebrations. Before the advent of internet and now the social media and communicating apps there used to be a time when people exchanged greeting cards when they wanted to share a feeling or a message. During the wedding anniversaries and birthdays, people opted to buy very decorative and expensive cards. Valentine’s Day necessitated a bit more fancy cards because it was one of the mediums through which people made their love visible and it had to be tender, fanciful and expensive.

 In our days in schools and colleges, we used to hunt for the cheapest and the simplest looking cards which expressed the same sentiments (so brittle, poetic and over sentimental) that we carried. We were not married so the wedding anniversary cards were not really looked at. To say the truth we did not have anybody to give a wedding card except for our parents who usually were not in the right mood to celebrate their own wedding anniversary. (When I look at those photographs of parents posted by the facebook members remembering their wedding anniversaries, I have this funny feeling to ask them whether they themselves ever remembered their wedding anniversary. Now people scramble through their old chests to find worth posting in the Facebook). Hence, our need for greetings cards arose only when December came.

T.S.Eliot said, ‘April is the cruelest of months’ as the opening line of his magnum opus, Waste Land. We, students liked it for its prophetic nature because most of the exams fell in the month of April. We attributed the month of December also to T.S.Eliot because in December, most of us for the first time felt the pangs of love and a prolonged separation from our love interest due to the impending holidays. Greeting cards were the only way to send across this feeling of pining for the beloved who in most of the cases remain oblivious of your hidden messages and untold love even after getting those cards with overtly sentimental poems and pictures. Anyway, December provided us with a chance to look at something beautiful pictorially and tender poetically.

With all our innocence we felt that the simplest cards conveyed the best emotions, directly, strongly and irrevocably. Those were pre-globalized days. Simplicity was the norm and people liked someone simple and straight forward. If someone wore fashionable clothes we called him or her pompous and vain. This social perception might have affected our aesthetics too. We shunned all kinds of decorated greeting cards. Simple and beautiful were our mantra. Simplicity was defined not only by the cost of it but also by the size of it. Cheaper greeting cards were five or six inches big and the standard size of it assured lesser postal charges. Ah..I forgot to tell you that even if the addressee is a classmate you always took the help of the Indian Postal Service. It should be posted. And you know, if you paste the envelope the stamp charges would be more. When you leave it open it is called ‘book post’. When you send a greeting card to an ordinary friend, you send it as book post. If the contains the dreams of your nights and the poems of your deformed imaginations, then you might skip a few cups evening tea or even starve for a day to save enough money to buy enough stamps to send the cover sealed.

It is absolutely a bliss to shop for the cheap and ‘meaningful’ greeting cards. Generally you don’t tell your friends that you are going to shop for greeting cards and eventually you may meet most of your classmates looking for the same kind of cards in the same shop though all of you know that you are going to get those very same cards from those friends. It becomes a sort of cherry picking for fun. You could really exchange it there itself but you have to go through all those rituals of adding a few extra lines oozing with immature love and also you feel the need to add the sighs, the tear drops (a few lines will be deliberately smudged with carefully plopped water drops). Often the pictures are either of a scenery, a landscape, a shepherd is a must, a flock sheep, a very cute girl child in her polka dotted frock sitting under a tree, a pair of foreign kids holding hands and walking into the sun, a pair of parrots locking beaks, silhouettes of a couple on a seashore etc. Each image is a volume condensed into that particular picture. When you don’t have anything to say to anyone but obliged to send a greeting card, you look for the normal nativity scene or Santa with a smile or a Happy New Year with some bells.

But the real ones are handmade and self-made!! Romantic, sentimental and slightly inclined to art and craft, these kind of people start collecting twigs, feathers, dry leaves, egg shells, buttons and anything that could go into a dust bin for almost a couple of weeks before the holidays begin. Then they start making it. The intensity here is not in the message but as Marshal McLuhan had said, the medium itself is the message. The passion and the pangs, love and the hidden meaning all should be read out from that handcrafted masterpiece masquerading as a greeting card. There will a few lines from Keats or Shelly or depending on the intelligence quotient of the maker and receiver there will be adequate sprinkling of Shakespeare, Bacon and Goethe (depending on the text books that you have finished so far). These collages contained a lot of glue apart from the passion of the maker. And do not take any of these greeting cards lightly. They all go into the drawers or diaries of these people only to be found out much later in life to have some moments of private embarrassment.  Cheap they really were but they were so meaningful. Today E-cards and GIFs (I still do not know what it means), videos and flash programs have replaced the good old greeting cards. I wish those cheap cards come back again to our lives.