Thursday, May 17, 2007

Thinking beyond criticism.....

For some, art is the reinterpretation and re-expression of the old. If you imagine such a world of art, it would be replete with endlessly reinterpreted, restructured, rehashed and quite simply, repeated works. If you want a symbol, think of a music album raised to the power of its infinite cover versions. Yes, not just the excruciating monotony, it would also be a kitschy charade?


Besides, what exactly is the re-interpretation referred to here? Undraping Gods and displaying them before an urinal? Going by such a definition, I can effectively reinterpret your father as a bastard, your mother as a whore and your God as a buffoon. I of course am an artist and therefore you should accept all that without any protest. And if you don’t, as some educated would like us believe, it is undemocratic and blatant infringement of right to expression. Excuse me, but did I miss something here?


We have never lost a chance to hide the fact that we are the largest democracy. What we have hid though is that we don’t understand democracy. Anyone, who had abhorred the civics text book as I did would remember that all duties come in the same page as that of rights. If you claim your rights as a subject of the state, you owe back certain promises in return to the state. One of the prominent is to be tolerant and sensible towards other beliefs and practices. And as I see, the instalments are far from being sensible. Also if you are into art you would appreciate it is neither original. Hate to sound discouraging but it is as dull as, well an, urinal. Oh Jesus! Duchamp would be turning in his toilet. Well, the aesthetic value of the art isnt the contention here. And value of any art is defined by perceptions.

Agreed that art is about perceptions. But religion isn’t. And if we come to believe that religion is redundant, so is mocking it or if you like basing your works on it as any artist would tell you. Mostly because many of us cant be bothered about religion anymore and those who seem bothered make sure that you are bothered as well. If it is hard to accept that, try asking any John cleese or Salman Rushdie or MF Husain or Martin Scorsese or Chris Ofili or Dan Brown or even the chap who sketched the illustrative cartoon. Or still better try it out yourself. But be prepared for a bit of thrill. Might take the form of mild protest to being chased across continents. Personally, I am not religious, well not in the sense of the word; I mean I can pass for a buddhist, when I am not publicly trying to kiss women I dont know without their consent. But seriously, what I can never understand is this urge to express oneself in religious motifs, especially when you yourself dont value religion, unless the intent is to spoof in which case it readily offers an universal platform to which populations are pre-acquainted. But then it has a flipside too, one has to be prepared to face or dodge both the brickbats and bouquets, as one man's spoof can be easily another's suffering and the line between is so thin, that it isnt visible at times.

But broadly, religion in art, more so in these times, is a topic which I sincerely believe should be discussed in art schools either theoretically or in corridor conversations for which art schools are so reputed for; had it been openly discussed, then such misguided, misencouraged, though na├»ve instances wouldn’t have happened. Else he, (sorry ladies) shall be seen
mistaking religion as mythology and essentially ending up disowning his works. Hello there! Could someone take him for a drink and explain that a Holy cross before an urinal isn't mythology ? I am glad it isn’t illegal to claim innocence. However, after all that, if someone still insists on choosing that motif ie religion, toilet and nudity then he, - okay you feminists, she, alone is accountable for it. Neither his faculty nor her university.

Followingly, regardless of wherever it was exhibited and to whatever purpose, the office had no business defending the artist. I mean his art per se. In our haste to defend art we have apparently made a few assumptions, like for instance, how do we know that the seemingly innocous portrayal isnt meant to be offensive or that the artist produced the work in sound mind ? Furthermore, you would have to be from a distant galaxy to believe that the whole issue had to do with only art and its expression. It would be as puerile like believing that we all discontinued nuclear proliferation because someone wrote a song about hazards of the bomb to sell their album. Patently, going by the reports of repeated refusal by the staff to obey as well as the counter exhibition of the ancient nudes by the students it is apparent that all of it is quite emotional and perhaps even personal. Both of which doesn’t help to solve the issue at hand. By being adamant of being correct and liberal, whatever that means, we are not only undermining others' right to their sensibilities but also reflecting a bad display of taste. And in the midst of it all, torn and traumatised between two different schools, would be, sadly a young, perhaps even talented artist unable to get his head around it. That is the most disheartening piece of it all.


All that has been written to highlight why I do not agree with this insane idea we seem to foster that by being an artist you have unbound freedom to express yourself in whatever means that pleases you. In effect I have sought to separate the right to art defence vis a vis imprisonment. And also to state my concerns about our instant tendency to label any such protest as undemocratic or curtailing freedom of being oneself without even sparing a moment 's thought. Personally as implied earlier, I do not recognise it as art and even if I do, it is just down there level with the art of making and burning effigies. And I certainly do not endorse that all art by default has to be immediately defended against rest of the world. That would only mean ending up making the same mistake we accuse others of ie not being perceptive to perspectives.



But having said all that it isn’t hard to understand the indignation brought about by, to use an Indian phrase, the way in which all this seem to have allegedly happened. The imprisonment and the events leading to it is something one cant be proud of but it has to be clearly excluded from the right to art factor. Speaking of imprisonment as such, I do not feel like going on about how much all of it is sad and unacceptable. That is mainly because I see the response as cultural. If you add a bit of restricted world-view and a sense of power, the imprisonment isnt all that unimaginable. In fact, it fits in quite perfectly. We burn buses at slightest provocation, we go on strike at whim , our players speak against their coach in public whilst in office, we counterprotest by being deliberately provocative and we have long history of violence inherent in our politics, even blogging; and for all the high falutin talk, us, the so called educated, are incapable to think beyond linking each other's posts and fuming at the failure of democracy before our keyboards at every such possible incident. We all, just blame one another.

I do not mean to minimise it all by being dismissive of the event; but first, let’s honestly look at ourselves. During few of these days we expend our verbiage on people in whose worlds our words have no presence, let alone meaning. And give a few more days; we would be back to our blogs, business and being generally proud of our post-modern conscience writing our movie reviews that our education has endowed us to, all until we chance upon to write again how ridiculous it all is.

These people, this world.

We arent one among them. We are different of course. We follow a pattern, a different one. Go to google and search for any of these issues: MMS scandal, Kareena Shahid Kapoor kiss, Shilpa Shetty racism, Da vinci code Delhi controversy, blogspot ban, Gandhi on youtube, Richard Gere Shilpa Shetty (oh yes) kiss etc, you would end up with a collection of snobbish looking templates heavier than War and Peace. Not once anywhere has there been a suggestion or any attempt to prevent such a incident again. Not even on any scale.


Simply, nothing has happened. We survive, we live. We blog.

No wonder, that in the last hundred years the sum total of all the original ideas we put forth are- Two: Non violent non cooperation and Jaipur foot!

Evidently we are just poncing about, deriving comfort in our English. Our views. Ourselves really.

Probably there is a reason for it all: We quite simply do not know beyond that.

Unless we get out of our new found post-modern elitism and cease regarding others: self appointed moral policers, nut-wingers, rightists, religious goons, this and that, whoever for however disagreeable they are for whatever reasons and take us all as one whole single unit, we shall only be speaking for ourselves. So, by implication we do not have any right to speak for a country. Which means, in other words, we shall be unable to look into solving these issues, by whatever means. That is the bigger shame.

Before us would be, two options, firstly, if we see ourselves as an elitist cohort exclusive of the rest of the citizens of our country, then we simply have to shut up this self-patting culture of blame blogs which we very well know only we ourselves read.

Secondly, if we take to see ourselves as a part of all these, then, I am certain we wouldn’t be writing any of these blogs.

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PS-Know what? I marvel at my own ability to motivate myself when it comes to responding to such incidents and subsequent Indian blogorrhea. Although I insist on not being patriotic, I cannot deny being a scoundrel.