Reflections of JOHNYML on the latest issue of
Art India-The Arts News Magazine of India (Quarter 2, 2002)

"I am ready to die/get killed for keeping the revolutionary spirit of art intact"
"It Takes a Revolution to Make a Resolution"
"If you wanna live treat me good. I am like a cutting razor don't you watch my size I am dangerous"

As far as the social life is concerned, we Indians are passing through a very bad phase. We have willingly suspended our ability for the willing suspension of disbelief, a capacity that takes one from the commonsensical logic to the sublimation of senses. Now we have only beliefs. We have forgotten to doubt. We have found out the `other'. So we have more and more communal riots. We believe in the absence of a government. Governance is not an act of implementing commonsense. It has more to do with policymaking and law-enforcement. It needs an uncommon wisdom. When the rulers strike the path of commonsense and leave the routes of uncommon wisdom behind, the artists, poets, thinkers and philosophers start reacting to it. They wail for the prevalence of willing suspension of disbelief and uncommon wisdom. They do art.

However, can art bring in any social revolution? Doris Salcedo (b.1958), the Columbian artist who worked with the victims of the ongoing civil wars in her country says, "I know that art does not act directly, I know that I cannot save anybody's life, but art can keep ideas alive, ideas that can influence directly our everyday lives, our daily experiences." I would go with her opinion but with an addition: I would add, rhetoric, at the same, also would not help to redeem our lives. Rhetoric in art amounts to sentimentalism. What we need in art is the human content in terms of ideas, concepts and novel formalisms. Gerard Richter says, "I would like to have contents without sentimentality, but as human as possible."

The latest issue (quarter 2, 2002) of `Art India- The Art News Magazine of India' talks about the growing menace of communalism in Indian society. This art journal has almost become a window that opens to the contemporary art scene of India. Its position has been reiterated by the absence of other serious art journals published from any part of the country. Perhaps, the fact that the Art India journal is supported by the famous business house, Jindal Group is one of the reasons that it could stand against all odds and prove its worth in a short span of time. When a journal does not have worthy rivals and also when it mouths the most radical alternative voices, in due course of time it happens to have an authoritative presence. The opinions expressed by the journal are taken for near truths or altruism.

Here I make an attempt to deconstruct the contents of the latest issue of the journal `Art India'. A pair of keen ears can listen the wailing sounds of the president of the group, Ms.Sangita Jindal and the editor Nancy Adajania. Sangita Jindal rehashes the words and phrases from an article written on Gujarat by Harsh Mander. Jindal laments on the carnage and asks with a lot of pain, `have we forgotten the ART OF HUMANITY?' A charcoal drawing by the noted artist Sudhir Patwardhan supports the piece of writing that assumes the form of a symbolist poem. Adajania is forced to take a virtual trip once again to her ancestral home in Gujarat and she writes about the good old days with a fair amount of nostalgia.

It is interesting to notice the indignant voice of the president and the nostalgic note of the editor. Nostalgia and moral angst have got more than one association. Both are tinged with a good amount of sepia color of pain. While talking about film and photography both Roland Barthes and Frederic Jameson have noticed how both these mediums are filled with death, nostalgia and pain (Camera Lucida by Barthes, Postmodern Debates edited by Simon Malpas). However, the poignancy that their words could have been evoked is marred by the rhetoric renderings of their writings. Adajania writes: "(This is more than just a localised pogrom). It is a war on India's secular democracy, conducted in the name of religion distorted beyond recognition by the ambition of politicians." But Adajania fails to understand one thing. The political rhetoric also uses the same words and phraseology for condemning such social disturbances. I strongly believe, Nancy Adajania, as the editor of an art journal, should have resorted to a different linguistic system that could scandalize the common rhetoric.

If we go by what Salcedo has said about the function of art in a society, we cannot intake the drawing by Sudhir Patwardhan, who interestingly has done a lot of works that show the lives of the common human beings. The ideas expressed by Patwardhan in his earlier paintings might have gone very well and deep into the collective consciousness of our society that's why I could see a print of one of his paintings in an unexpected corner of an office building in Delhi. Well, then what is the problem with his drawing that accompanies the `poem' by Sangita Jindal? Unfortunately, Patwardhan's drawing titled `Charred Man' becomes an illustration of the rhetoric expressed in the poem, thereby turning itself into a piece of rhetoric. Then it looks like a sentimental piece, three or four times away from the reality (not in the Platonic sense).

The loudness of this rhetoric continues in the following pages, mainly in two conversational pieces; one with Syed Hyder Raza and the other with Gulam Mohammed Sheikh. These two conversations are framed and focussed for a particular reason, it seems because both the artists in question are Muslims (read the representatives of the affected parties). Raza delineates how he tries to understand the spirit of all religion through understanding Hindu religion as a religious outsider. Meanwhile Sheikh reiterates his secular credentials through talking about the Kabir, the Sufi mystic. But somehow this emblematic approach indirectly repeats the age-old fallacy of our so-called-conventional secularism that gives a Hindu mystical sheen to all other religions only to prove that it is better than the other religions.

I quote from Raza: "I earnestly hope that Indian painters are working now and in the days to come explore our inexhaustible Indian sources instead of copying European contemporary trends. Our artists should come together to learn from our own traditions without going in for European fads like Sex art or installations. They should go to the villages and retrieve our indigenous art forms, techniques and images so that we develop these resources competently. I therefore hope in great earnest, that the younger generations of artists take our country and its great heritage more seriously in the years to come." (P.26-Abhay Sardesai with S.H.Raza).

So what should we understand from these words of Raza. What Indian tradition he is asking the youngsters to dig in? Buddhist? Jain? Mughal? Hindu? Or what? Abanindranath Tagore, at the turn of the last century, had tried the same project with the Mughal tradition. His student Nandalal Bose had carried on the project with the `local Kalams of erstwhile Hindu courts'. Jamini Roy also did his part with the local traditions. And as we know the nationalist project took new forms and the post-independence nation building projects adopted quasi-traditional and quasi-modern cultural policies. The disturbed seventies, rebellious eighties and global nineties discarded the Bengal style of traditional digging that Raza is trying to revive in the first decade of the twenty first century. He calls the European art Sex Art and Installations. And this comment is legitimized in the journal, as the interviewer raises no counter question. Raza and the editor of the journal do not look into the fact by legitimizing such a comment they are pulling the Indian contemporary art a hundred years back.

Ranjit Hoskote, one of the prominent curators and cultural critics in India, for the last few years has been suffering from one particular problem in his writings. Thanks to the demands of the market (also of the galleries, publishers etc) Hoskote is forced to write about certain artists without any discrimination. Hoskote is a writer with full of sincerity. So he approaches his subjects with a sense of integrity and passion. This makes him to justify their art using all of his linguistic might. But alas! Hoskote falters at each juncture as he artificially interprets the works of his subjects. He has to show high seriousness in his writings only to prove that his subjects are highly serious. He writes beautifully but his standing as a critic, his critique and his `too many loose ended' (R.Sivakumar on Geeta Kapur while reviewing her `When Was Modernism') articles contradict each other rendering Hoskote a `journalist in art criticism' (not an art critic in journalism).

Hoskote's journalistic enthusiasm is very much visible in the article titled `Shrouded Angels' on Mehlli Gobhai (Art India Magazine-P28). Gobhai, as his works show is purely a high modernist of the Rothko School and the artist does not seem to claim anything more than that also. But Hoskote, in his three-part article tries to `creatively' justify Gobhai's art. The first part introduces the artist and his historical context. And the third part vivifies the techniques used by the artist. Now the second part is the most interesting section.

Taking the high modernist Greenbergian stance Hoskote writes: "Gobhai's works address a specific formal problem: the split between surface and structure that is a defining characteristic of much modern painting. After the pictorial revolutions of Cubism and abstractionism, it was no longer possible to pretend that surface and structure could unproblematically be melded in the production of a representational picture space." This one can understand as we know how Clement Greenberg had discarded the illusionistic space from the picture format and emphasized the need for a two dimensional space through which only the `intellect' can take a walk. Hoskote also knows very well how the artists of the high modernist abstract expressionist school abandoned the `production of a representational space'.

However, after making a bit of sense Hoskote falls in his own trap of words. He talks about Gobhai's peculiarities like this: "It seemed that the painter would have to choose between rival mandates: the sensuous immediacy of surface or the austere linearity of structure. But the problem would not admit of so dualistic a solution; the greater and more stimulating challenge is to reconcile the two principles after the critique of the representational." This is the kind of verbal jugglery that Hoskote uses taking the reader nowhere.

Listen to these words by Hoskote: "Significantly, the artist often draws metaphors from geomancy and cosmology to approach his work; it is clear that he continues to regard the painting as kshetra, a field of action, a ritual theatre of forces that becomes a model of the universe." Aren't you reminded of the writers like Krishnachaitanya, P.N.Mago, Joseph James, and M.V.Devan who were out there to justify the Tantric art of the seventies? Then how Hoskote will justify his revolutionary journey through the works of Atul Dodiya, Jitish Kallat, Baiju Parthan, Shibu Natesan and so on? I am reminded of that famous title of Bhupen Khakkar's work, You Can't Please All'.

Art India Magazine has always shown a special leaning towards a particular region and the artists who are settled there. No complaint as it is natural to have love for the nation at the same time love for the province. That is true postmodernism. But of late Art India Magazine seems to be falling into too much of self-promotion and certain other kind of promotional activities. The report on Kala Ghoda Festival and the other piece titled `Living with a Difference' smell of promotional deals. As a journalist with a decade long experience, I can understand the back stage games in the production of a magazine. We cannot deny the fact that we do settle certain scores through magazines. Let us not pretend that we stand for secularism and impartial art promotion. Let us say proudly that we stand for certain interests that cater to our palate. And for the well being of Indian art and the young generation of the artists, let us debate it out in public platforms. does not take any responsibility whatsoever with regard to articles published here. Any suggestions/comments may be sent directly to the writers. E-Mail Johny & Mrinal

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