This is a collection of my musings, either inspired by site-specific experiences or by my own life experiences.
Today I am determined to start a new painting. Should I try something new? Maybe on paper or just go for the usual vertical canvas and landscape? So many ideas in my mind. Maybe the balconies with their interesting collection of objects or people just hanging out or Goa, the land of coconut trees, decrepit houses next to brand new ones or just work on something that was commissioned? Sunflowers like that of Van Gogh was the request! Can I ever do something like that and be found wanting? How can one make work that is unique to the artist now and to the times we live in? How can I find my own way through or away from the set paths of history? How do I work the personal resonance into the subject matter in order. to create a work that is unique? It is a challenge and lets see where this journey takes me.
Well after a week or so, the field of carefully drawn sunflowers were erased. The flow of colour from the soft brush onto the canvas has me hooked. The hesitant stroke increasingly becomes smooth and confident; its lustre shining with my life energy and slowly yet surely the circle is complete. Paint, brush, canvas and myself. As I fill the canvas so does it fill me.
Escape, Gouache, 30th April 2021.
The process of this painting begins with an exploration, in fact multiple types of explorations. Initial exploration is the Observational. As I observe the small city from the high walls of the Fort, the settlement seems to be gathered around in a tight blue circle. The small city seems to be made up geometric shapes , each shape fitting around the next like in a puzzle. The desert forms a protective circle around the settlement. Time for the tentative first steps of exploration i.e physical. The feet walk on red hand carved stones, quiet high spaces with green parrots dotted around the balcony and the rush of swallows to and fro. Through the gate and out into the dust path, the city is full of bright colours of Holi, red and green saris, incense burning in roadside shrines, hot chai brewing, round woks of boiling milk and sugar and the bells tolling from temples overwhelm my senses. Aural, olfactory and visual explorations complete!
Here in my studio in UK, I explore and relive my memories and work my explorations into the canvas. At every stage, instinct helps with decisions on what to include and exclude from the canvas. As the drawings stacks up vertically,it is time to pause in the gap between the Fort wall and the wall on the right. Countless considerations later, it strikes me that having explored the city, I am back in the fort atop the hill and that the city now is zoomed out and just a vision of blue. As the lines merge and divide, the agony of choices now slowly turn into pleasure. The colours flow out of the brush and I enter the state of meditation. A flat white canvas now has become a destination. A space has become a place.
Erase the collective memory from our museums; remove the musical bands from our schools and choirs from our communities; lose the plays and dance from our theatres or the books from our libraries; expunge our festivals, literature and painting, and what you're left with is a society bereft of a national conversation … about its identity or anything else.
Art brings an alternative perspective and helps us understand the human condition. The Arts, as a catalyst of change, must be used as a medium of confronting personal, social or political issues through criticism of the world as it is and a vision of the world as it might be.
Italian artist Michelangelo Pistoletto says "The artist must be everywhere, not only in galleries and museums; h/she e must participate in every possible activity. The artist must be the sponsor of thought in different human enterprises, on all levels, from execution to decision-making."
Art has the power to influence the mind, create hope and help reinterpret the present. Art cannot successfully fulfil its role in society without the support and participation of community. It is also the community's responsibility to embrace and engage. A community such as Atina when it offers smiles and open arms in welcome and gives artists the time and space to reflect, it gives itself a shot of new energy, a new way of life. By being inclusive of arts, Atina becomes more about the culture, tradition and less about the commerce and capitalism that has overtaken most modern cities and towns. It becomes more about sharing the good with many rather than a few.
Nina Simone, an African American singer song writer and political activist said “It is the artists duty to reflect the times as it is what that defines us as a society”.
I believe it is the duty of society to be open and inclusive and believe in the artistic vision, even if it for a few seconds.
Just last week, I was in the midst of an angry mob of 35 people on the streets of Puri, Odisha, India. Angry and demanding that an artwork that had appropriated the image of the city’s presiding god, Lord Jagannath should be taken down. The image itself was about the artist’s angst about her husbands loss of eyesight and externalising the loss into the large eyes of the idol. The work was a series of 7 depictions from the operation to the loss of the eye. As Puri is a city of temples, it was my decision to hire a cycle rickshaw, a cycle trolley and a mini van as mobile galleries and take the exhibition around to the public. All the works were hung and we set off walking alongside with performances such as artists in dog masks (homage to the multitude of stray dogs) and sounds of traffic being played on the accordion. First stop on the main C T Road, we commence with artist performance and draw curious crowds, keen to understand what is on display. Feeling energised, we walk on and soon find a busy market area to stop and invite people to come and engage with the works. Many are curious and keen to understand. A group of 30 surround us, keen to engage with the artists and the works. Comments of how wonderful the works were, the social message of the effects of addiction to Paan (betel leaves prepared and used as a stimulant) and the fact that god is in all of us and we are in the lord could be heard all around us. As the Indian artist explain’s her inspiration for the drawings, few became belligerent and start to argue with the artist ‘This is our god…how would you feel if we did that to your god’!!!! Soon a small group of men demand that the work be taken down and start moving towards the van. Within seconds, the situation escalates and rough hands tear the work down and go on to destroy the rest of the works. They threaten to beat the group and forcefully shut the show down. We managed to get away from the place unharmed and herded ourselves into a cafe to ponder over fallout of the event. Public space is highly contested directly proportional to the political and religious context unique to the space. It might theoretically seem a democratised space but its occupation and use is strictly sanctioned. The individual is relegated to the bottom of the pecking order whilst the collective is dominant in its occupation. The larger the collective and the more local it is, the more its authoritative legitimate claim to the public space. The questions I ask myself is, at what stage in the making of art does one need be aware of the politics of the local? Should they be sensitive to the local sentiment when presenting the finished work? Should they compromise and redact their content in order that the work be more accessible? Should they maybe be more subtle their work and be subterfuge in their presentation?
homunculus |həˈmə ng kyələs; hō-|noun ( pl. -li |-ˌlī| or -les |-ˌlēz|)
a very small human or humanoid creature.
ORIGIN mid 17th cent.: from Latin, diminutive of homo, homin- ‘man.’
This term came into focus when I visited a gallery in Madrid 7 years ago and encountered an emotionally charged work by Manolo Millares, one of the most important artists of Informalismo/ Arte Povera. After World War II, destruction and decay made its presence felt in society and therefore in art. Europe was shattered, and Art forced to record and reflect the horrors of the WWII. The homunculus, a symbol of degraded human body, is seen as an icon of suffering in Spain, torn apart by civil war. Manolo Millares paintings speaks of degradation of the human being. His work is a metaphor for the irrationality and cruelty of the human condition.
“When you compare life in Libya and the sea journey, you take your chance on the sea journey. If you die at sea, then so be it.” Fedussa, 20
“It was a horrific sight, people desperately clinging to life belts, boats, and anything they could, fighting for their lives, amidst people drowning, and those who had already died,”
Juan Matias, rescue co-ordinator, Italy
I feel, 70 years after the Wars, the ‘homunculus’ needs to appear again. This time artists need to reflect on the state of the human ..a body ravaged by rape, torture, starvation and sickness, the result of modern day conflicts rising from religious wars and racial persecution. Can the human body and spirit survive given the tough choices between immediate and eventual death? Many consider themselves lucky and fortunate to survive and live a lifetime in refugee camps and tents with no promise of a better future.
Countries like Britain and France who have strived hard to achieve balance in structure and accountability are now faced with this major humanitarian crisis and finding it difficult to maintain equanimity between the economics and the ‘human’ aspect of the migrant crisis.
Modern times are becoming characterised by a growing deep chasm between the developed and undeveloped countries of the world. Can Art bridge that gap.
Urbanscape, Goa, Residency
Early last year, during the Pune Biennale 2015, I was invited to speak to an audience made up of general public, artists and students of art. As someone who lives and practices in India and the UK, it was a good opportunity for me to talk and ask some difficult questions about the role of art in India. Does art within the Indian context have any social relevance at all? Does art and do artists within India have the tendency to play it safe and deal with abstract theories and issues rather than deal with the contentious social, religious and political problems facing Indian society today? Have they adopted more aesthetic objectives as their goal and prefer to forget its activist responsibility? Are they determined to debate on a conceptual intellectual theoretical levels and have given up on the final cycle of purpose of art i.e to be subsumed and consumed by the general public/society? Is it adopting a defensive strategy to exist outside of the society so that it might continue to practice? The very existence of art seems to depend on its non-existent status within society. How does this degeneration of art impact society over time? These questions and the fact that my practice is influenced by and runs parallel in both countries is the basic premise for the birth of ‘Conversations : Goa Art Residency’.
Concept of ‘Conversations’ also came to head, when I noticed that most artist practice was dominated by isolation which in turn leads to insulation. This insulation is transferred to the exhibition space, evident from their concern to just their work in the space and not really seeing the significance of other works located in close vicinity. Making of art can be in many ways stressful and requires a certain selfishness in space and time in order to understand and to clarify the inner thoughts and ideas which in turn need to be transferred through the right medium into an art object that successfully is representative of the idea or emotion. This can be a rather difficult and arduous journey. Once the art object does come into existence, the problematic change that needs to occur within the artist is that of a successful separation and transformation of the artist/creator into a viewer thereby completing the cyclical process of art.
Conversations in Goa though seemingly simple in its ambitions had complex undercurrents set well within. Artists from the West and India from diverse backgrounds, cultures and countries were expected to temporarily create a platform that would involve formal artist talks, which in turn initiated conversations and exchange of knowledge and experiences. Exchange that would involve knowing of each others backgrounds, social and cultural limitations, failures and successes, personal triggers and the general understanding of contemporary art within the Western and the Indian context. For most of the Indian artists, this would be their first introduction to so many western artists and their practices in one forum and an insight into the myriad issues that the artists deal with in their art practices.
Come 9th of February 2016, artists started making their way to Manora Raia, South Goa in taxis, tuk tuks and bike taxis, traveling by air, train and bus. Time to head for the beach for some and for others to relax around the pool in the quiet sunny afternoon to the sounds of birds and monkeys. Introductions, cold beer and a hot curry to finish the day and settle into the 400 year old house with white walls, high ceiling and rotating fans to keep cool.
In sunny Goa with beaches half hour away, some suggestions as to why have the talks when there could be organic conversations had on the beach? I could understand the need to getaway and be near the waves. But as the curator, it was crucial for me to structure within the schedule for the days to come to include the artist talks every day for an hour. Understandably, this was met with some reluctance but soon enough everyone was ready for the talks to happen. How does one address personal starting points within ones art practice in public especially to strangers? It can be an intimidating experience. It is also difficult when the heart was racing towards the beaches and the head had to stay and make sense!
Talks began, referring to myriad of starting points and milestones such as struggles between roles of artist and curator, being factual as a journalist to poetic improvisations, being a woman and an artist in India, personal v/s public, references to the invisibility of the 3rd gender in India, animation, LGBT, personal illnesses, fashion photography, art education in India and the West, deep fissures between both the cultures, architectural crossovers and colonial integration into the indigenous, problematic processes, art as a gesture, commercial v/s fine art and bringing the personal into the art object. Despite the formality of the talks, it was heartening to hear many of the issues triggering off other conversations around the kitchen table or the pool. Inevitably most of us were intrigued and curious about unfamiliar cultural and personal issues and soon the unfamiliar started to seamlessly integrate the differences and unify the group into one that of ‘being artists’. Multiple exchanges and collaborations started to happen organically. The initial formal space gradually dissolved into informal talks over a roll-up with a cup of tea/beer in the swimming pool and on the beach. Being artists that we all were, soon enough the talks, the house, the new fraternity, the friendly neighbourhood and the rural landscape of Raia started seeping itself into the creative process and the house was abuzz with creative energy.
The final day, time to leave Raia to move beddings and all to The Space for a one day show. It was a show rich and diverse in medium and site specific works in progress. An exciting amalgamation of primary creative responses to the site, people, artists and to the sun, sea and sand! Works involving found objects, performances, sculptures, interventions, shadow projections, fashion photography, text, improvised sketches, meditative drawings, interactive site and sound specific installation and gestural prints all seem to cohesively speak eloquently about all our unique wonderful experience of being together in house no 298 in the village of Raia Manora, opposite Manora Autoworks in South Goa.
As an artist and curator, who conceptualised this residency and worked for months to put this together, it was a successful project indeed. Successful, because the seeds planted at the beginning of the residency have grown new shoots in the form of strong connections, future collaborations and hopefully shifts in everyone's art practice.
I have been supporting the Fine Art faculty at local university for the past one year.
As soon as I joined the team I was alerted to certain problems faced by the staff. The common complaint amongst staff was about the lack of motivation, laziness and high level of disengagement that some students evidenced towards the academic process and expectations at HE level. This lack of motivation spiralled into lack of progression, poor results and failure for the students and therefore to frustration amongst staff.
India is a rapidly rising thriving economy and food habits have changed over the past few decades. Across the board not just India but the world, people are eating less cereals and pluses, replacing them with more fatty snacks, beverages and other processed foods. 2016 has hence been declared as the International Year of Pulses by the UN to bring focus on the health benefits of pulses. Pulses are super foods high in protein, amino acids, vitamins and minerals.
India is one of the largest producers, consumers and also importers of pulses. Though we produce a quarter of the world’s pulses, cost of pulses such as tuvar daal has gone up by 100% to 200 Rs per kilo in the past few years and hence its no surprise that a large percentage of the population is protein deficient because we are still not ingesting the required 50 grams of protein per capita daily. Protein consumption has declined in rural areas and the gap in urban areas is wider between the poor and the rich. Rapidly growing population is increasingly putting the local production under stress and leading to import of pulses and cereals from other countries. Multiple factors such as excessive or lack of rain, poor road transport resulting in inefficient supply chains; a lack of cold storage facilities leading up to 30% of produce rotting wastefully, a rudimentary market structure favouring the retailers and stockists are all factors responsible for a complex multilayered problematic condition with no obvious or simple solution.The is further exacerbated by poor farming practices, regional floods, poor seed quality resulting in the farmer getting between 10- 23% of price paid by the customer losing the rest to middlemen. Many farmers struggling with loans and high debt have to cope with with mental and personal health issues have no other recourse but to put an end to themselves. The situation is dire indeed.
Pulse Art Residency is providing just the right platform for contemporary artists to respond to such urgent societal issues. Artist’s exist within the framework of society and therefore have the responsibility to engage with the issues faced by society today. Contemporary periods and social contexts also help develop and evolve their artistic activity. This activity should be a continuous burgeoning volatile beehive feeding off the current moment in modern society. It is or should be a frenzied churning, which ejects out new immediate responses offering alternative perspectives on current social existentialism. According to Bourriaud “The role of the artwork is no longer to form imaginary and utopian realities, but to actually be ways of living and models of action within the existing real’. The art object needs to offer a peek into the myriad possibilities and potentialities within a given moment and transfer it into the viewer. Without transitivity, the art object is nothing other than a dead object crushed by the act of self-indulgence by the artist. According to Godard, ‘it takes two to make a picture’. It is crucial for the general masses, that is mired with in the struggles of everyday, to be part of this platform. The art object needs to have social transparency where, in order to be successful, it is needs to create a sociable space to generate dialogue and discussion. This space of sociability then allows for the circular flow of thought between the artist, the art object and the viewer which then flows into society and back to the artist.
It is important for more state and independent organisations to encourage such socially engaged art happenings as it expands the general understanding that, the role of art is more than creating something to merely to look at. By encouraging socially relevant art, one becomes inclusive of the general society from which the art and artist is born. Art comes from society; it exists for and within society. It plays a significant influence in the constant shifts and upheavals that is a given part of the human condition.
Walk into the waiting room; Good Morning! quite a few people inside. Jay is busy cleaning his small area inside the café; two old ladies, speaking in hushed tones, all made-up, with pearl necklaces and matching gloves; hear them talking about the theatre, lunch and their excited giggles; Coffee? ‘Yes Please’; Have a quick look at the newspaper headlines – ‘disaster, earthquake in Haiti’, ‘Big Brother actress beds Jones to avoid eviction’, Coffee, Black? Yes Please, Thank you, ‘Obama attacks obscene bonuses’, the hum of the cooler is loud and steady; Jay looks relaxed behind his counter, but his body is taut, a puppet pulled by strings tied round the door handle; Sugar? Yes Please, Thank you! A professor-type sitting in the corner intently studying some sheets with musical notes; Good Morning Sir, Tea? Yes Please!