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Indian Contemporary Art & the emerging face of Global Contemporary Art

        India is an older cultural identity. It is a small world in itself with many diversities. It lives amidst many time spans simultaneously... in the past, in the present and in the future.

        Because of its geographical location and physical features, India has always been open to external  influences and cultural attractions and interactions. India has the capacity to generate its own thought process and it has the flexibility to receive, imbibe and use external influences and cultural interactions to enthuse vitality and relevance in its creative human endeavors.

        Indian contemporary art, after independence in 1947, has passed through a period of derivation and a period of retrospection, to arrive to mean, an individual artist's creative expression in his own creative visual imagery. Both, the period of derivation and retrospection came into being as reactions to the prevailing situations. The compulsions of creative expression in the artist's own creative visual imagery evolved out of these two reaction situations and the expanding grasp of global perceptions.

        Freedom and democracy created a liberation hysteria, a desire to equal, even surpass, western standards of material and creative human endeavor. Artists coming on the scene at this juncture, were exposed, to the already established and recognised art directions of Europe, mostly through reproductions and art books while studying in the british type academic art schools in India and not by direct contact with the works of art and the artists there. Because the Indian artists of this period had no direct access to the emerging contemporary thought process in the west, they fell a step behind the contemporary art scenario there and this one step backwardness could not be redeemed.

        The application of the gospels of western art appreciation and reference in judging contemporary Indian art further stamped this status.Each one of the western inclined Indian artists picked up the technique and the thought process of a western artist of his choice and began to revolve his work around it. Most of them chose works of those artists whose creative directions had imbibed Asian or African or Mexican sensibilities and began to feel themselves at home. Some fell for those western creative directions which they felt matched their angry young man or liberated or leftist personality image which they wanted to project.

        During the west-attraction years, still in and out of their formative years, with wavering faith in their own thought process, many artists reached Paris, London and other art centers of Europe on cultural scholarships. Most of them returned after two to three years, converted. Some came back disillusioned. Some got married there to stay back along with some others who had migrated there to practice art as freelancers. They preferred to uproot themselves from the nourishment of their cultural resource.

        There were many who did not choose to go. They adopted western mediums and techniques but searched for creative directions from within, around and from the ever regenerating creative visual resource in the country. They did not however close themselves from the worldwinds. They were sidetracked for some time  by fashionwave and hearsay art connoisseurs and art historians. They persisted and became the first moderns after independence in India.

        When the creative compulsions and needs of expression could not be satisfied by picture-making only with borrowed ingredients, the Indian artists started researching indigenous and traditional creative visual cultural resource. Some adopted it in their work and some interpreted it for their expression. This period of introspection arrived because of the reaction to the western derived art and in search of an indigenous identity.

The exponents of the introspection, did not suggest withdrawal or isolation from the currents of the world art scenario. Some of the artists who had already established their creative visual identity in pursuit of western creative directions, chose to search again their creative visual imagery for expression, realising the validity of introspection.

        In India the creative visual directions of the past, present and future coexist despite a reaction stance that may prevail against any one of these. You will still come across adherents of Bengal school which was more inclined to traditional directions available in India and the East. Such tolerance and coexistence enrich and smoothly fill the gaps in the continuity in creative visual imagery.

        At a given point of time, most of the artists work following the established creative visual directions. Some artists have a compulsion to explore and establish new creative directions. Near about the period of introspection,some women artists, some self-taught artists and some prodigals, entered the Indian contemporary art scene, each expressing his/her creative compulsions and concerns in his/her own creative visual imagery. Indian Contemporary art, with all its faults, became Indian contemporary art, thereafter. A confident and more self- reliant, second generation of artists after independence is now taking over the contemporary Indian art scenario.

        Our world, from the recent past, has started becoming smaller, more approachable and more graspable. It has started to reveal more and sometimes all. With the information technology advances and increasing speeds in the modes of transport, the rate of change on our planet has become faster and this rate of change will accelerate in future.

        Consequently, a global face for every creative human endeavor will emerge. The global face of contemporary art has already started taking shape and can be sensed at the international contemporary art events, especially in the West. In these international contemporary art events, sometimes one is overawed by the scale, magnitude and the freedom of the creative experience, sometimes one feels intimidated, sometimes shouted at, sometimes like a miniaturised disciple listening to a commandment and sometimes one encounters altered contexts, human scale and placements. The creative experience appear to be celebration of material, technical virtuosity and sequences of the physical world. Most of these will exist till the event lasts and shall go into the information technology stores for existence. In these events, the conventional format creative visual experiences, hang in unobtrusive corners, like scolded children.

        Artists will continue to use conventional formats for making paintings and sculptures. In search for, new directions, sometimes sensational new directions, in the creative visual imagery, theatrical installations, ritual, information technology and altered biological code will be explored. In the international expositions of contemporary art, where a large number of artists from different countries will participate, more and more conceptual installation projects will be seen because these have better capability to establish the individuality of the creator and the identity of the work.

        The age of art movements prolonging for a long time is over. Contemporary art in future will be an expression of an artist's creative concerns in his own creative visual imagery. His creative concerns will establish his point of reference in history and his creative visual imagery his identity. To be relevant, the artist will be under pressure to produce a substantial body of work before the world moves on.

        Contemporary art in future will reflect an aggregate of the artist's local, regional and global consciousness. It will be relevant to the time and will reflect the perceptions of the future. Local, regional and global consciousness will enrich each other and start blending in many permutations and combinations to generate new creative directions. These will provide a balancing human factor and the possibility of immortality to the creation.

        The initiative to shape the global face of contemporary art seems to have passed in the hands of the West. The older cultural identities are playing a minor or no role in its shaping. When complete, the features of the face will not represent an aggregate of all human conscience and creative aspirations.

        India, as well as other countries of older cultural identities, have immense creative visual resource available for use and interpretation in contemporary and avant-garde contexts. These countries and regions have been contributing their share in the World's depository of the creative human endeavor. They have the capacity to generate their own thought processes and have the flexibility to receive, churn and imbibe in their own streams of thought, the alien creative influences and interactions to enthuse vitality, relevance and contemporaryness to their art forms.

        West has over-utilised its creative visual imagery and is looking around for new inspirations and directions. Older cultural identities can provide inputs for new directions in contemporary art. West is required to alter its codes and references to judge and appreciate creative visual directions of the East. Such and similar happenings will keep the global face of contemporary art creative, human and alive, representative of our past, our present and our future and of this world and beyond. These interactions will keep in check the sensation creating creative visual tendencies emerging, on the horizon, to alter and use the natures biological code. This Pandora's box should not get opened.

(This article was printed in the book, Indian Contemporary Art, published by Masanori Fukuoka in 1993)

 

In search of Hope

      We cut a stem of a creeper, and planted it outside our Studio. We wished, it will forgive us for cruelly separating it from the mother-plant and will accept us and the new home.

        We over-indulged in the care, not knowing how to behave with the newly planted creeper. The creeper was more rational.

          It bore the pain of the injury and the separation from the mother-plant, silently. Even though sometimes our ignorant over-indulgence and curiosity brought discomfort to the creeper during the period of its healing, it began to believe in our desire and need for it. At this point of time the creeper might have resolved to sprout again for our sake.

        Everyday, in the morning, when the winter Sun is small, red and distant, we would care the stem and watch it for any sign of sprouting. Some days, the stem looked dead and dark—some days, pale and lethargic—and some days, healthy and alert. The day would pass, reflecting the health of the stem in our thoughts, in our work and in our relationship with others, with this planet and beyond.

        Watching the stem and caring became a habit. One morning, in the center of the aura created by the winter Sun, a small delicate leaf, fresh light green on one side and fur white on the other, stood alert emerging from the stem. We know, this act of creation happens, millions of time, everyday, on our planet, unnoticed. For us it was a miracle, we were wishing and waiting for and we beheld it for many moments, in ecstasy. For us it was a gift of life from the stem.For us it was a revival of our spirits, restorer of our energy and survival of our faith in life with concern on this planet.

        A pretentious big bird with a plume hanging at the back of his head, descended on the railing near the creeper. He stretched himself and his neck in an arrogant self-assurance, as if to tell the creeper about his manipulative ability to decide—'who lives and who dies'. Becoming aware of us along with the creeper, the gesture of aggression melted into a pose of innocence. In a nervous hurry he flew to a group of other birds sitting on a nearby tree and pronounced that a creeper has taken birth on this planet and if allowed to grow, will endanger the bird community. Most of the birds believed him and nobody checked about the innocence of the creeper. We became scared and protective for the small  delicate leaf. We created a protective fence to keep away the birds. The creeper consented for the protective fence and started growing.

        The delicate leaf grew in size, a new stem sprouted and new leaves appeared. Every morning we confronted a new appearance of the creeper, more alive, more confident and sometimes responding and sometimes defiant. The branches began to spread to the need of the personality of the creeper. The protective fence was no more required. The creeper grew in stature to provide shade. Now the birds came for rest and for a chat amongst them, sitting in the creeper. The big bully bird's backbiting is now getting exposed. We worked in our studio and felt the creeper's reassuring presence along with us.

        The tragedy occurred on a hot summer night. Howling dusty winds started. The creeper was new to this aggression and became scared. It struggled and resisted the winds. The winds became furious and sent a whirlwind. It tore off the creeper from the studio wall. We felt guilty. We should have prepared the creeper for this world— we should have provided more supports for the creeper to hold on. The creeper fell on the floor, badly injured and helpless. When the winds passed away, we provided additional supports and the creeper was carefully attached to these supports. Then the rains came—the creeper healed and forgot the hurt. We are now more watchful. The creeper has engulfed the total wall of the studio. Sometimes the creeper covers our view of the world through the windows of our studio. We trim the creeper to save this view. The creeper has flowered and shed seeds on earth to take roots.

        The Indian and world existence has symbolic similarities with the creeper's biography. There are high points of achievements which make us proud and low points of human behavior which make us hide our face in shame.
   

 

The Fan

        The fan was as small as I thought I was and it had the personality of my father—sharp features, glistening skin–quiet and protective. It arrived in the house near my birthday, in May. Schools had closed, a few days ago, for summer holidays. Summer days in our town were shadowless and white and deserted—you could see the heat suspended in the space. Long after in the evening when father returne, one summer day would pass and he would bring to the hiding the news of the heat— 'two horses died of heat-stroke, two old men died, one woman died, two children died'.

        'If you go out in the sun, you will also die'—my sister would hold my chin and lift my face towards her—force me to look into her eyes—speak and walk away. Obviously, I was studying in the first standard—otherwise I wouldn't allow my sister to hold my chin. I can calculate the year—it was nineteen thirty-eight.

        Just before it was dark—at about seven thirty in the evening—my father would return from his office. First of May—sheer logic—my father entered the house with the walking stick in his left hand—an awkward experience for the left hand to hold the walking stick—it looked amusing to me. The right hand held the fan—his arm appeared stretched with the weight of the fan.

        Between my father and mother—to talk was to quarrel. 'You could have engaged a coolie to lift the fan for you'. 'The fan has cost twenty nine rupees'—the words 'twenty nine rupees' were spoken loudly, prolonged and stressed in the hoarse voice of my father.

        The fan was crowned on a wooden table. The family gathered around the fan. Standing by the side of my mother, I watched my sisters and brothers work the fan—turn by turn—switch on —speed one—speed two—speed three—switch off. My mother had no desire and was not confident that she could work the fan. I was sure I could work it but I was not even allowed to go near it. I felt, they were unnecessarily scared. I could see—not even my index finger could get in through the guards around the blades of the fan.

        Next morning—the stars were still in the sky when I woke up. Lying in my bed, I watched and waited for my mother to get up. I came down along with her from the terrace. As she busied herself in the kitchen, I slipped into the room where the fan was kept on the wooden table. Impatient and nervous I switched on the fan— the thrust of the morning cool air hitting my face and flying my hair. I remembered my mother and switched off the fan—went to the kitchen door—She was still busy. I returned to the fan and switched it on again. And when the togetherness with the fan became boring, I switched it off. I walked to the kitchen door and announced my triumph— 'I can work the fan'. Then I ran to the terrace and slept.

        I was awakened with a slapon my face, from my sister—the sun was already high in the sky and the terrace was warm—'Don't ever touch the fan, you will die'. According to my sister if I would do anything, I would die.
        'If I will go on the terrace in the sun, I will die.'
        'If I will go out of my house alone, the snake     will bite me and I will die'.
        If I don't come home before it is dark, I will      die'.
        'If I don't take a bath before I eat my food, I    will die'.
        'If I talk too much, I will die'...
        and now 'If I touch the fan, I will die'.

        During the day, I heard all this and during the night, I dreamt of my sister and death and snakes. Always my mother came to my rescue in the dreams.

        'Since morning, my sister is busy to make arrangements for the family to sleep after lunch. The room is darkened with curtains and the bed-sheets are spread on the floor in front of the fan. Everybody is allotted a place to sleep. Because I am the youngest my place is nearest to the fan. My mother choose to sleep at the end of the row'.

        The room is dark and cool. I can't sleep during the day—I close my eyes for the fear of my sister and pretend, I am asleep—After sometime, I slightly open my eyes and watch the fan—its blades are revolving so fast that I can't see them. Suddenly I feel the urge to switch off the fan and run to the terrace—I look at my sister—she turns on her side—I abandon the idea. I raise myself on my elbows and watch my mother over my sisters and brothers. She is snoring and she is perspiring—the air of the fan is not reaching her. I want her to sleep in my place—here she won't perspire. Abruptly I get up—tiptoe to the door—the door creaks when I open it—my sister, without opening her eyes roars—'don't go out in the sun, come and sleep'. I leave the door open—return and lie down. I stare at her for sometime and then watch the fan. Again I am tempted to go to the terrace. I walk to the door on my toes and then run to the stairs—two stairs in a step and I am on the terrace'.

        The terrace is white with heat and there is no shade. The sky is clear but the sun doesn't allow me to look at the sky. I stand by the railing and watch the leafless trees of the jungle around our house. My glance moves from branch to branch and from tree to tree. No bird is flying—they are all perched on the branches of the trees—exhausted by the heat, they are breathing heavily. The air is still and the world is silent and burning. Suddenly the birds start flying and crying. A snake is around—I know. I scan the ground and a snake appears—moving sluggishly towards our house—he is also exhausted with the heat and bored of the birds and their cries. I grow pale, stand still and I am scared—even though I know, the snake can't reach me on the terrace.
The snake has reached near the wall of the room where everybody is sleeping. I imagine—the snake will go in the room and bite my sister—smile spreads on my face.

        But my mother is sleeping near this wall—I leave the terrace—run to the room. There is no place from where the snake can come in. Still I stand near the wall—when the snake comes in, I will cry and wake my mother. I stand there for a long time. My sister opens her eyes in sleep and shouts again—'why are you not sleeping'—I go to the allotted place and lie down—I feel drowsy after the watch—soon I am asleep and forget the snake. When I wake up, nobody is in the room—The fan is still on—I don't even want to avail the opportunity to switch it off—but run to the kitchen and press my face on the jali-door.
        "O, Maa".

        From amidst her work, she tilts her face and looks at me and I set my gaze on her. I want her to speak to me—I linger on.
She guesses my need for her—leaves her work—comes towards me—bends herself to be near to me and asks,'You want anything'?                  'Nothing'.

 

The last aggression

        One day we encountered a stone wall.

         We could not jump over it __ we could not circumvent it

__we could not comprehend it __ we could not evoke an emotion in it

__We could not write on it __ we could not break it.

We could not gather public opinion against it, as is required by the' System'.

    The wall is without a shadow.

    Some people come after hiding the features on their faces

__ they throw stones at the wall during the day,

__ they go inside the wall at night

& walk away, garlanded in the darkness of the night.

        The fear whispers that a collective masked face of a group of aggressors,

commands this 'Wall'

from inside the wall __from above the wall __from below the wall.

        Even if, one day, the collective masked face will preside,

over the last submission to aggression, 

we will go on hovering in circle over the wall,

to implant our moving shadow on the 'Wall',

to register a protest __ to stamp freedom

to keep alive, hope in despair, before flying into the Sun.

 

Rain

        I am tired, always tired, before and after the sleep. Days and nights, I spend lying on the bed, under the constant protesting sound of the fan, blowing hot air.

          The Sun is over my head always, I can not shake it away. He sucks the winds to boil them, to throw them back on me. The shadows have disappeared, the world is thin without volume.

         In the morning and in the evening, I scan the dusty sky, search leaves on the branches of the trees, search a torn piece of cloud in the sky, to believe in hope, to build courage to live.

        Today, near the horizon, I saw an arm extended, to feel the first drop of rain on hand.

 

1974

Fear creeped in me and I woke up

Switched on all the lights

Looked into the night__ a strange chill got added to my fear, the fear sticks around me.

What is forboding ?

These may be the moments before the bomb is exploded.

Are we joining the contributors to end the human race ?

Mathura Buddha went east to spread peace.

 

1984

    The leader came to hoist the flag from the rampart, the flag went up __ the leader slipped from the rampart __his neck got entangled in the rope of his `Karma' hoisting the flag. The flag fluttered __ the leader dangled. Silently the people started dispersing __ the lips moved for a smile __ the smile came to the lips ____ then scared away.

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