Thursday, June 26, 2008

A year after the Baroda Fine Arts College debacle

It will not be hard to recall the name of Chandramohan Srilamantula. The master’s degree student of Department of Graphics at the Fine Arts College in Baroda who was jailed for displaying artworks in the faculty evaluation show which a Methodist pastor and a local BJP man found objectionable. The BJP man with his supporters vandalized the show and later filed a FIR against the student for ‘misusing religious symbols and causing religious offence’ and got him arrested by a nonbailable warrant. The date was 9 May 2007. One year has past after the incident in the life of democratic India. By now, everybody must have forgotten it.

However, at the heat of the moment it seemed like the democratic minded citizens of Baroda, Gujarat and India would remonstrate on the issue until they reestablish the dignity of the student and institution. The artists went for a peaceful hunger strike, arranged another campus exhibition on the erotic depiction of religious symbols from the 2500 years history of Indian art as a protest against the vandalism. The university authorities forcefully closed this exhibition and suspended the acting Dean of the Faculty Mr. Shivaji Panikkar for allowing such a vulgar show. National English language media highlighted the issue through editorials, headline news, protest articles and prime time discussions. The reaction looked genuine as it was directly related with the cliché ‘freedom of expression’. On this subject our watchdog media always over reacts. All over India, artists and citizens came on street to voice their concern. Two committees were formed to probe the incident. One by the MS University and the other by the Governor of Gujarat. Though none of the reports were officially made public.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Nirad Majumdar: a devalued genius of modern Indian art

Nirad Majumdar first went to Paris when he received a French government scholarship in 1946. In Kolkata, he was a founder member of the Calcutta Group, the first progressive art group of India. Calcutta Group artists were trying to break away from the tradition of the dominating style of the Bengal School, instigated by the patriarch Abanindranath Tagore. By that time information about new developments and experiments of twentieth century European art was gradually coming in and the Calcutta Group artists, influenced by the developments, started to change the course of the modern art in India. Nirad Majumdar became obsessed about French culture, particularly Paris, from his early days and when he ultimately landed there he at once embraced it. Paris in those days was the world art capital. Major painters and sculptors like Picasso, Braque, Matisse and Brancusi were at the helm of their artistic careers. Students and artists of different countries were flocking the Paris streets and boulevards, attending art courses in the Parisian academies, studying masterpieces at Louver, assembling around the masters and endlessly discussing their ideas in the cafes and social gatherings. Majumdar quickly became one of them.

He was greatly influenced by Cezanne, became a close disciple of Brancusi and Braque and befriended many contemporary intellectuals. At the same time he was a regular visitor to the Parisian opera houses and theaters, met Picasso and Jean Genet, was reading Balzac, Baudelaire and Rimbaud and was deeply impressed by the modern French poetry. He was actually suggested by a noble French lady to read French love poems to learn the French language better which he spoke fluently.

Friday, June 20, 2008

A booming Indian art?

Let us start with some figures and facts:

a) The global art market is worth about US$ 40 billion (Rs 1,70,000 crore).
(b) The Indian art market is worth more than US$ 0.24 billion (Rs 1,000 crore).
(c) The Indian art market has grown from US$ 2 million to a US$ 400 million market over the last seven years.
(d) From the benchmark year 2003, the Indian art market is growing at an average rate of between 20-30 per cent an year.
(e) A recent report by Fortune claims that the Indian art market has risen over 485 per cent in the last ten years, making it the fourth most positive art market in the world.
(f) Other than the auction houses Sotheby’s and Christie’s, about ten galleries in New York, London and Singapore – added to the hundreds of galleries in Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata - are now dealing regularly and exclusively with Indian art.
(g) Work by an Indian artist that sold in the late 1980s for perhaps $2,500 can now fetch more than $1 million.
(h) The average earning of a resident Indian is US$ 440 per year (Rs. 1,727 per month)

There is a phrase floating around in the Indian artistic community, especially in the hangout joints of young artists, which someway reflects the present status of the contemporary art scene in India. The phrase is that the artist who cannot sell his /her work today will never be able to sell any work in their entire lifetime. The meaning is transparent enough. The present Indian art market has achieved a huge growth and it is not showing any reverse trend even after record inflation figures has hit the Indian economy. According to the Director of Saffron Art Minal Vazirani, the buyers who purchases Indian art today is different from a common buyer of general commodities because their money comes from accumulated wealth, not from earnings. Therefore, the present high inflation does not affect their purchase power.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

Remembering Che Guevara

On October 1967, the Bolivian army, assisted by the CIA agent Félix Rodríguez murdered Che Guevara in the remote Bolivian mountains. After the murder, they dismembered his two hands from the body and preserved them in formaldehyde. The reason was to maintain a CIA style proof for the disbelievers about his death. On 1997, thirty years later, in the Bolivian town of Vallegrande, a team of Cuban and Argentine scientists dug up a grave of seven skeletons. An olive army jacket shrouded the scull of “Skeleton No. 2,” which was lying face down without the hands. Watched by the silent crowd of journalists and local folks, a Cuban member of the team bowed his head in respect and removed the olive jacket. Several Cuban scientists broke down in sobs. Patricia Bernardi, one of the three Argentine forensic anthropologists on the excavation team clarified, "Everyone was overcome with emotion, not just the Cubans. Che was such a mythic figure.” (Ref: Newsweek July 21, 1997, p.17-23) His remains returned to Cuba and finally lay to rest at Santa Clara, the legendary city where Che had won the decisive battle of the Cuban Revolution.

In the recent years, the consumer culture has on purpose transformed Che as its dearest icon, an icon of rebellion. This trend has aggravated from the eve of the 30th anniversary of his death in the nineties. The Walter Salles directed film The Motorcycle Diaries released in 2004 and based on the young Guevara’s early travels through Latin America received a lot of media hype. The original book, also a surprised hit, sold very well in America and Europe. This year a nearly four-and-a-half-hour long epic film directed by Steven Soderbergh on Che, was premièred at Cannes in May and expected to be another hit as the film, according to media reports, stresses his last days in Bolivia and also is prominently featuring Che’s comrade in arms Tania. Che merchandizes has flooded the markets of Northern America and Western Europe with Che branded T-shirts, posters, cigars, cigarettes, coffee mugs, baseball caps, wristwatches and liquor bottle labels. It is paradoxical that after murdering Che, America transformed him to a profit-earning commodity.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Bleak days

There are times when all things around you look bleak. Every happening in your surroundings, your home and your work place, culture, society and politics will make you gloomy. Your mental kingdom will feel empty. You will wander around fruitlessly in search of the required stimulation, to keep you able and stable on the path, but will not find it.

The pale morning will obviously start with the headache called the morning newspaper that will begin to pour in your mind all kinds of information you loathe. You will learn that the inflation has elevated today to a new height, further instances of greed and double standards of the ugly politicians are unearthed, Gujarat government is showing more signs of fascistic bent and the BJP is emerging stronger everyday. You will also find out that CPI(M) is getting bashed universally for almost everything it has done, it is doing and it may do; RSP is immerging as a political party with a difference and the shrill and itchy voice and body language of the Trinamul Congress lady is getting louder day by day. Information in graphic details will show you how co-passengers had screwed up an arrogant CPM minister of Bengal on the day of the general strike against fuel price hike. The Gujjar agitation is showing signs of division within and BCCI has humiliated the great Kapil Dev again.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Mandela, Moloise, Nicaragua and our days of innocence

Nelson Mandela was behind the bars in Robben Islands. There was a huge march in Kolkata demanding his release. Thousands were marching on the streets, hand on hand, carrying placards and banners, chanting anti-apartheid songs. At the front, leading the march was veteran and young communist party leaders and prominent intellectuals. The mood was upbeat. Nelson Mandela must be free at any cause. ‘Free Mandela’, ‘Down with Botha regime’, ‘Down with American Imperialism’, the marchers were roaring. Each of them were finding known and unknown faces everywhere and feeling a special bondage with them. The cause had nothing to do with the daily tribulations of the Kolkata folks but the spirit to reveal solidarity with a victim of discrimination, was enough for them to be a part in the protest. Soon, Mandela will be free on 11 February 1990. He will be elected the first Black President of South Africa on May 1994.