Sunday, 30 August 2009

The halo is almost always tarnished....

I closed the doors on religion many years ago because I found that between scientific reasoning and unquestioned faith, that I tipped the scales in favour of rational thinking to act as my barometer to guide me in life. I also became disenchanted at a very young age by the power struggles and lack of enlightened wisdom that I witnesses in most spaces of religious engagement. The lack of human compassion displayed by many holy organisations that preach humanism but where actions suggest just the opposite was very disheartening to observe.
Recently yet again,I have encountered once more ( through my friendship with an individual from a religious community who is being victimised), a situation that suggests that religious followers do not allow the mediation of higher thinking to inform their actions, but instead let ego and power lay the pathway to the battle fields of salacious and corrupted communication with each other. Where in all this does the idea of religiosity even remotely figure is hard to imagine!

Conversions to faith as desired by the zealous beliefs of another, becomes once again about the ideas of controlling and notching up numbers that are meant to signify strength of superiority over "the other". Every religion talks of the ideas of being prompted to "serve the people" as a lesson of "gods"teachings", however what stops such people from doing just that without the banners , flags and emblems of institutionalised faiths? Nowhere does it state, in any place on earth, that you are forbidden to involve yourself with development which can aid the underprivileged unless you prescribe to a religious doctrine or work in the name of religious concerns. The duplicity of the holier than thou attitudes of virtuous religiosity is tiresome to encounter when it exposes a corrupted and debased intention at its core.

Am I generalising and tarnishing all with the same brush? In truth it is extremely rare to see projects for development in society that come through the conduit of religious organisations that are without strings attached. Perhaps I am naive and look towards the ideals of renunciation and sacrifice as being what I seek from the spiritual inclinations of people who are rooted in religious faith. When power and money and corruption become the halos that these sages wear, then I am outraged at the charade of manipulation and deceit.

Friday, 28 August 2009

A postcard from sama!

Recipe for an energised day!

Make someone else the focus of your thoughts even for a small fraction of time,

and believe that you have the power to make a difference in life!

Have a great!

Thursday, 27 August 2009

Being Politically Correct....

I often find myself in situations where I am unable to accept the casualness of social chitter-chatter which has gossip as central to most communication. I find myself time and again in sticky situations where I am the party-pooper, the wet blanket or just too darned serious because I categorically state my discomfort. I also notice that people prefer that their conscience does not get called upon on such occasions because accountability is too tedious for most to fancy.

Through the windmills of gossip we fan rumors regarding others, but look upon it as a "time-pass", because to give our actions consideration would require that we introspect, and heck!...that would be asking too much from ourselves! Who wants to be this serious when all we want is! So just write off any hurt we cause to others as collateral damage. After all it's a great adrenaline rush to shoot up one's self-esteem by degrading another, because that's what sanctimonious virtue is all about, isn't it? Pointing a finger at the other person and making speculations into truth on the basis that we endorse it with our curiosity is what the fun of gossip is all about! So pick a target and get out the dirt......and shoot from the hip. It's cool baby!

I guess I can be called old and boring because I find the company of my cat often more honest on some occasions, because she bites and that's just what it is! Not dressed up to appear a friendly lick, but a nice sharp nip that leaves her teeth marks evident for what it really is. The claws and fangs of all of us show through the fancy dentistry and manicure sessions that fill our appointment books! So the next time you salivate to gossip about someone, realise that someone out there may be doing precisely the same thing about you: trashing your name for fun! Hey! Why are you pissed off about it? It's just for fun remember?!!!!!

Wednesday, 26 August 2009

The lotus wilts in all the heat!

It is ironical that after so many years of independence our political leaders remain embattled over issues of historical interpretation that can never remain rigid or prescriptive. It is amusing to see the disarray of the BJP, a party I clearly hold no great respect for especially after the Babri masjid demolition and the genocide in Gujarat; but if I am to examine the issues of Jaswant Singhs expulsion with a clinical objectivity, then the entire episode is a sad occurrence on the state of our democracy. For a statesman who has been a guiding force and policy maker within the core leadership of a major national party till only recently, critique or differences of opinion cannot become reasons for such actions.

At the heart of the matter of course lies other issues of ideological conflict, but that the BJP can use the front of censorship as the smoke screen of disciplinary action against a senior member of their party to settle scores, seems almost farcical! Of course the great state of Gujarat must march to the orders of fascist bands and the leadership of the state has issued a ban on Jaswant Singh's recent book! Great are the ways of this land where free speech is a constitutional right but where current political power can silence the voice of anyone in an instant. Liberty thy name is slandered, beware!

If I am to hear Chandan Mitra posture as the great voice of virtue anymore on televising programs, I think I am going to fling my remote control into the Vishwamitri river! His sanctimonious speak is predictable and soon I believe I will see the cobwebs on his carefully styled hair as he repeats the BJP party line, like a nerdy school boy, hoping for brownie points! On the other hand, I loved Arun Shouries dramatics! The next film fare award for best cartoon performance must go to him! When his theatrics translates into change in the BJP party practices, I will certainly reconsider my cynicism, but for now I am pretty sure that day is no where close on the horizon of reality!

Where is this great nation going to be without a healthy opposition to sit in the house and keep the powers of governance alert and accountable? Mr. Advani and Mr. Rajnath Singh can you both stop being like prom princes with cardboard crowns; and Vasundhara Raje can you remember you cannot put on your royal tiara and command your subjects to toe your line, because if you have forgotten, India is a democratic country and we have no place for monarchs any longer. India needs leadership in the opposition that is not entrenched in the soggy toast scenarios of indecisiveness. So boys of the saffron brigade, wooden swords and paper shields apart, lets get serious! The 21st century has long since begun, so can we expect you to please finally wake up and take stock of what India needs from you.

Monday, 24 August 2009

It has my vote!

Just got back from the Art Summit in Delhi and I am glad I made the trip over because it was an energized space with a spectrum of enough good work to validate one's solidarity and enthusiasm for the event. Kudos to the organisers who did a splendid job in keeping things well run, perhaps till the last day when cyclonic rains made a mockery of "protecting" the art works and ensuring their safety!

I chose to give the seminars a miss and so it would be unfair on my part to give an opinion about it, though I did not attend the sessions because I found the synopsis of most to be uninspiring and predictable. What was interesting to observe was that many Indian galleries positioned themselves as promoters of international art, and I am left wondering whether this avatar is really necessary as proof of our globalised status within the cultural world.

The works of AES+F and Dongwook Lee at Arario Gallery,Thukral & Tagra's Dominus Aeris - mirage II at Nature Morte, Anandjit Ray's water colours at Gallery Espace, Hema Upadhyay's untiltled work at Gallery Chemould Prescott Road, V. Ramesh's Man and the Mountain at Threshold Art Gallery, Phantoms and Photographs by Raqs Media Collective, Sakshi Gallery's African artist El Antusi's black river, a small and quiet set of black and white paintings by Kishore Shinde at Gallery Art Motif, and two purple wall projects - Natraj Sharma's massive grid of planes and the photographs of Richard Bartholomew are among the most poignantly memorable works from the Art Summit for me.

The book release at Akar Prakar was an embarrassment and such situations make one cringe despite being a complete outsider to it. The London based W.H Patterson Gallery's presentation brought back memories of the museum rooms one avoids in Europe that are filled with images of pretty still-lives that accompany notions of scones and crumpets and other such stereo typed Anglo Saxon mundanity! On a serious note, that M.F Husain's work was once again kept out of viewership with concocted excuses floated to appease the outrage of those who demanded explanations, only shows the great sham that democracy can become in India.

The Art Summit 2009 was a great meeting place with a buzz that generated a feeling of pride and achievement for many of us artists. From those early treks as a student in the 70's to visit the Triennial in Delhi to this collaboration of sharing at the summit is a long journey travelled by Indian art; and more importantly the role of the Gallery in India today is thankfully in its rightful place where it needs to belong. Ideas of patronage have drastically changed and it is this that is most obvious. My greatest sadness on this trip was visiting the gallery Art Heritage and observing the time warp that it has chosen to remain in. Especially heart breaking for me because of my own connection with Mr. & Mrs Alkazi and that my career started at this pioneering space which today now shows exquisitely bad art!

Monday, 17 August 2009

Bon Voyage.....

Packing a bag for a journey tells you a great deal about yourself! I'm quite a seasoned traveller and have often gone off for long stints that span months away from home, and it is here that the tricky bit comes in: what to take and what to leave behind! So I have devised a simple methodology. I pack my bag a week ahead of any trip, immaterial of whether its just a few days that I am out of town for, or whether its a more elaborate travel agenda that beckons! At this point I put away everything I possible believe I need, well folded into plastic bags and neatly placed into my suitcase. I then take everything out of the bag two days before departure, and go through a ruthless elimination process that virtually halves the contents in the bag!

My essential list of garments is profiled on a mix and match policy when I pack. I think style is more through the confidence of the individual and not in the designer labels that you wear. My trade mark colour is black and this is not because of any desire to create mystic meaning about myself . It has evolved because as a painter I am immersed in the vivid colours of my palette everyday of my life and so I prefer to be clothed in the starkness of black that offers me a neutral compatible with all other colours I encounter.

I love a bit of bling, and so I carry some jewelry with me. I think an outfit transforms itself with the accessories you wear with it. And the daub of a subtle fragrance becomes the concluding statement of the process of getting dressed each day. I generally hate wasting time with too much back and forth happening when I travel, so I plan a days outfit that can carry me through into an evening, where all I need is to wash my face, shake my hair into more coherence than it offers me these days, and voila I am all set a long haul into the wee hours of the night!

A good book is a great travel companion and on some occasion I carry a small black book in which I draw. No extra paraphernalia in the form of fancy make-up kits or elaborate foot wear. I keep it simple where comfort and the basics are the criteria of choice.
However I do have a confession to make. Mighty mouse travels with me on every journey I make. He has a bell at the end of his tail and a rather bemused personality at all times. Hey! Hang on! I did say that packing a bag revealed a lot about oneself, didn't I?! So chill baby, who knows what is hidden inside your own baggage!

Thursday, 13 August 2009

Why?! Why?! Why?!.....

I was up half of the night completely disturbed after watching a TV program in which forensic criminology examines cases in which the viewer is shown actual footage of police evidence such as taped interrogations of suspects and photographs of the crime scene and pictures of the victim, along with reconstruction of the events of the crime story. The story I watched was about a sister who resembled her sibling, and who from the greed and envy of wanting what her sister had achieved in her life, created a scenario where she assumed her sisters identity by killing her when she was asleep in her own house. Starting a fire that burnt down her sisters home she set up the charade to assume her identity.However the carefully sawed up body of her sister, all packaged up in plastic bags did not perish in the fire because she had kept it in the deep freeze(!), and the insulation of the freezer withstood the fire; so the body remained intact and was therefore discovered by the investigating officers who came to investigate the arson.

What was so disturbing for me was that greed and jealousy could prompt a sister to such an act of horror, and that a power-saw was used with such clinical thought to dismember her own family member. What leads people to turn against each other, and how can a sane person execute another with no remorse? I see so many family relationships turn sour. My own back yard is sprinkled with the crusty attitudes of relatives who instead of being nurturing end up in spaces of silent hostility, harbouring resentments over issues that they too cannot really recall any more, and never looking inwards as to what to give to the other rather than what they can take for themselves.

For me the idea of life itself is to create as many ripples of communication that can give and receive energies that embrace and enlighten. I may seem overly naive to be effected by a T.V program on crime, but the core issue within this story that set my mind racing is how love can turn to hate so easily. Abuse of trust is so often the case of transgressions, and in some cases the out come is truly fatal.

It will take me a while to shake off my inner agitation that has been sparked by these thoughts and observations, and yet I know that a thousand zillion more stories like these are going to unfold again and again. Like the wars, the religious intolerance, the racial/ caste/ and economic discrimination's, and all other crimes from the human inability to live in peace and harmony. John Lennon's Give peace a chance, still falls on deaf ears!

Wednesday, 12 August 2009

Be fore warned.....

I will be attending the Art Summit in Delhi next week, and though I go carrying the optimism that it will have the potential of interaction that can evoke new energies , I am slightly sceptical about the seminars that have been organised. Don't get me wrong. I love the frame work of attending forums where ideas and specialised research is shared, but what I am beginning to tire of is the lack of imagination to the content of them for quite a while. These programs need to be made more dynamic and less cliquish; where ideas beyond the agendas of installations and video art, performance and new media representations are examined. I have great respect for many of my young colleagues, in particular Ranjit Hoskote, who contribute their advice to these events, but if one is to take an impartial view of the governing ideas that fashion the content of these seminars lately, it all is much of the sameness that gets re-hashed, well intentioned as it maybe.

Art history is never without disagreement and diverse opinions relating to what maybe considered to be poignant or relevant to the contemporary issues of any society. But if we examine Indian contemporary art and if we trace the discourses built around it over the last decade, the emphasis and focus to a type of representation can be easily recognised; and it is that I believe we need to examine as a flawed perception.

The parameters that define these discussions often appear to be small and rigidly specific to the interests of only a few. A nation as vast as India is not merely confined to centres such as Mumbai and Delhi alone. There are crucial issues such as the divide between tribal art and urban art practices which still remain unresolved and need our attention, and which in fact reveals the politics of caste hierarchies that still prevail in our country as an accepted norm. It seems paradoxical that we are concerned with an equality on a world stage, yet are unable to offer a situation where tribal art is given the same status as contemporary art is within our own nation. I am often amused that Sacchi & Sacchi and the likes of such western art collectors are the names we want to flaunt today, and that the western auction house mandate becomes the stamp of aesthetic approval for the art of our country for us. In fact I am beginning to view the term "global" (in the manner in which it has been used, contextualized and often seen as a a criteria to assess viewership in Indian contemporary art) to have become a sell out of sorts , that carries with it attitudes of a colonial hangover that speaks of our inability to shake off our need for the sahib to like us! What a waste of our own journey and the amazing legacy left to us by artists such as Binode Bihari Mukherjee and Ramanujam. But it appears that the manna still lies for us on the shores of other lands!

The only museum whose efforts of collecting Asian art that I greatly admire is the Fukuoka Asian Art Museum, yet do we really endeavour to collaborate with them at all in a way that supports this focus on the region from our part? On the other hand, the Australian identification with Asian art is for me often questionable as to what end it is meant to really serve other than appease themselves of their own political misdeeds with the indigenous people of their land.

Icon making is a transparent business. I like the honesty of an artist like Krishnamachari Bose who swaggers and makes no pretenses of his agenda to build himself up as a celebrity personality. More power to him. But for those artists, curators and especially art writers who posture too often as the voice of contemporary Indian art, please do stop and pause to consider. There is a vast and vibrant pluralistic stage of events out there. Take off your blinkers and get real. It's time to grow up and be mature about representations in art. The stringency to call attention to specific agendas is a dangerous game to play and is equal to the same horrors of fascist attitudes, only the packaging is different.

Thursday, 6 August 2009

With tears in my eyes.....

Yesterday I cried as I watched the reunion of Euna Lee with her daughter Hannah as it occurred live on T.V. This young Korean mother who was granted amnesty along with Laura King after Bill Clinton's visit to North Korea to secure their release, had eyes for no one else but her daughter. The little girl will perhaps never know the anguish that her mother has endured, wondering during her detention if she would ever see her baby again in the near future.

Children are often perplexed and embarrassed by the outburst of sudden emotions we as parents display; tight hugs that linger longer than normal, or mushy words that pop out unguarded, and other such "transgressions" that appear uncool ! Mithun is thirty, six feet four inches tall, and yet when I see him I still am consumed with the desire to embrace him in a hug and hold him there forever!! I often get the "chill ma" look from him when he senses I am in one of "those moods", and I promptly get the cat on my lap from him as a substitute instead!!!

But on a more serious note, I know the anguish of separation from ones child. When I left to study in London the terms and conditions of my scholarship were that I would not be permitted to return to India during my duration of study, and I accepted the terms of the foundation. The day I was to leave Baroda, I went as usual to the school bus stop and waved good bye to my son, as he went to school as was the normal practice. I had tutored myself for days that I would not show my emotions to anyone, and I am normally very good at concealing my hurt or pain from others, so I was completely caught unawares myself when I broke down and wept as though my life was torn apart.

The difference here was that I was embarking upon a life's journey that would test my emotional self, but it was one of choice, and most importantly I knew the exact time of separation from my son and also knew that in a moments notice I could be reunited with him if need be. Euna Lee never knew if she would ever see her baby for the next twelve years and must have felt the deepest indescribable pain within her self, every moment of her detention in North Korea that separated her from little Hannah. For me the face of Euna Lee as she embraced her baby for the first time after her ordeal will remain imprinted in my mind forever as one of the most poignant emblems of love I have ever witnessed. No words can actually translate this pure emotion. It's just simply an unconditional love that is truly sublime and where no thought of the self even remotely exists.
Photograph by Surendran Nair - Kerala

Wednesday, 5 August 2009

Don't mess with our wardrobes!

In Sudan a woman takes her fight to question the imposition of a judgement that ruled her clothing to be immodest to the courts. The bravery of her action is significant given the fact that she has resigned from a job that gave her diplomatic immunity that protected her from having the judgement implemented, in the hope that she can bring about a change in the system of governance that she sees to be flawed. Her desire is to bring to the attention of her own people, that despite actually following the codes of propriety that the law indicates and which she respects, the interpretations of such laws continue to give conservative hard liners the opportunity to abuse and oppress women's rights.

I sit in another country yet her protest and fight equally becomes my concern. How often have we heard in cases of rape, the suggestion that the clothes of the victim were provocative and therefore aroused the sexual desires of her predator/s. I may personally love the sari and rank it as my all time favourite garment, but heaven forbid, I certainly do not advocate for it as a standardised dress code for all women in India!

I remember growing up in the sixties and wearing micro-mini's in Baroda that were inches short of my pantie line! My wise parents, instead of banning my fashion statements (which included halter necks and hot pants too!), got a foreign friend to get a pantie cum petticoat contraption (all very cute and compact) that was in fact designed to wear with extra short skirts so that all that shouldn't be on view for the public, was kept out of sight!

As I grew to find my own political self and maturity in college, I simultaneously found style statements (!) more appropriate to the self image that co-related to this representation. But what a blast I had as a teenager strutting about in the excitement of my youthful experimentation, which I may add, was also a crucial passage for my creative expressions to find voice.

Today we are less open and trusting as a society, and I feel great sadness to see this change. Rape crimes seem more prevalent and the overall fear of "attracting the wrong attention" makes all of us more wary and conscious in ways that give conservative nuances that are worrying. I wish I could reclaim those times from my own teenage abandon for others too, where the paradox of liberal "freedoms" and "decency", could be considered as part of the same package in behavioural responses. I hope that the women in Sudan are not humiliated into witnessing the voice of this brave woman becoming silenced by the 40 whip lashes that can become the verdict, if the laws of her land deem it so.

I think there is a lesson to be learnt from a place like Rio in Brazil where men and women can roam the streets in their beach swim attire (literally!), and nobody ogles/looks/cares/bothers or gives a damn!!!! What liberation and wisdom! Didn't we have dress codes acceptable to our cultural traditions at one time, where both men and women were bare bodied above the waist in certain communities? Are there not tribes in the world that still follow such practices? Why then do we selectively become conservative regarding these issues and pretend that God and "others" find it objectionable.

Let us hope that the voice of moderate reasoning makes a change today in Sudanese law. It will be a step in the right direction for all of us. Lets us also salute this brave lady who cares to take on a system and places her own freedom in jeopardy willingly in order to give the freedom of choice to others.

Monday, 3 August 2009

A tribute to my love.

Surendran and I are currently sharing a studio.Add Image With the monsoon and it's unpredictability we decided to sit out the rains together! We have shared a studio on many occasions and contrary to the stories of problems I hear from other artist couples, we enjoy the experience that such interludes offer us. Perhaps it is because our romance began from the friendship we established whilst working in a collective studio that for both of us it continues to be the territory which holds our hearts the closest. We are a feisty couple who love the edge of a stimulating debate and who despite being in our 50's , remain in love with one another! We feel nurtured by each others spirit, and perhaps most importantly, we know we can trust and depend on each other's wisdom.

Over the years we have been surrounded by many friends from our generation, as well as younger friends whose love stories have crumbled; and where compromise beats down the individual personalities, making their lives together laboured and uninspiring. Who knows whether too many expectancies that are impossible to keep lead to the slow erosion of these unions, but whatever maybe the cause, the end result is that it creates for pain and sadness that is claustrophobic to witness.

I value the time we share as a couple. It maybe a serious conversation, watching crappy T.V serials together, eating ice cream or chocolates as sinful treats in bed, or just sitting on the verandah with each of us lost in our own thoughts! Our evenings are always spent together if we are in the same city and both our lives hold a rhythm that we mutually find comforting.

Yesterday was friendship day, whatever that means! But if I strip away the cliche of it all and put aside my reluctance to ride the tide of consumer inventions (!), I know that there is one person who qualifies without a doubt for me, to have a special day to be honoured by. So here goes: Happy Belated Friendship day Surendran!

Saturday, 1 August 2009

Just throw the key away.

I visited a high security male prison in Liverpool some years ago and presented a lecture on empowerment of women and accountability through choice. This particular prison is an experimental institution which concentrates on rehabilitation through learning as a method for the inmates to rectify and understand the violence and crimes they have committed and to bring change to their lives. It was an extremely valuable interaction for me because it forced me to confront certain preconceptions that we carry about crime, and most importantly brought a human face to the tragedy of violence, not just for the victim, but for the perpetrators too.

I am uncertain about the usefulness of jails when they are spaces that confine people in sub-human conditions, and further distort their behavioral patterns in the process. It only helps to twist the psyche of a trouble individual even more and further demonise them within society. Oppression and authority is rampant in these facilities and too often these places becoming breeding grounds of mafias and gangs making the inhabitants even more dangerous if released within society.

Guantanamo Bay is today a symbol of the worst type of "civilized" methods of sanctioned imprisonment. Deliberately situated in a no-mans land, it acquires a strange status where legalities can be side stepped, and the wrath of an aggrieved nation can spill out over the "suspects", unmonitored by ethics or moral guide lines. Openly flaunting the Geneva conventions with orders that violate human rights which have come from the top brass, who will ever question the free- for- all that has been unleashed which degrades, tortures and brutalises people because of their faith. Osama bin laden's treachery does not become the act of every Muslim of the world, and when cricket commentators can refer to players who exhibit emblems of this faith as terrorists, we know then how prejudiced the world can be, and how dangerous it is to stereo- type people!

I think that progress within societies and evolution of attitudes demand that we re-examine how we address methods of correction for deviant and criminal behaviour. Pictures of police officers urinating into the mouths of convicts that are published in newspapers are not comforting images, yet this is our reality. What are we doing about it is difficult to gauge.
(Photograph courtesy Mithun Rodwittiya )