Wednesday, 7 October 2009

The God's for all things!

I had an interesting conversation about religious iconography and the use of it within art works a few days ago, where a friend of mine who is an animator, questioned whether it was appropriate to use religious iconography in ways that transpose meaning, and suggested that in doing so one tampers with what is considered the sacred. What struck me within this debate as being problematic was that to use religious references automatically inferred irreverence and would immediately be considered as suspect!
It would seem that the right wing conservative and fundamentalists forces in our country, whose belief is that art is meant only to be "beautiful and pleasing", are finally succeeding with their agenda to repress creative liberal articulation, if the climate has grown to evidence such opinions that immediately presume that the sacred is being vilified the moment religious iconography is employed in art! I would imagine that problematising/provoking/responding to conservative dictates through subversive or direct means of expression would be seen as an intellectual instrument to question or comment within any rational society, and that a democracy such as India should in fact find such attitudes valid methods of communication and not type caste it to be violating of religious sentiments.

However the rhetoric of opposition to such ideas questions the legitimacy of purpose within such expression which presupposes that any altering of meaning (playful or otherwise) to religious symbology, automatically brings disrespect that is equated to blasphemy. This is the Chandan Mitra BJP speak that is played like a warped record again and again and again (!) with little change to the refrain of emphatic insistence that art must toe the line of state approval and be censored in the name of protecting public sentiments, and the integrity of true Indian culture! My fear is that if liberal thinkers too chant the same slogan, then we are fast sailing into a deep dark whirlpool of disaster, where indeed art will become sweet and cloying images of unassuming nothingness!
Transposed meanings can occur only when things are altered and tweaked (sometimes ever so slightly and at other times in an in your face manner), creating shifts within perceptions that can provoke and challenge established orders. Art is one such territory that has always employed strategies of interplay with language and hybridity of visual devices through the years, that offer a commentary on issues that are topical or being censured through oppressive tactics, or where the marginalised needs focus or the conscience of the people needs to be awakened.

The stories and anecdotes from religious mythology and folklore creates a visual vocabulary that is familiar to a massive audience, and therefore become a suitable currency to use as an artist in many instances. Like all collective things, these images do not belong to any one person or community, but are for all who choose to engage with them. Artists are responsible and know the ethics within which to operate as communicators. We have driven M.F Husain away from India with these attitudes of suspicion. Let us not start an exodus where artists choose to leave this country because they are hounded and questioned and suspected of being anti-national at the drop of a hat. Grow up people and let's start showing a maturity and confidence as a nation.

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