Thursday, 28 January 2010

It's not just four walls....

I was in Ahmedabad yesterday putting up the display of the ceramic show the line of fire, with the Lemongrasshopper team. To engage with designing a display of art in a space the fundamental rule is to work with the energy of the space itself and decide how to interpolate with it . This appears simple and basic, but so many shows are such a disaster to view because the space is never considered to possess a character that commands.

When I shared the idea with Sakshi of devising a "chapter" that showcased early works along with four recent paintings of Surendran Nair in his show titled Pernoctation and Early Drawings, I understood the unstated concern that many had that such a stark play off between time periods and linguistic styles may not resonate visual compatibility. That I also wanted to present a crowded salon style for the early works in conjunction with a minimal presentation of four large paintings appeared risky as a concept. But I was very clear that these two extremes would interplay and create a visual tension that would not destroy each other but instead make for an exquisite intensity and hold the spectrum of the intimate and the bold within a single grasp. My gut instinct proved right.

I was in fact talking with friends recently that the quality of display and presentation is an essential element of communication that can either sustain the strength of a work or dis-empower it's vitality. I believe that painters often fail to understand this essential factor when re-introducing their work for viewing outside of the studio space. Scale needs to be well comprehended too, when as painters we conceptualise a show. The Brooklyn Museum was a favourite of mine in the 90's when I lived briefly in New York. Well displayed exhibitions that understand how to enhance the curatorial key of a show can open it up to multiple dimensions that stun a viewer into reconsidering how to negotiate meanings within the work.

Some premiere Indian galleries have really come of age and do justice to presenting works where the "gallery space" transforms to become the "tongue" of the artist . It is such shows that I believe have the power to mesmerise. I also feel that artists need to re-enter working with curatorial ideas that involve themselves and other artists in public and private spaces. Such collaborations are often much more insightful and genuine.

Monday, 25 January 2010

The Big Bazaar.

The conflict of survival and sustaining one's art practice is an old story for artists the world over. There are many good artists who never quite catch the eye of the big time cultural "talent scouts", and who themselves cannot find their way into the circuit of patronage directly, because their personalities may not incorporate the "in your face/notice me" attitudes. The power games of the "little galleries" are often the ones that are the most tedious to observe these days, because their posturing as "promoters" of art is nothing more than hogwash really. Everything is about the big S word. Sell-Sale-Saleable! Take it off the wall if you must, because the attitude is really that of a shop, and the exhibition merely becomes a cover-up to the trader mentality that lurks dangerously close under the skin of these young art dealers.

Which is a real pity. Because I think that the "little galleries" have such a big role to play. I think the best example that we had in India was Lakeeren Art Gallery in Mumbai in the 90's. A small gallery run by Arshiya Lokhandwala, it remains a water shed as a space that introduced some of the most interesting and new ideas from young artists. It was successful because she gave to them the freedom of presenting work with no preconditions of size, style, medium or any such nonsense. Young and enthusiastic herself, Arshiya took risks without too much of a fanfare; and the genuineness with which she operated was reflected in the lack of pretentiousness of the art that was exhibited during that time.

Today every one wants a winner; but the winner is really the cash pot that is being "sniffed" as the treat at the end of the trail. Young artists cannot all be winners instantly. The pressure to live up to being able to deliver these "great art works" is killing the natural process of learning, that needs to ramble and meander a bit. Artists need that time where they can experiment after college, and it is vital that we have people in the art world who can recognise this, and offer belief and sponsorship, patronage and opportunities; so that we do not loose really good artists merely because we never gave them a fair chance to grow to know themselves better.

It requires true dedication from those "little galleries" to be faithful to their young artists and dream their dreams with them. It cannot be that the economic stability of the owners shuts out the reality of the artists that they deal with. It is this dislocate that cannot ever make for relationships between an artist and a gallery to be magical and stand the test of time.

I am one of those rare artists who has had extremely special relationships with every gallery that I have worked with. The gallery that I work with today spans a twenty years relationship that is close and caring in nature. My art is not a mere commodity for them; I am somebody whom they nurture and whom they belief in.

I think this is the real equation. Get it right and it holds a truth that is indescribable, but which has a pulse that is alive.

Friday, 22 January 2010

A Day in the life of RR in Mumbai.....

Big cities fascinate me, though by choice I live in the more managable bedlam of Baroda. I am back from a quick visit to Bombay where even just a day in the city allows you to cram into your schedule so much visual stimulus. Because at every corner there are things of intensity that steal away your time and hold you engrossed; and as you bargin with yourself over time, there will always be thousands of things that you have to leave for that "next time" visit. And you know you will return, again and again and again as I do, because the list of things to see and do will never ever really end!

These days I don't really gallery hop in the traditional sense as I used to when I was younger, but instead select shows that appear engaging or which friends I trust recommend; and this becomes what guides me to timetable my schedule. Shine Shivan at Mascara (The Warehouse Gallery at third Pasta Lane), was the high point for me of this trip. His exhibition titled Sperm Weaver is amongst the most accomplished shows I have seen in quite a while in India. For anyone who desires to view art that is truthful to it's intentions, then make a trip to this show please. And for all the art students out there, struggling and grappling with trying to realise conceptual ideas and most times being trivial and cliched; I urge you to make a study trip to view this exhibition. Come from ever corner of the country you are tucked away in if you must, because this show will teach you something valuable that no article in these so called Art magazines we publish in India, can ever give you.

I found the show at Sakshi The Tradition of the New curated by Andre Lee to be a crisp curatorial encounter, where the framework of intention is never even remotely compromised with any loud proclamations of curatorial authorship. What a relief! Our new age curators who put works of artists upside down (!) as supposed statements of curatorial intervention with lengthy texts to obscure simple meanings (!!) and over zealous gallerists who defend flimsy ideas because "they are different"(!!!), could well learn a lesson from this well articulated and poetic exhibition. The display of each work in this show is is quiet communication with that of another artist, or with the suggestive continuation of what you have just seen around the corner. Wu Chi Tsung's Wire Mesh IV, Tsai Charwei's Sea Mantra, Kuo I-Chen's Introduction and Newsha Tavakolian's The day I became a women, were my special favourites.

Joss was my quick hop-into- the-restaurant space, where Indonesian squid and chicken dishes left me groaning with over indulgence.

The Taj hotel was my hop-in-to-get- freshened-up space.

Good Earth was my must-visit-and-stock-up-on-delight space.

Bombay Electric was my just-to-peer at fashion space.

And winding through the by lanes of Bandra with Mithun late at night, filling me in with anecdotes about Bombay life was my chill pill of the day.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

I surrender....

My cat Begum believes, that all things mine are hers too. Well she isn't too far off the mark considering I am wrapped around her whiskers, eternally adoring, and basically a huge pushover who does exactly as she desires. So sitting on my computer (yes quite literally) and pressing buttons (in this case not mere emotional ones), she sends off emails half written and tampers with my blog as I write it; making me appear a half wit (which I guess is the real truth about me), to all and sundry!

Mithun looks at me with utter disbelief as curios and other precious items lie in smithereens and I just turn a blind eye. The human fraternity around me expect my patience to snap at such incidents, and I get betrayed looks from them as I fuss and dote over this fur-ball menace who knows she reigns supreme. I am the "on call 24 X 7" court jester who is in attendance to Ms. four paws, who knows no night or day if whimsy takes over and entertainment is sought.

Her favourite way of getting my attention anytime, is to drop items I love off tables and niches which has me instantly on my hands and knees (quite literally) grovelling before her! That apart, my wake up call each morning is to get my nose licked, and if I dare not respond with utterances that pronounce me awake to her enquiries, I get my ankles nipped; and so of course I am ram rod straight in my bed : awake, alert, and reporting for duty. Jai Hind!

Some days she is kind and will sit (all 5 kgs of her) wobbling like a womble on my hip as I sleep those few stolen moments longer. All the while she curls her back paw claws into me every few seconds (just to get a good grip!) and expects me to dream through this special acupuncture session I receive!

All my clothes are finely layered with the shedding of her fur, as she inspects my wardrobes each day diligently and with thoroughness; and I can see it in her eyes that she expects appreciation for this gift of high quality fur left behind that even PETA could not find fault with. Her favourite pastime is to play with any dangling item of my clothing; and these days the edges of my expensive shawls have become her chewing rags whilst she contemplates the world around her, with dilated eyes of pure delight! Wet patches at my shins announce that yet again my teething whiskered feline phantom has done her deed, and vanished!

But to the world around she looks just like any other cute kitty cat! They whistle and make kissing sounds at her, not knowing that a little devious minx exists between those pointy ears of hers. She looks at me in such moments with such utter pity etched in her green and cunning little eyes, that read: "Stupid humans each of them, with no self dignity; and such demeaning behaviour. Tell them to get a life!"

Monday, 18 January 2010

Lal Salaam Comrade....

With Jyoti Basu's passing away the end of an era has come. For me he was someone who truly symbolized the lal salaam through his vision and made the ideals of the movement feel believable to the masses. The tears I saw in the eyes of so many mourners, as the news of his death became know to the nation, showed how much his governance had effected his people and how much his presence would be missed as the rudder to his party.

In the montage of photographs that paid tribute to this dignified leader was one where a little boy (perhaps a relative), hugged him tightly round the neck; and in the process slightly pushed his spectacles askew. In that brief moment you catch the sheer joy of delight that lit up Jyoti Basu's eyes, though all else remained quietly passive, as he sat embraced in this circle of love.

I wish that his party had had the courage to allow him to have been the Prime Minister, when the opportunity was offered to him. I feel certain that this quiet dignified politician would have held his own; and would have given to the nation a path of possibilities that would have been workable to all and where the space for other voices would have been entertained with respect.

For many of my generation a small red flag will always flutter within our social conscience, and it has been stalwarts like Jyoti Basu that have kept that flag firmly pegged within our hearts all these years.

Today sir, this flag inside my heart flies at half mast for you.

Friday, 15 January 2010

You plus me =us!

I attended a function at a local school recently in which each of us five panelists were asked to present ideas about the future of India. My presentation was "The individual and the collective: how small is sometimes big." What was interesting was that a few days later I attended a wonderful talk by an architect friend who repeated the exact same message. Speaking about the need for each individual to take accountability for ecological issues in the world today he implored us to recognise that it is each of us who can bring about the necessary change required if we each had the desire and will to do small things of consequence.

But for those children who sat as the audience at their school function the day I was invited to speak to them; their school and their parents fails them, without a doubt. This is because their parents and teachers have not believed it relevant to sensitize these wonderfully bright, formative and impressionable young people, the value of learning from spaces that are unorthodox and unfamiliar. Where self accountability and introspection are experiences that we teach our youth in the classroom; so that in the moments of being in a crowd the spirit to stand up and be counted burns like a fire in the belly. Where children learn to hold their own space that demarcates who they are for themselves, and we break the pattern of mob mentalities that prevail as the excuse for human dysfunctional behaviour. Where success is not merely reflected in the marks of a report card, but by the personal development of the individual child who is nurtured through wisdom.

No child is ever too young to not be impacted or to not be inspired. The potential to expose our children to learn how they can imbibe positive lessons of life, is infinite. But for any plant to flourish, a seed must be sown. If activities at schools are to truly bear fruit, then we who conduct them need to stringently re-asses the paradigms of purposefulness that we seek to establish. We often become content with the virtue of a gesture and stop short of realising the larger consequence that the intention can carry.

Today the world is changing rapidly and nothing can ever be done that does not impact the collective. If we do not recognise this. If we do not encourage our children to learn this basic lesson that each of them are individuals who add up to make this collective, and who therefore need to be accountable to their conscience at all times; if we do not teach them to be alert to receive from beyond the prescriptive modules of learning; then yes we are failing to equip them with the basic lessons necessary to live productive lives.

So each of us must look at ourselves and whenever we interact with children, prepare them to know the value of these spaces of communication. Because otherwise the spark of knowledge is only a short fuse, and no sustained illumination can ever be expected from it. So let us keep the darkness of ignorance at bay. It takes very little to scratch at the curiosity and alertness of children, and even less to get them to find their inner consciousness and hold it with pride. The question is do we as adults choose to approach the space of interaction with our children for the right reasons, and are we willing to walk the talk ourselves? I leave you to answer that question for yourselves.
Photograph of Rajinder Tikoo the sculptor, talking about his work to students from the collective studio, at Sauparnika on his recent visit to Baroda in January.

Saturday, 9 January 2010

Who has stolen our conscience ?

As I sit once again at midnight, with Begum curled up asleep near my feet; I have finished writing a paper to present to young school students on the future of India. In a time span of eight minutes allotted to each of us five panelists, I have tried, in my time slot, to put across the urgent need to comprehend how crucial the small deed is, in contributing to change; and how nothing can ever be possible unless we situate self accountability as vital in shaping how we take our nation into a more enlighted future.

But right now I have just watched on TV the recorded event of a policeman who begged for help as he lay decapitated and bleeding to death from an assault on a road, whilst a convoy with two ministers and a municipal collector kept aloof and watched him die; wasting twenty vital and precious moments that could have saved this man's life. I have written in my presentation to this young audience, whom I will meet this morning, that I choose to always hold a spirit of optimism and hope with all that I engage with in life. However, right now, it is one of those anguishing times where I have to dig really deep within myself to find the energy once again, to resurrect the hope and optimism. Within such climates that showcase to the entire world the break down of any vestige of political will to act responsibly and with no conscience of service to others, I wonder what role models we can place for the youth to emulate.

Once again it is up to the media to stoke the conscience of the relevant state government and invite the voice of the people to bring to book these ministers for their lack of accountability to their constituents. What better time could there have been than this, to display the humanness that is promised in every electoral speech that is sold to the civil society as a pledge of service of the future? The ironic and tragic contrast of the dying bloodied officer in uniform, writhing on the dusty ground pleading to be helped, whilst these elected officials stayed aloof in their crisp white unblemished mundu's; told the sick story of what Indian political governance really amounts to in reality today. Is this what Gandhi's India has become?

And so we must look into the eyes of our youth and hope that somewhere they will be outraged enough, and desiring of, a need to propel a future that is different: not just by empty mumbled promises written by others that we hear mouthed; but by knowing that they must push their sleeves back and dirty their hands at grass root levels, if we are to truly erase the horror of such images where someone dyes from the neglect and disregard of those who should have saved him, and we merely watch it as another news item, soon to be forgotten.

Wednesday, 6 January 2010


Everyone does not have the capacity to go the long haul and stand up and fight for basic justice, which today in our country has no clear definition any longer. With cases that drag on forever and a corrupted police force that few can trust; a judicial system that needs reforms urgently and the lack of transparency to anything in this country, how absurd is it that the common person has now been bestowed the role to be the saviour who will uphold the values of our nation state and champion the rights of its citizens and see that all wrongs will get set right!

Thanks but no thanks please! We can do without becoming the scapegoats of the bureaucrats and government babus, and resist this dubious pedestal we find ourselves placed upon. Today it has become the expected norm for trials through the media to activate the government machinery into doing its necessary job. What a farce! With thousands of under trials holed up in our prisons, with no care to the infringements of their civil liberties, we walk a dangerous tightrope in believing that public outrage alone (to the few cases focused upon through the media), will correct the systemic failures of these malfunctioning government agencies.

That Ruchika's family have waited 19 long years whilst being emotionally exhorted and mentally tortured by the powers of a state government machinery, is no better than what occurs in the fascist regimes we condemn. A nation that has declared itself a democratic state and presents itself in global forums as a leader of ethics and vision, needs to realise that something is drastically wrong when the image and the action just doesn't match up anymore.

How many more such Ruchika's and Jessica's are out there that must become the examples that lead to change? How many more families ruined and trodden upon by the abuse of power before better sense prevails? How many more corrupted Shibu Sorens will govern our states before we clean up our act? How many more souls do we claim before those appointed to a job understand what their responsibility is?

As a citizen I may have the voice or the ability to protest, but that is an individual choice. When this is thrust on to a citizen where it appears that they are obliged to become the conscience keepers for a nation, whilst elected leaders and government officials abscond from doing their rightful jobs, then dear friends the red flag of warning should be up there for all to see.

How dare a state government turn a blind eye for 19 years, to the abuse of power that Mr. Rathode believed was the licence of his job? How dare the central government pussy foot around such criminal activity that is blatantly obvious, and continue to play political soft ball, pretending all the time that it holds no culpability in such matter ? How dare anyone expect ordinary people to sacrifice their entire lives to bring criminals to book instead of law enforcing agencies attending to it?.

What a shabby country we are! For all those out there in power, hear me loud and clear. Enough is enough. Don't push a nation to its brink. It is exactly such climates of despair in which religious fundamentalism can take root very easily, as it offers the dreams of governance that appears more accountable to the less privileged; and is sold as the ticket of freedom to the masses. To those thousands of nameless people who are trampled daily by the abuse of power, any alternative becomes a better salvation. Is this the future of our tomorrow?

None of us will ever know the grief that Jessica or Ruchika's families feel, but it's high time that India acknowledges them as their daughters, who became the victims of a system of power that has been created by the policy makers of this nation; and they need to address where all this has horribly gone wrong. Stop passing the buck and clean up the system before we drown in the sewage of corruption.

Sunday, 3 January 2010


It's close to three o'clock in the morning and Surendran is still in his studio at Sama-Saveli working. Three of my students are in the collective studio painting next door, and I was chewing my lip over a text I am currently writing to accompany a group show that originated from a ceramic workshop recently. Since the flow of my thoughts clogged up for a bit, I put aside that writing and thought I would blog instead, to let myself unwind.

I have always loved the nights as an artist. The absolute stillness of our home in contrast to the flurry of activity that streams through it during the day, is like a saved up present you open alone because you don't want to share it with anyone! Monkeys are sleeping on the ledges of our flat next door and as I peer at them through the mosquito mesh windows, their silhouettes look like Mughal drawings from the books in my library upstairs.

The air is faintly scented with the fragrance of myrrh from the incense I lit after dinner and Begum sleeps in a chair that she has colonised over the months, as her own. My green tea has grown cold but I still sip it, more from habit than desire! Though it's winter and there is a slight chill in the air, the fan above me whirrs at half speed to keep the mosquitoes from coming too close and cozying up to me. The sound of it is familiar and comforting for me and has hundreds of memories attached to it, that come alive in such moments of solitude.

Mithun's photograph stares back at me and I know that he is asleep right now, and safe for today.

The back gate has been opened and I can hear Surendran park his car.......

One day slips into the night and the night slips back into the day....

Saturday, 2 January 2010

My dirty dozen!

I was watching TV the other day and I thought what fun it would be if I had magical powers and I could instantly create make-overs for people and gift them boons, like a true blue blooded Queen should! So read on for what the Queen of Sama decrees.....

Here's my 2010 instant fix-it gift list!

A change from chairman Mao's red sun to a smaller bindi for Brinda Karat. Bharti Kher can be appointed as the Bindi consultant.

A dress designer that doesn't have a bhenji label for Barka Dutt, along with a hair stylist that hasn't recently worked in Tihar Jail.

A ban on the use of hair dyes for Ravi Shastri and Sunil Gavasker, all over India and abroad.

Less starch in P. Chidambaram mundu, and instead a silk black kurta with white churidhar's please!

Rahul Gandhi ONLY in smart urban-Indian western attire and without the grungy stubble.

A gift of the rainbow to Mamta, for colour and a pot of gold thrown in!

A muzzle for Arnab Goswami, and a book on how not to interrupt when others are speaking.

A crash course, free, to all the participants of the big boss serial on how to get a life of their own.

A script writer and speech coach for our Indian cricketers.

A cook for Kareena Kapoor so that she stops looking like a half starved human being.

A curator for the National Gallery of Modern Art in Delhi and Mumbai who can differentiate between a museum space and a godown.

Trimming Manmohan Singh's bushy eyebrows so that we can see the twinkle in his eye when all else is a deadpan look.

Friday, 1 January 2010

Happy New Year!

2010..... but it seems like only yesterday that I was in another year!

Time means different things for different people, so I will leave you to interpret the great philosophical content behind my smart one-liner!

Like a true half Baavi, madness rules my life unknown to others; and so when I sat to do my yearly stock taking on how 2009 had panned out for me, as the cusp of the new year ticked in, I had a whirling-twirling-swirling image of myself in perpetual motion! Like a dervish I spin about all the time. And though I was "technically" on a self imposed "sabbatical" from doing any heavy-duty work for a year, neither my brush nor my head stayed still for a moment. Besides which I cooked frantically, taught passionately, blogged one fingeredly, travelled feverishly, mothered indulgently, read hungrily, gymed enthusiastically, baby sat Begum our new adopted feline gustily, laughed and cried emotionally.....and 365 days flashed by!

My new year resolution for 2010 :

To whirl and twirl and swirl with even more abandon!

As I sat with close friends and family watching red heart shaped gas balloons nestle on the ceiling of our front veranda at 2 am in the morning, sipping green tea and laughing over everything and nothing, I knew I was born under the luckiest star in the universe.

Have a HAPPY HAPPY New Year and make each of the 365 days meaningful for yourself, because I intend to do just that!