Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Nonstop and back!

I was in Chennai with friends for a celebration that brought many old friends and memories together over delicious food, and the delight of listening to the Gundecha brothers performing for the occasion. What can I say.... by now I think I have established that my heart strings work over time, and so it is suffice to say that back in Chennai with friends (who compound memories that span two decades), made for a blissful encounter.

I stopped over in Mumbai the following evening to catch Nilima Sheikh's beautifully poignant show Each night put Kashmir in your dreams, presented by Chemould prescot. Nilima is a national treasure as an artist, and I wish that a museum or an art patron would acquire the entire show because it is bodies of work such as these that are the art history of our times. What a shame that such opportunities go wasted. Is any IPL cricket team owner listening ?

Unfortunately the hot topic in the Bombay tabloids is the "splitsville" situation between an artist couple. The story doing the rounds is that neither individual is happy over the "sensationalising" of their private lives in this manner. But the lesson to be learnt is that when you believe that being plastered on page three is the ticket to fame, and you connive and cajole and pay your way into this circuit, then this is the unfortunate price you finally pay when your privacy is transgressed upon. Being part of art history is via the quality of work we produce, and this not so young couple are both genuinely good artists whose work does us proud. The only trouble is that they were in such a hurry to "make it big" in Bombay, and perhaps were ill-advised to the methodologies that offer/pronounce "success", that patience was never a sought after module of self governance. I genuinely hope that they both find their way out of this messy situation in a restrained and dignified manner, because washing dirty linen in view of the public will only be a painful legacy for the two of them to live with; and it will not achieve anything other than personal anguish. Privacy is precious, and one should always guard oneself from too much over exposure. But then as is the usual case of stars that blind your eyes in the guise of shutter bugs; sensibility seems old fashioned and caution is the quickest things that gets thrown to the winds at such times!

The highlight of my day in Bombay was the time I spent with Mithun. Time with him is perhaps the most precious for me always. He took me for dinner, and as only he can, I felt the most pampered mother in the universe!

Anyway back at home Begum enthusiastically greeted me, with many meow stories that I am sure translate to how much she has missed me! Of course evidence of this was a chewed up tiny cloth tiger that was recently gifted to me that I discovered under my bed. Oh well, who said anything about a perfect world!

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Twenty-six years just yesterday.....

I lost a friend today. One of my class mates from my preparatory batch at the Faculty of Fine Arts, Baroda. 1976. Like it was yesterday. But for twenty six years I had not heard from him. And then last year after I started my blog, voila, he popped back into my life; and through me reconnected with three other dear friends from the class of 1981. It was because of him that I recently signed up on face book; because he wanted to share photographs he had posted on his personal page and was too lazy to send them to my gmail account! So just for him I went into this "other" cyber world grumbling and fumbling along.....but as the photographs brought him back into focus within my life, time melted away and Joseph was back in the gang once again and time sort of stood still!

My three friends and I were planning a trip over to Malaysia to see him. The appropriate time slot within schedules of renovating homes, teaching in colleges, exhibition schedules and other mundane but time appointed chores that spell the routines we adhere to was the stumbling block to finalising a date till now. But suffice to say the delight of planning and dreaming and imagining the reunion with this old friend was the motivation that underlined the joy of this exercise and provoked us to keep it on the top of our wish list.

Today the message I received read: Joe passed away an hour ago. It's so difficult to take in....

Time sometimes cheats us in ways that makes no sense.

Joseph Fernz my dearest friend, rest in peace.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Catching my always!

My life is often like a well stacked apple cart that takes a tumble, leaving me scrambling to bring back order around me. It can often be the most unexpected and unrelated factors that may create a crisis, and however "prepared" one believes one maybe the order of routines are hit immediately at the knees, and one inevitable will stumble.

But rather than fall completely, I prefer to limp and catch at any stabilising props around myself, and force the balance of my routine back into place. I think these occurrences that disrupt (though not enjoyable in the least!) are really essential lessons in survival.

Perhaps I need to explain firstly that the general understanding of crisis always appears to suggest that only things that are massive in impact, qualify as being destabilizing. This is totally a skewered perception. We need to accept and recognise that in everybody's world, like tiny capillaries, our existence is fed by numerous things that if ruptured become like a bruise on the skin of our existence.

Practicality to think on ones feet and problem solve without making everything into an entire episode of magnitude, teaches one how to filter thought processes in ways that do not over exaggerate nor underestimate , but to contextualise and target the essential priority.

My life today has me often in circumstances and situations that demand my time away from my studio. But on each such occasion of distraction I quell my jack-in-the-box emotions of frustration that pop up, and instead mediate to learn lessons of patience, compassion, humanism and sharing that I know will open up bigger worlds for me as a painter.

In the conversations of other artists that sometimes surround me, I often feel stifled by the smallness of worlds where the grandeur of self-importance stands out like an ugly rash: irritating and persistent. And so it is wonderful to know that amidst this unfortunate predictability of human folly are artists like Riyas Komu who quietly does so much in the lives of other artists; and the vision of Sudhir Patwardhan who conceives the truth of a travelling exhibition to hold real meaning and impact. Dashing men both; you are my heroes for the sincerity of your convictions and the examples you set.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Because it is just that!

Happy Women's Day!
To every woman, and to all the men who know the truth of equality; this day is yours.

Sunday, 7 March 2010

Say cheese baby!

Am spending this Sunday with a photographer friend in Bombay, who is there for a shoot from Bangalore; to learn-decipher-interpret my new G 11 canon camera! From the complete shut down I had with photography to playing with my Nokia N 79 camera, and to recently being gifted with this new camera by Surendran at the Johannesburg is like coming full circle for me! My first camera was a professional canon, so in many ways it is like returning to an old friend.

Am leaving on a jet plane.....Corny but apt don't you think?!
Will be back on Monday morning hopefully slightly more enlightened about life through a lens!!

Friday, 5 March 2010

Memory loss down memory lane!

The debates on TV these days revolving around M.F Husain's citizenship issue, has made me cringe with embarrassment over the manner of insensitivity with which anchors like Arnab Goswami have attempted to make a complex issues black and white. The desire to paint (excuse the pun), Mr. Husain into a scheming money-hungry old man, grabbing at the opportunity to ride a red Ferrari and pad his mattress with the mega bucks, is truly revolting.

I think that the history of this story is either conveniently being overlooked by many (whose intelligence I would like to believe could figure out the larger agendas at play); or people in the news media are in fact the ones to blame for "wanting a story at any cost with a different angle": mad angled bingo chips may soon do too, at this rate! This new analysis that is being floated, that those of us who are Husain supporters (outraged at the apathy of successive Indian governments who have dragged their feet over tackling the anti social tirades of communal forces, and their violent disruptions to Husain's art and art practice), are in fact attempting to communalise the situation, is proof enough that the ability to perceive and read the accurate political factors within this targeted harassment, is completely absent.

As an artist, I have been observing the slow and steady eroding of liberal thinking and the goonda brigade vigilantism of culture, that is orchestrated by political agencies which has impacted the art world, by infringing upon it's freedom to express. I am also hugely tired of these assumptions that artists who are liberal are prostituting ancient Indian cultural norms and desecrating the purity of Indian civilization. These are windbag stories, and I am bored to death by the likes of Mr. Chandra Mitha, (pompous men) who talk the rhetoric of the saffron brigade and airs their bigoted views on this subject. It is time for TV channels to find more articulate new speakers who are informed, and whose views are substantiated by opinions (even if differing to what I may hope to hear), that are not rubbish hate speeches.

As for Mr. Arnab Goswami. A lesson in manners, the decorum of refinement and research in Indian contemporary art history is the homework I assign you, young man.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

Rekha's day out!

I went into the old city of Baroda yesterday because I needed to buy some material for myself that I could only procure from the gullies and by lanes of this teaming other world. I went with a friend who equally delights in these sudden "out of the routine-lets take a walk-and who cares it's hot" plans; and so armed with independent water bottles and my newly needed sun protection all in place, we sailed to a berthing destination in my little Skoda Fabia; and then took to the streets on foot!

I always dive back into the nostalgia of when I was six years old on such occasions, and would drive about these very areas with my mother in our shining polished red herald as we shopped for this or that, whilst I lazily looked around in wonderment at old wooden architecture with a romantic eyes that far preceded my actual age. Today of course the city is no longer full of those exquisitely carved wooded buildings, and the few that are sandwiched between concrete and glass new age bling, look forlorn and unkempt and tragically forsaken.

But what hasn't changed is the charged energy that buzzes like the stock exchange floor at the peak of trading! I love that realness of the old city. I immediately become like the guest in this space and am always careful to use the etiquette and behaviour that represents my respect for what is the norm and expectations within this other world. Courtesies are different but don't for a second believe that they are absent. They are just packaged differently. The engagement of human interaction is bald and obvious; warm and genuine: and very comforting.

You are of course from time to time, assaulted by odious smells that leave your nostrils quivering; but if you can leave your chi-chi attitudes aside for a while, you will be embraced by the stories and spirit of the lives of people who have so much to share.

With my odd Hindi and almost non existent Gujarati I enter into conversations with all and sundry, and what emerges most times are interludes that give me an insight into worlds that are genuine and essential, and though different from mine, connected non the less. The air-conditioned shopping mall will never provide me with such rich experiences that can teach me to know myself better. The joking, the laughter the promises to share a meal - all this lies in those shaded gullies where cool breezes hover and business is transacted in ways as though no livelihood actually depends upon it! It's a special world out there and I love it.

Tuesday, 2 March 2010

Autodrive and asleep!

I was invited to visit a young artist's studio yesterday and came back with a heavy heart. The tragedy today amongst many young artists in Baroda, and in particular those who paint, is that they are insulating themselves from a palpable world of 'nowness and reality" that reflects in the inarticulate and technically sloppy stuff that they deliver as art works. The folly in all this is that they are super happy with all that they produce(!), and choose to ignore the "in your face" lack of standard that is terrifyingly evident. They also ignore the very obvious fact that they really need to spend much more time in learning and deliberating on their work, with an objective and critical distance through which they must negotiate and resolve.

I also wonder why I am invited into these spaces. My belief is that there is an unstated and naive desire on their part to be embraced by mindless praise, that would (I imagine) bolster their sense of internal security. However when any intelligent discourse is initiated the rigmaroles of fear and panic set in, and one either has the defence mechanism of bratty arrogance or sniffling servitude that becomes the modus operandi of these communications; both of which leave me perplexed and mildly irritated and extremely bored!

The exhibition, the catalogue, the price tag: these seem to be the ultimate emblems that these youngsters imagine define what an artist is all about! It's all about the race to be seen. It's all about getting a small mention in a newspaper and perhaps a photograph. Wow! This = SUCCESS! Their inability to create a critical distance within themselves to negotiate and problematize their own work is transparently obvious in the "sweetie pie syndrome" of "I love everything I do" attitude that is flaunted in your face. Well so does Paris Hilton, and who cares, so lets get real!

I have resolved not to rupture my days any more with these useless (and far too frequent) requests to view art at these private viewings. Such meetings are embarrassingly torturous for me and yield nothing of consequence because the intellectual depth appears deliberately and shockingly stilted by choice. The magical "at a press of a button Internet" world seems to be the only universe and bedrock of belonging for many of this generation. Art history plays no significant role to either contextualise of inform, and the foolery of this charade becomes burdensome for others to encounter and to treat seriously.

The strutting arrogant artist or the about to burst into tears artist is truly wearisome. I like to encounter substance and character when I meet people. Articulation is not determined by how much you talk, but in what evidences itself as your preoccupations and your method of realising your concepts within a visual language. The superficiality of trite engagement stifles me and I wonder what truth lies ahead for these chill-pill kids on the block! If I sound harsh, trust me, on this occasion I am really measuring my words! My parting line on this issue would be: Have the courage to challenge yourself and you will be pleasantly surprised with what you discover about yourself.

Monday, 1 March 2010


I was in Bangalore recently and was really delighted to visit 1Shantiroad. For those who do not know what I am talking about, this is a collective space that has evolved under the directorship of Suresh Jayaram, who runs art residency programs that invite all types of articulations to be explored. Suresh himself lives there and embraces the needs of each of the artists in ways that are not typical, and the result is this marvelous "home" which in my opinion is what a studio is for every artist.

Food and belief : two absolute soul requirements are in abundance at this magical place whose architecture twists and turns and tucks away, with the ease of a conjurers map; and gives you the illusion that despite the full house there is always room for many more to be accommodated. Nothing is segregated in this space and though you have your private locations to live and work, the undertone of the space is a community that celebrates the spirit of sharing and engaging with no holds barred.

I just LOVED it! I felt rejuvenated to witness the continuation of a legacy special to art in India where we devises means by which we choose to be a community who can depend upon one another. At a time where the political governance is abdicating its responsibility by choosing not to rectifying the mistakes related to how we are treating M.F Husain like a common criminal, being at 1Shantiroad was like finding a light when you least expect it.

Where this place succeeds is that it engages with activities of art that are serious, and where funding is recognised as vital to the realisation of each project. It also provides the platform of discourse within the frameworks of informal settings, that ties up and connects energies between people in extremely effective and productive manners.

Suresh Jayaram is an accomplished writer and an artist, and his wisdom lies in his genuine ability to remain curious of life, and to believe that he plays a role of significance through his engagement with others. That one person alone can generate so much stimulus to a community, and without any fanfare and chest thumping, is truly spectacular. You are my hero, dear friend!