Thursday, 24 June 2010

The Moral of the Story....

Studying under the guidance of Jyotibhai as a student, I learnt so much about the craft and folk traditions of Indian art, but perhaps most significantly about Indian textiles, embroidery and floor painted decorations and the delight of tribal embellishment. These instructions were never within paradigms of classroom instructions but instead as incidental conversations that occurred in the natural course of simple conversations.

As black and white images would slowly emerge in the darkroom, or over the tiffin carrier that was sometimes shared in the canteen for lunch, I learnt from the stories and anecdotes that Jyotibhai would relate to us all about a world of experience I would otherwise have had no access to. This wealth of information has stayed with me to aid me in my own endeavours and enquiry on the subject over the years.

For example when I travelled in Turkey, it was two lengths of tatting (a form of embroidery) and a local piece of printed voile, that I love the most from the various strange things I acquired. It is normally such expressions that hold the local cultural ethos that I delight in viewing. Some of my girl friends have gifted me exquisite handmade cloth and woolen dolls that are arranged in my cupboard, and which I love to see each day.

Through these informal exchanges that were insights into the areas of another's interest, I was able to cultivate my own passions and find new territories of excitement. I love the blur between the refined and that which maybe deemed as kitsch.One of my great loves is the painted decorations on Pakistani trucks. I was telling my friend recently how much I desired the possibility of having our tiny Skoda car painted by these artists! My friend of course looked quizzically at me to first ascertain that I wasn't just taking the Mickey out of her, before wholeheartedly endorsing my fantasy like a good friend should!

I still love to wear a printed fabric tied around my waist, with a choli and an odhani as a form of dressing. The vibrant prints, the intense bright coloured dyes, the handmade tassels that fringe the edges all make me feel regal! It is this alternative world of information that our teachers gave to us which allowed us to make different choices than those more predictable. I don't know if I weave the same magic for my students, but I make certain that many stories and anecdotes get shared amongst us. Because the passion from one person will certainly spill over onto another; and it is this that ignites the chance of the beginning of new interests to take root.

Monday, 21 June 2010

If you listen, you can hear....

I miss being able to listen to the Oprah Winfrey talk show as I paint, as the star TV cable network I subscribe to does not have it on it's package. As a talk show there were always some programs that were for the expected entertainment of the genre, but it was not to these that my attention was captivated. What held my interest was something else.

As in most cases it is the wealth and success of Oprah Winfrey that dazzles many people. But what makes her outstanding for me is her philosophy : to be the best that she can be. As I would paint in those afternoons and hear her voice echo in my studio (from the volume set high), it was programs that situated the risk to be different, to tackle issues that were uncomfortable, and to create a space where learning was apologetically addressed; that I gravitated towards.

Her book club holds the most significance for me in the legacy of who she is. In a world where literacy and reading are not necessarily the same thing, she gave to her nation (and to so many people around the world), the gift of reclaiming a forsaken heritage of reading literature once again.

As Maya Angelou and Toni Morrison and so many other writers spoke in intimacy of their writings on her show, and where the excitement of sharing a story could bring the human connections of other histories into the picture of consequence; a new birth of awareness from the simple diligence of her personal belief , caught the awareness of a multitude of listeners.

She contributes to the long legacy of activism of those who care enough to make change their business. It is not those glittering diamonds nor the many palatial homes she has, that matters for me. I remember her because she cares to want to change the world. Bravo lady. I miss you dearly!

Saturday, 19 June 2010

Pride without Prejudice ......

I received an sms today that held anti Pakistani sentiments and was astonished that as a nation we continue to want to keep the wounds of old hurt still festering. It goes without saying that the history we share with this neighbouring country is a complex one, fraught with pain and anguish of multiple break-downs of mutual trust and co-operation. The wily world of politics has milked the benefits of hostility on both sides of the border, and neither country has shown the appropriate will or desire to sustain political peace in the region. But even within this unfortunate legacy, why do we as ordinary citizens allow ourselves to be influenced so blindly by the games of political manipulation, and breed bigotry as attitudes we proliferate as individuals ?

My father was a fighter pilot in the Indian air force and fought for the security and sovereignty of this country in all the Indo-Pak wars. A valiant officer who was exemplary in his duty to his nation in battle, he however never propagated a single anti-Pakistan sentiment. As an intellectual, he comprehended the compulsions that lead nations to make such choices; and was always saddened by the consequences that these actions held for the lives of innocent citizens, in both countries.

I was brought up to understand the need to contextualize history and to never absorb the indoctrination of hate or separatism. I was encouraged from a very young age to question, but with an understanding that this process does not lead to simplistic solutions or easy explanations. I was taught to always value the positive energies of life and to offer the respect of consideration to difference at all times.

National pride is a wonderful sentiment but when it becomes a tool that digs the graves of others, then it looses the lessons of progressive development that are essential for a nation to build its future upon. If we are to be a proud nation, then let us please be an enlightened one too.

Friday, 18 June 2010

24 X 7 + more

In the collective studio that I am engaged with, I talk about many things that are often seemingly unrelated to the practice of art. But to connect the dots that make up the actual picture of life for each of them, even the smallest most insignificant things must and have to be reflected upon with consideration, if a genuine journey of knowledge is to be examined.

It takes a while for the specialness of understanding to break through the conditioned factors they carry as mental baggage. And here too, it is through the small and minute that immense lessons of self realisation always occur. Just recently one of my students told me how he could now understand why drawing and observations facilitates his ability to imagine in ways that he could not comprehend before. Today his work possesses the reward of experience that comes not from the instruction of any teachers words alone, but instead from his own inner discipline to find his visual articulation. It is these moments (within a multitude of other times of self -doubt), that still holds my commitment to remain engaged with young art students.

Another student of the collective races with the clock these days. The pressure here is not about the number of paintings that are being targeted, but is really about propelling the self to shed a complacency, and to shed the belief that art must always be "laboured" over. What becomes the touchstone of learning from such an endeavour is that an ability is found to raise the bar of self expectancy; and to deliver. Through this comes a confidence where raw energy and ideas accelerate to define a performance that one would otherwise never discover for oneself.

It is this stamina and will to make time yield beyond what is normally expected, that becomes the entry to a greater space of learning. My students, when they first enter the program, are astonished at the demands and rigour of the studio practice that is mandatory for all. Within weeks the inner resistance slowly fades to give way to the pleasure of self achievement that starts to evidence itself. This trial by fire provides them a space of reflection where they are obliged to examine, question, negotiate and alter aspects of who they are, for themselves.

The energy to create is palpable on most days in the collective studio, when the alertness to learn is kept like a finely tuned string on an instrument, by their self-determined disciple. What is fulfilling for me on such days, where new doors of comprehension open for them, is that the joy is solely their own personal treasure that holds value because it is real.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

On my way home....

I visited my teacher last evening. He lives very close to my home and as I was coming back from the gym (wearing tights and terribly sweaty and dishevelled!), I had this sudden urge to talk to someone older. Where I could be embraced by knowledge and experience in ways where I could sit encircled within it, and refurbish my own spirit. I sat curled up in a big arm chair nibbling a murku, as we talked about issues of tribal oppression, the comfort of illusions that religion offers for the insecure, the pros and cons of the teachings of Krishnamurthy, the vision of intention of art institutions when formulated, the failure of the left in West Bengal and the complacency that trust breeds.

It is such stolen moments that compile whatever free time I have. Quiet interludes with no fan fare but which offer a sustenance that cannot be quantified. And when I reflect upon the wasted hours that many artists in the metropolises spend "being seen at the right venues", believing that their "careers" depend upon this visibility and the perennial wine glass as a symbol of urban success (!); I wish that they would experience modules of interaction that hold more significance.

I grew up within these rituals of informal conversations with friends and elders; as a student either on the old art history steps or at the various chai lari's or the homes of our teachers that were always open for us. Later this extended into our personal studio's and homes once we completed our studies as students.

The hum of the fan, the piles of books that lie around, the cup of tea or coffee and the intimacy of dialogue far out shadow any art party or page three cultural event for me. And yesterday as I sat curled in the comfort of that armchair, I was able to feel the genuineness of spirit and the dynamism of a life of experiences, cast its long shadow onto me. Like the comfort of a cool breeze, the delight of such interludes is exquisitely personal.

Monday, 14 June 2010

The learning curve...

I have altered my plans to visit Ewha Womens University by deferring the invitation to March 2011. The university had requested me to accommodate a longer time schedule so I have complied with offering a duration of two and a half months; and with my existing schedule, March 2011 to May 2011 are the months that appear to suit both parties as of now. I am slightly concerned however that two of my students from the collective will be having their final displays in June 2011, but Surendran like a true warrior partner(!) has promised vigilant overseeing and monitoring of all needs, that span from emotional well being to health matters and a whole lot of other non related art stuff too; but which are vital to these student's worlds and their well being.

Two of my students are just back from a cultural trip to Italy and with the jet lag still heavy on their eyelids, I have marched them back into their studio routine where the rigours of the program begin once again with no concession or let up. I had a short and interesting conversation this morning over the phone where I was posed the question of why such uninteresting art is being produced by most art colleges today. I think that the onus of blame lies within certain connected territories : 1) The teaching at art colleges is of very poor quality; and teaching institutions do not position the rigours of discipline to mould and shape the learning process, that can marry skill and intellect to deliver visual articulation of genuine substance. 2) I do not observe the self motivation amongst students that is required to target excellence. The apathy that prevails and the complacency to accept the ordinary as being sufficient, is a truly shocking reality to encounter. 3) The overt or subtle invasions at art colleges, of agencies with political agendas that use cultural territories to destabilise secularity, has created a compromised position of authority within the teaching fraternity and has given mediocre students a convenient shoulder to shoot from.

Teaching must hold great passion and be a space that is not corrupted by any narrowness or conservatism of thinking. Teaching is also not confined to the walls of an institution alone nor are lessons to learn only from prescriptive quarters either. Yesterday for example, I showed the art work of my 11 year old adopted granddaughter Aditi to the students of the collective, because it possessed an articulation of a conceptual idea more cohesively than a student twice her age.

It is good to be strict and demanding from adult art students and insist upon accountability. From self presentation, to verbal articulation, to research and information, to studio practice, to the presentation of a finished product, to methodology and management of professional and personal spaces, to finance and self governance, to travel and exposure...........all this and much much more is the territory that I will engage with, with a student.

Most of my students shed copious tears of self pity from time to time. The tissue boxes are plenty in my house, but my instincts are never wrong. Each of them finally stand tall. Confident, commanding of their abilities, and emotionally and intellectually well rounded. That's what goes into a days teaching.

Sunday, 13 June 2010

Let kids remain kids please.....

I went to see the new film that is currently showing in the theatres called "Karate Kid" because I am always entertained by the magic of Jackie Chang's acting. However this was a bit of a hoax, and I was utterly disappointed to find myself watching a ridiculously dated story that revolves around Will Smith's son (sweet as he is I am sure), who is a very ordinary actor. It appears to me that the enthusiasm of doting parents who have produced this film, is perhaps the reason behind allowing Jaden Smith to believe that he has the acting prowess to hold a film on his own merit. I am choosing however to refrain from writing a more detailed critique of the film because I would not want to comment on a child in ways that can certainly be negative to their self esteem.

Therefore what haunts me much more than the mediocrity of the film (because it doesn't even hold up to the promise of the genre it is slotted within), is that celebrity parents like the Smith's did not comprehend the lose of innocence that such a choice brings with it. Bad enough that this young boy is already exposed to the media glare with having celebrity parents; but now he can never just hang loose or go unnoticed in public spaces, and experience his teenage years away from the spotlight of "fame and celebrity status" being umbrellaed over him.

Hollywood is full of stories of child stars who suffer burn outs and become wasted in the struggle that growing up too soon brings along. Why on earth would parents who are obviously financially so well off as the Smith's are, want to place their child in this public domain for display. Nothing can ever compensate a carefree childhood and there are many requests and desires that children have, that are not always age appropriate. Just say NO! It must be the wisdom of parents to preserve that space of growing which every child needs, that is supported by what is relevant and essential to the age of the child.

Thursday, 10 June 2010

An invitation ....

I have been invited to teach at the Ewha womens university in South Korea this September. The invitation is for a year but my work schedules do not permit me the luxury of shutting shop in Baroda for twelve months, and relocating else where.

I am genuinely looking forward to teaching in an institution of repute once again. Most often my students (wherever I am a visiting faculty), are initially shell shocked by the discipline and raw vigour of my programs; but soon toe the line and recognise that it is in fact a devise that throws open there own worlds much wider for them to discover from.

For this project, I have designed a module that will condense three months teaching into one month. The reason that I prefer such a tight and tough agenda is that it forces an alertness and sharpness of responses; and equally demands that targets become real and immediate.

This will be my first venture at an all women's university, and as an artist engaged for much of my professional life with gender politics, I am keenly interested to work at a university that has been founded from feminist parameters and needs.

I am always excited to travel to Korea. My adopted granddaughter Aditi is half Korean. Teaching in another cultural context with certain limitations of fluency of English will provide the tension of challenge to provoke me to reinvent my methods of communication, and make them relevant and consequential to the context of this situation.

My nose is already to the grinding stone! I intend to present three of my lectures on Indian art that span from the 17th century to contemporary art of today. I need to work upon some areas of these written papers (to add and alter as I do each time I use them), and so my studio time is going to diminish in the build-up to me leaving for Korea.

Also with the digital era I have had to walk away from the comfort of "sorting through slides", that was the devise of documentation for so many years for artists of my generation. These days instead I have to scan visuals. I hate how the spines of my treasured books take a beating from being flatten on to the machines so that their innards can be stolen. Power point presentations are now the order of the day. The carousel ride is unfortunately forever over!!!! For a long while I resisted this shift in technology and would make people hunt down projectors like adventurers looking for dinosaur fossils! The pitying looks I received finally penetrated my senses and so I now march to the drums of change whenever required!! Laptop's are the new companion instead of lapdogs.....and so I will have mine in tow too!!!

I am excited but as always equally terrified too. This Siamese twin emotional tug of war inside of me is that necessary devise that helps me to be balanced. Teaching is a responsibility that involves others and so I choose to be accountable. So The next two months will fly by with tons of work to be done, and I can already hear the seconds ticking........

My skates are on and its that heady rush to beat the clock!!!!

As the McDonald's add says; "I am lovin' it!!!"

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Snuffed out without a whimper....

How cheap is life in India.

26 years after a tragedy that the entire world knows to be a result of utter negligence, justice and compensation are still to be offered to the Bhopal gas victims and their dependents.

The photograph of the dead child's head with glazed eyes that many photographers documented, and which symbolises for so many of us the horror of those countless silent voices who were killed or maimed as a consequence of disregard, now remains just an archival data for those who dispense justice.

Shame on the lack of will of those who were responsible to review and handle the enquiry of this case. Shame on countries that stand for progress and development. Shame on our silence and apathy that allows the offenders to escape punishment.

Life certainly seems cheap when accountability for safety and protection of life is conveniently avoided, and the tragedy of thousands can become a closed chapter in the blink of an eye. How bankrupt are we in our conscience?

Monday, 7 June 2010

A drive back in time....

When the heat gets too much, move to a zone that could be even hotter! Well I don't know what prompted my impulsive decision but we set off for a weekend, Surendran and myself and two friends to Rajasthan!! Devigarh was the destination that took our fancy and so we piled into in our Fabia Skoda; music blaring and munching chips and homemade sandwiches like there was no tomorrow!!!

The Devigarh fort takes your breath away with its towering presence encased within the quiet serenity of the Aravali mountain range. Like a miniature painting coming alive, I almost believed that if I squinted my eyes a little bit, the romping deer and stalking tigers would catch my gaze.

The hospitality at the resort places you into the realm of the royal and the regal; and as you sit in the hava mahal on cushions or in a hall with flickering candles and a table decorated with rose petals dining on sumptuous delicacies specially prepared to titillate your palate, you could quite easily slip back a few centuries without batting an eyelid.

I normally wear an innovation which is a cross between two traditions: the South Indian dhavini (or half sari as it is known colloquially), and the Gujarati chaniya choli. So as I drifted about in the evenings with my odhani fluttering from my shoulder, I think I could have easily convinced myself I was a queen from some bygone era taking her nocturnal stroll!

As we swam in the swimming pool with the backdrop of the fort and the view of the mountain range in the horizon, I could well understand the true magic of our history and the grandeur that we read about from those days.

The ideals of secularity and the harmony of the Delwara village is something that is a great sense of pride to those who live tucked in the shadow of the Devigarh fort. They point out that the Mosque, the Hindu temple and the Jain temple all stand clustered together, and never has ill will or violence been felt till date. But in the same breath they speak of the poverty that engulfs them, and their tired eyes bear testimony to this fact.

The cleanliness and order of this beautiful place, the warmth and generosity of all those who welcomed us to Devigarh, and the masti between the four of us made a spontaneous trip an amazing experience. I feel grateful that there are people like Mrs. Poddar who care to invest and create a business module that brings back a heritage to a nation. Our country has much of it's heritage just decaying from neglect. Here is a wonderful lesson for our government to learn in relation to preservation, restoration and tourism going hand in hand. Any takers?

Thursday, 3 June 2010

Thank you Shama!

Shama posted a comment on my blog recently that spoke about the sadness that invades his very being, each time he encounters a homeless immigrant from another land in the country that he currently lives in. It provoked a Pandora's box of images from all corners of the world, that flooded my mind instantly of lives that have fallen off the edge; because promised dreams have been unfulfilled and legal systems of protection fail to offer solutions that can invest people with dignity and hope.

It is unfortunately human nature to instantly desire to judge and condemn people who have fallen under the radar of legal requirements, or whose circumstance are from compromised legal situations where others have cheated them. The filthy odour of unhygienic living, the stupor of alcohol and substance abuse that becomes the shell of comfort from despair, the criminality that poverty leads them to, the violence that is a result of dehumanised attitudes they encounter, and an inability to locate belief which could provide the potential of a solution: all this and more somehow "allows" us the convenience to ignore them and to treat them as embarrassments to the order of our cities/nations.

Of course we never choose to consider beyond the superficiality of our reactions, nor do we really care to act upon any twinge of conscience that we may have about our indifference to these people. Belonging finally to no land and living in fear of retribution, becomes the blanket that encompasses so many immigrants who have either been misguided in their own dreams of relocation, are politically in need of asylum, or led astray by the greed of others who have preyed upon their frailty and need to better themselves economically.

It angers me to hear the great speeches of conservative ideologues that dissuade government policy-makers from finding ways to facilitate illegal immigrants, and help them to integrate themselves into an official system that could recognise them and aid them to formulate a stable life. It is as though in doing so an entire nations wealth will be held to ransom! The irony is that like good slave traders, countries open up their borders to immigrants whenever they need "workers" to do jobs that they either are incompetent of doing themselves or believe the job to be too lowly for their own citizens!

Shama is one of those kind hearted people who knows that the distrust that he encounters from the homeless immigrants (when he attempts to embrace through acts of kindness), are not because they are without an understanding of his gestures. To them, to open their hearts would be to let the flood gates of their tightly shut away emotions come gushing out to drown them. To them, to do so would mean that they would be destroyed in that luxury to feel again. To them, it is a wiser option not to hope. For they understand the limitations of acts of kindness and know that they would become unwelcome if they reached out for more or communicated their desires. The wisdom that governs such people is often lost on us, because we incapable of contextualising the truth of a situation.

The world needs hundreds and thousands and billion more Shamas. Each kind gesture of a thousand and more individuals would then string together and make a substantial offering of belief that could then alleviate, and save. To pull a person out of trouble we must know that we cannot let go of the hand that believes we are their saviour. Thank you Shama for reminding us of many things we look away from each day. Under the grime and dirt of the abandoned, is a face that is like yours and mine. Why do we forget this and walk away.

Wednesday, 2 June 2010

When to stop!

When do you know that a work of art is complete? Many times I see works at a point in my friends and colleagues studio's and know it to be a finished work; only to later find that it has been pulled into directions where it's magic has been forsaken at the expense of over working an image or an idea.

I recently visited K.G Subramanyan and was held enraptured by a bunch of photographs that he showed me of his re-done black and white mural at Shantineketan. Stunningly beautiful and perfect! Perfect because this master knows exactly how to play with the elements of art and understands so exquisitely the language that he employs. No extra tamasha's of any sort from this artist. What you get is a crispness of articulation that is striking in its vigour; and where the forms that make the subject do not get over indulged in from either sentimentality or a desire to insist upon a narrative that dominates. He is the ultimate conjurer!

He was my teacher in an oblique way. Pestered by me to view my work as a student, he finally gave in and would silently view my drawing each Saturday when I was a fourth year student. Two piles would form : one that was stacked up with many drawing and the other (if luck prevailed) would have a handful put together. The big stack were the trashed ones.

It was from silent lessons like these that over the years the discipline that makes for assessing ones own work, took root. These lessons often defy verbal description. I can perhaps tell you that I instinctively know when a work is finished. But in truth it is something much more complicated and intrinsic to these lessons which taught us from practice, and from finding personal meaning from the dictates of a classroom forum.

Too often influence overplays openness. There is a difference between these two things. Interaction and discourse ideally provides a wider space within which we place our ideas to be examined. However when we act upon what another says because it holds conviction in that moment for us, we may run the risk of avoiding the process of comprehending why we arrive at such a conclusion.

I love collective studios and informal meetings with artist friends because they provide easy and uncluttered ways of involving others into your world of work that are informal and casual. It is these casual interludes that can hold so much potential for lessons of learning.