Monday, 30 August 2010

Blacker than the night...

I am off to Kerala for a wedding in the family and was obliged to rush off to shop at the last minute (!) when I realised that my wardrobe is hugely inadequate for the normal requirements of such social occasions. To begin with I am not much of a dresser. I never find the clothing that I truly desire, and so end up with uniforms of black outfits that have nothing much to differentiate one from the other, except subtle details! This suits me fine because for the opening of my exhibitions the walls of the gallery are drenched with colours from my palette that disallow me to pursue any rainbows for myself! The austerity of black fits in perfectly as the moderator within the kaleidoscope of colours that make up my art, and in any case I love the simplicity that this colour offers to my life.
On the occasions when I want to wear a sari, I have a selection of plain black crepe silk sari's that I have designed with pallau's that are in different colours. My "foreign travel clothes" are even simpler: slit skirts, pants and non crinkle tops - all black!!! So none of this fits a good old fashioned Nair wedding where black would be seen as the worst ill omen to be paraded on a festive and auspicious occasion!
To boot the weather is wet and humid, and oppressively hot in God's own country!! So a traditional kanjivaram sari is out of the question too! So with three functions to be suitably dressed for, I have diligently combed through every shopping mall in Baroda and feel like a limp rag at the end of it all! The good news is that I bought a nice dull yellow sari and was pleased as punch till I got it back after they did a "tassel job" on it to find it has been crush-pleated on some "polishing machine"!!!! Disaster!!! This discovery was made at 7 pm!!! I fly out at 7.20 tomorrow morning!!! Well James Bond isn't the only resourceful character !!! I have my own agents too!!Well angels really and one has braved the pouring rain and trudged off in a rickshaw to get to the sari shop where "salvage" job is the mission of the hour!!!
Well the story doesn't end there. After a million trials in poky changing rooms I have succeeded in getting two outfits that hide my love handles and spare tires, and hopefully make me appear decent and appropriately attired for a traditional family wedding. I shall of course on my return carefully store these outfits, with mothballs, in the back of my cupboard for the next rainy day that needs me to shed my black veils, and come out into the spectrum of colour again! Black rose of Memphis, you have a friend in me....!

Saturday, 28 August 2010

I am Beloved....

I am beloved

and she is mine

I see her take flowers away from leaves

she puts them in a round basket

the leaves are not for her

she fills the basket

she opens the grass

I would help her but the clouds are in the way

how can I say things that are pictures

I am not separate from her

there is no place where I stop

her face is my own and I want to be there in the place where her face is and to be looking at it too

a hot thing

Toni Morrison


I came to Baroda in 1966. On the cusp of my eighth birthday, like many little girls my head too was filled with the dreams of happy endings and life ever after. The Baroda palace that stood regally in the epicentre of this city that was my new home, and my father's office which was originally the Gaekwad's summer palace, fitted perfectly into my imaginative territories of Wonderland and fairy tales. My father introduced me to the stories of the Mahatma through his own personal tales of being a warrior of the skies, for his nation's independence; where he too had pledged like this great freedom fighter, to protect the sovereignty of his country, with his life. In those wide-eyed moments of learning I came to love this city unknowingly, which has allowed me with time, to find the spirit of who I was to become.

Over the years, I have observed as an artist, my beloved city ravaged by the fires of communal divides. I have witnessed the building-lobbies that have scarred her beauty, and sullied her perfection by clogging her arteries with their greed. I have watched the pollution leave her strangulated, and gasping to survive. Yet within this tired and weary body that she is, the pulse to embrace a cultural nurturing still quietly holds a steady beat; despite the raucous disruptions of the vigilante brigades that pretend to be the sons of her soil, and who bruise her soul by their constant madness. The walls of my city are built by the architects of enlightenment, who etched their legacy via the educational institutions gifted to generations of the future. And the community of artists, both past and present, were viewed as the keystones within this vision of progress.

It is an impressive dream to hold, yet one which many have let slip in the pursuit of personal gains and short-sightedness. As artists, the city of Baroda holds a history that offers each of us a unique sense of belonging. We have an impressive ancestry of collective endeavours that testify how the sixties, seventies and eighties were decades of new awakening, in which Baroda played a pivotal role on the national stage of theoretical discourses on traditions of modernity, cultural identities and re-addressing modules of visual communication that questioned pas paradigms of acceptance.

This space of enquiry that Baroda was known to be is fast fading in a climate of cultural suspicion with artists opting for isolated existences and little interaction. Sloth and indiscipline have whittled away the core of expectancy once firmly attached to this city of visual and performing arts. Quick fame and money are the aphrodisiacs of power that lure many emerging artists to compromise; and so today there is little in Baroda that genuinely carries forth he traditions of new ideas in contemporary art by the younger generation, that can be viewed as meaningful and relevant.

If this sounds damning and horrifying, then it merely means that the rot and decline no longer can be ignored because it is out there in the open. The grandeur of Baroda as a cultural capital is a thing of the past. It is up to the new generation of artists to accept their responsibility and to create a cultural context that puts Baroda back n the map in its rightful place.

Guest column : published in the Times of India (Baroda times section) to celebrate the twelfth anniversary of the Baroda times suppliment : 28th August 2010

Wednesday, 25 August 2010

My Yin and Yang

I have a bronchial infection for over six weeks now, and blocked sinus cavities that makes me sound like a motorcycle with no silencer as I splutter and trumpet about the house! Feeling a bit rung out of energy my body became tired and uncooperative to my will; yet my mind however insisted on doing double time with me even in this state of near collapse. It is a strange feeling to be exhausted and physically drained, and yet have the mind relentlessly hyper alert. On the few occasions of surgery I have undergone, where general anesthetic has been administered, I have always experienced regaining consciousness before the surgical procedures are complete. Here too for those few moments (fractional as they maybe) before the sedation is re-administered, my mind is razor sharp and lucid; whilst the body in contrast is completely shut down and unresponsive to my will.

For many years I consciously trained my body to adapt to less sleep; and then of course the instinctive alertness of motherhood takes away "the sleep of the dead" from you forever. What occurs from need becomes habit with time, and so perhaps these are some of the factors that disallow my mind and body to synchronize themselves into compatible rhythms of co-existence.

Like a path in autumn : no sooner is it cleared than it is once again littered with fallen leaves.
Franz Kafka - the zurau aphorisms

Perhaps the tranquility and stillness of my studio acts as the complimentary factor for these energies inside of my head; and the balance of who I am gets held within this strange equation of quiet and tumultuous.

Two tasks of the beginning of life: to keep reducing your circle, and to keep making sure you're not hiding somewhere outside it.
Frank Kafka - the zurau aphorisms

Friday, 13 August 2010

A peep behind the curtain veil....

I am currently working on a series of watercolours titled Letters of the Universe: When the sun and the moon fall asleep, only then can I dance so naked, in which I am using popular kitch stickers. To accompany these works (some of which are being shown by my gallery in a group show in the Taipei Museum shortly), I wrote this accompanying text. I thought I would share it with you.

India never will allow me to ferment in the sleep of my own desires; but keeps me ever wakeful to a consciousness that embroiders patterns that decorate my body and my soul, and anoint me as the bride of its soil. Born wrapped in the placenta of many cultures I breathe a life of knowingness uniquely different from those with chaste tongues of scriptures and divides. From the gullies and shanties dark shadows pattern the cities like fake lace of a bridal gown, whilst the wail of sirens block out the screams of the innocent whose spilt blood are the only reminders of their vanquished dreams. Legacies of a past cannot hold the brace of my spine upright, nor does the stoop of my weariness find me my bed of comfort. As my body wrinkles and my breasts become heavy with the stories of all those I carry close to my heart, I listen wakeful ever, just for the smallness of hope.

Wednesday, 11 August 2010

Each time I know myself better for this....

Compassion and reconciliation: Look around us and there is so much violence that is triggered by the forces of negative energies that we choose to stay imprisoned by, with no consideration to the fact that we need to re-evaluate how a past and a present does not remain in conflict forever. In the personal spaces of my own world, I negotiate with my self at all times to find ways where I can influence the energies that I govern; to design a harmony of co-existence for myself and those around me. The ethos of such a framework is not a simple black and white one with an attempt to pretty-Polly situations of gravity. Far from it. To forgive and forget is in fact not even a consideration on some occasions, yet compassion and reconciliation can still be the lessons that guide our spirit, and allow us to move forward in life.

I know this to be the only way for me to know myself.

Today the people of the valley sit with the hope that solutions can be found from this charter of compassion and reconciliation. The useless rage of damnation takes us nowhere yet if we look within ourselves, this dark ugly whirlpool hides in our gut ever so quietly and comes up in surges of magnitude, to sweep away the tenderness that fragility offers as the greatest gift of life.

Each of us need to quell these disruptive forces in the mediation of learning who we wish to be; only then can we expect for the balance in life to hold our own equilibrium with truth and conviction.

Monday, 9 August 2010

Shoot yourself in the foot...?!

I am bemused. Over these last few weeks the hot topic has been the mismanagement of the Commonwealth Games. But quiet frankly even a die hard optimist like myself was pretty darn certain that the only outcome that we could possibly expect from the organisers, is the chaos and disaster that it has proved to be! What we just don't ever stop to consider is that all our towns and cities and villages are riddled with substandard infra-structures, and that each day normal life in India is tormentingly difficult because nothing is done to stem this rot at it's very root.

Go to any municipal office, telephone department, post office, railway station, police station, courts, civil hospital, etc. and you will understand in an instant that the disorder of functioning is pandemic. Firstly you will be assaulted by the stench of urine. This has become the official welcome of all public offices to it's citizens. If you dare to object to the delays, the chaos, the dirt, the crude behaviour or the general apathy of one and all who are actually paid by your taxes, you will be tersely reminded that this is India. We are so proud of the rubbish that litters our streets and the garbage that piles up to decay like huge sculptural installations from an art show with no closing date!!!

If every road (except those that lead to Rashtrapati bhavan and the special house at Janpath!) has pot holes in it, and if water is not a common commodity for every citizen of this country, if farmers die of starvation whilst granaries and other stock houses have surplus food that lies wasted: what does this all add up to? Of course the Commonwealth Games was going to be a farce. Aunty Sheila Dixit and Uncle Kalmadi need to get a little oriented to the reality of their own offices and the bungling ways of their fraternity and stop behaving affronted by the basic questions posed to them that comes from the evidence of shoddy work, money scams and nothing complete as the big D day looms threateningly on our doorstep.

TV show after TV show has squabbling panelists and aggressive hosts screeching out predictions of doom or defence with equal gusto. Either which way the fact of the matter is we are, as the saying goes, "in deep shit baby", and whatever mantras we chant we are nonetheless going to be the laughing stock of the world very soon. I am sure a thousand voices will chant in unison and condemn me as being "anti-national", because this is the great defence that is always used against any honest critique. Also, be forewarned, the other option for the "anti-national" is you get bumped off if you challenge the system and demand a better functioning. Staged encounters or the convenient blame assigned on some lobby or the other will put a muffled on your vocal cords (quite literally, because voices that expose the dirt in India are generally silenced "in a democratic" way such as this these days!!!! Shining India we truly are!!!

Oh be quiet! I haven't grown cynical; just weary of hoping that the elected members of governance can sometimes do us proud. But that's like wishing that ice cream won't melt when left out in the sun! The greed that corrupts almost all who serve our country whilst in political office has become the down fall of our nation. I wish I had been proved wrong this time. I wish the organisers of the Commonwealth Games had done a spanking good job, where I could have jeered at my own doubts and felt silly at not believing that my country has the potential to be truly one amongst the best!

Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Looking out, from within....

I grew up in an art environment in the 70's and 80's where the idea of exhibiting one's works was thought of as the natural progression of sharing an idea to someone other than yourself! Perhaps this rather simple understanding of presenting oneself to public scrutiny allowed many of us not to view the act with any great intimidation : and as a result the soft boards of the class room where K.G Subramanyan would sneak a peak at our work each afternoon or the pavements opposite our college gates or the canteen walls, all became sites and spaces for us "to exhibit".

Today the buzz words are pressure and stress, and I see many melt downs that occur when young artists get opportunities to have exhibitions. Though compassionate to the ideas of human fragility, I still find it difficult to understand why doing what you really delight in doing should make a basket case out of you! Many times the finished works of these frantic artists are bizarre in uncomplimentary ways, and not up to the standard one expects of them. Without blinking an eye validations pour forth to prop up such works, where the litany of excuses always comprise of "how stressed I was whilst doing these works"!!!

It seems an odd cycle: the desire for an exhibition but then the fear that paralysis ones abilities. Art must hold confidence if it is to be sustained by the interest of others. I tried explaining to one of my students today over lunch what an imaginative world could encompass. Because if you possess this vast space that has no beginning and no end, you are always going to discover a joystick that can take you on a hundred different rides.

But perhaps much of the anguish is self imposed, because the seeking of answers is too often from the wrong pockets of life. There is certainly no sinAdd Imagegular conformity from where we dig within our intellectual selves, but what must be remembered is that the trigger that provokes the specific direction for one person is not necessarily going to lead another to a space of significance. But our herd mentality often obscures this simple truth. Feminist Fables and Russian authors are not the only books on a shelf and it may well be Japanese manga (a language of illustration used for comics to pornography to subjects like science) or pulp fiction, from which worlds of elusive discoveries can be made in abundance. The choke-up for many seems always over "the idea". I believe an idea only comes to one if we sleep with your eyes and ears open!

We often bury our heads in the sand when our schedules get hectic, talking about "not being able to cope with life", and then we let the genie of "Fragile: Handle with care" pop out like a pesky cousin who is both intrusive and bothersome to boot to all around including ourselves! We need to review the way we look at sharing our work. Alternative spaces MUST be where young artists get together and make shows that are about the delight with which they engage themselves with their mental worlds. One more vacuous and boring exhibition that tries desperately to 'be different" and I swear I will wear an arm band in protest at the death of creativity!!!!

I love the works of Nicola Durvasula. Tiny and yet which makes you stop in your tracks because they are so preciously magical! The early photographs of Pablo Bartholomew where despite the grainy blur you are taken into a world of intimate spaces. The shimmering blue of Rajan Krishnan's huge landscape painting from the exhibition Earth that stays with you in its absence, because it has a mesmerising infinity. My first interlude with Shilpa Gupta when she was still a student and the grasp and command over a conceptual territory she exhibited, when others twice her age were still tip toeing around in hestation, floored me in an instance. These are people who hold their fears at bay. And there is many a lesson to learn from these quiet people, who cope and deliver.