Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Laments from the audience.....

I saw the film yesterday The Artist which has had hyped reviews after sweeping the Oscars. Well, what a disappointment it was. I even let slip a soft snore that didn't escape the notice of my best friend, who was keeping herself awake by reading aloud the dialogues that appeared on the screen. The only saving grace of the film was the dog. A delightful character that saved the film for being a complete disaster!

My complaint stems from the fact that film critics are not really doing their jobs very well, and juries that are set up to create standards of excellence via the system of awards, don't seem to get it right. As a result one goes by the endorsement of these systems only to be utterly let down by substandard fare. I was remembering the film Howard's End in which Emma Thomson and Howard Hopkins acted. A simple film that distills the narrative of two people that etch a portrayal of histories from which expansive meanings can be found.

Last evening we sat around eating fish curry and rice at home after the film,  and lamented about the decline of serious cinema. Cinema as entertainment is the equation these days. Hollywood films increasingly get worse each year and it all seems to boil down to the red carpet act where gowns and enlarged boobies parade to out do each other. 

Other than film clubs, there are no spaces that show world cinema for audiences that want more than popcorn and an outing. The craft of cinema is now mostly about the technology of special effects. Not that I have anything against special effects, but what holds my attention much more than anything else is a story line that is well defined. 

Documentaries are also a fading space. I often watch the NDTV documentaries that are often incredible stories that are very well produced. My memories of college days in the faculty of Fine Arts are of hot afternoons in the auditorium with the air thick with cigarette smoke as the projection of  films and documentaries transported us into other worlds of story telling. 

I am a snob when it comes to standards of excellence. I don't really care about what others may think.....if you are calling it GREAT.....then in my opinion you need to deliver the goods as you call it! No half measures and whining excuses. The adrenaline rush of self-critique is difficult to describe; it sorts you out and keeps you sharp about yourself. No amount of flattery can hillallowofy you into believing otherwise.....and above all it keeps you grounded. Why we do what we do finally can only be answered by us.

Today I was impatient with one of the young artists within the Collective Studio who asked a questioning knowing its answer fully well. It is in setting ones own comprehension about the things we engage with without desiring unnecessary endorsement, that finally provides a  journey of independence and quality.

Monday, 27 February 2012

From the weekend...

Mithun is my hero of the month! He narrated over the phone how he intervened and helped a foreign gentleman recover his stolen money from a gang of pickpockets in Mumbai. Calling in the police and personally negotiating an understanding with the thieves  that handing over the money would avoid more trauma to all concerned, he facilitated a memory to be carried back of our country that didn't have the typical ending of getting gypped or scammed as its conclusion. Knowing what to do and doing it right, is always take a bow Mithun, we are so proud of you.

At the Collective Studio we hosted a prose and poetry reading by Anahite Contractor on Saturday the 25th of February. In the quiet of our living room with scented candles and the diffused light of our paper lamps, she held enthralled an intimate audience, some of whom had driven down from Ahmedabad especially for this event, as she brought our experiences to meet with hers.  Read from scribbled writings on ruled paper she holds the old word charm of writers and their problems with technology, as she recounted to me her troubles with a her printer misbehaving!

I went with my girlfriend and her mother and aunt to see Ek mein aur ek tu.... liked the light frothy humour of a film that was simple and with no heavy message as its agenda. Imran Khan and Kareena Kapoor are really good actors who know what stepping into character is all about. This young girl however stole my heart many moons ago with her determination to excel in the industry. Don't necessarily go for the zero size figure obsession, but love the gumption to succeed on her own terms that makes her a winner all the way.

Am booking my ticket in a few days to go to Amsterdam in June to visit Karishma who is currently at the Rijkes Academy. The planning is always the greatest fun. Seven days together to wander about and drink in the sights and sounds of the city and its culture. We had a Skype chat that went on for a long time.....where we talked about many things related to travelling; most importantly about belonging within temporary spaces and the requirement to understand how to negotiate adaptation without relinquishing ones 
integral identity.

Am faithfully doing yoga these days.   Everyday till hopefully my stiff body yields to find a flexibility it needs. I like the way yoga stills my mind to concentrate on an expansive nothingness. And the breathing exercises heighten ones consciousness,  leaving one feeling alert and awake even more than one already is. Am off to swim today. Montybhai the life guard at the pool looks at me with pathetic sympathy as I flay about the pool, gasping and plying back and forth in the shallow end like a whale with an overdose of steroids! So tata-bye-bye....I am off to conquer the calm waters of the pool anon!

Friday, 24 February 2012

Self made at the heart of it....

I caught snatches of a tv program, the achievers club that Vir Sanghvi hosts who I rate as a really good interviewer; and heard Vikas Khanna the celebrity chef from New York talk about his success and the  philosophies that guide his heart. 

It is the simple rule of not forgetting all the touchstones that mark a personal journey that he too reiterated as being so essential in taking oneself  forward in life.

He spoke of desiring to stay grounded always, and the simple methods he employs to keep this as a daily ritual of focus for himself.

He talked perhaps most importantly about how pure desire alone brings you to your pinnacle; and that the heart must pursue relentlessly the calling that stirs your passion, unquestioned. I loved that!

With no airs or graces and his Indian accent firmly in place, this precise and disciplined young man carries his own identity not from what he imagines others would want to see him as, but how he chooses to see himself. This inner self-image, or what I call the photograph of the soul, is where ones inner truth lies. When you have comprehended your understanding of yourself within the larger universe, then all that you put out will hold the alertness of your contemplative self. 

I look at my world of selected influences like a personal tree of life. I place on this tree ideals and hopes, targets and  inspirations, images of remembrance, histories and values amongst a host of other things. It grows bigger and taller as I age.

Attempting to stir the passions of belief  each day within the lives of young people, comes from the well of my own heart knowing the essential benefit that this holds in defining a purposeful journey of life. It is  also because I so deeply love what I do. Art is my complete anchorage, and my heart and soul and mind knows no other place of belonging better than this. 

Each day can bring all sorts of unexpected occurrences that question ones faith; but just a glance at my inner tree of life fortifies me to know that sometimes a few branches will wither and fall off. But the root is completely unshakable.

Thursday, 23 February 2012

Pushing the envelop will deliver the goods...

Working late the other night I went into the Collective Studio at 3.30 am to take a peep at the progress of two of our students,  who were also burning the mid-night oil. I love the night because it has its own magic.  The silence in the studio was punctuated by the noise of the compress restarting which otherwise goes unnoticed in the bustle of the day; and the doubts of whether a yellow was too vivid in a painting and the emerging drawing of an idea better understood all come to my focus, as I stood in that moment of  enjoyment.  Conversations rolled out from many corners of enquiry, and a girl power (!)  was quietly celebrated without overstating the obvious! Pushing the envelop of working long hours holds both a necessity to meet ones deadlines,  but equally becomes an opportunity to test the limits of ones physical endurance. For me the long hours of physical and mental exhaustion paradoxically energise my  performance as an artist.

The Collective Studio throws up its magic moments but equally holds its share of testing my patience! Being involved with the lives of so many in the intimacy that the Collective Studio philosophy employs  means that on any given day of the week/month/year.....there is always some "problem" that I have to address!!! From the sublime to the ridiculous, we give our undivided attention to maintain a holistic space of learning.

Lunch and dinner hold rambling discussions that often become the classroom spaces. 

Yesterday we ate lunch with a small portrait that was in the process of being painted that was propped up against the wall for discussion. Structures of discourse vary from the casual to the structured. Sunday mornings, with many of us with wet hair after prolonged rituals of ablutions, are spent talking on selected subjects that are varied. Art comes from the nakedness of clinical observations that allow us an understanding of life and ourselves.

I mentioned in a letter I recently wrote to one of the artists from the Collective Studio that..... "An artists' life is strangely different. And to set the rhythm of excellence in this journey requires one to be mindful not to deviate away from the purposefulness of the journey itself."

I have started reading a book titled Artist,Undone by V.Sanjay Kumar. The author is a dear friend so my excitement to enter into the narrative comes from a personal  curiosity to explore his imagination. Over the years of whacky conversations, great cuisine and a shared madness for art;  a sustained friendship has emerged. I toast to his success as an author. 

*V.Sanjay Kumar photographed with me at the opening of ....Once Upon a Time - Sakshi Gallery at Shridharani in Delhi

Wednesday, 22 February 2012

Too many tears of sorrow....

Yesterday on my walk in the evening I encountered two young teenagers who looked on the verge of a very emotionally volatile eruption. My sixth sense caught this from the corner of my eye as I passed them, and so I turned around to go back to them to ask if anything was the matter. I was taken by surprise at the adult parameters of intimacy that they established as their relationship; and the high pitch of the drama that held them captive and unaware of how bizarre it appeared to an onlooker. A fifteen year old girl and an eighteen year old boy.....both still in school  and  yet ravaged by dysfunctional  behavior brought on from their  own compulsions to accelerate their emotional experiences beyond what is comprehensible for  their  teenage years.

The boy displayed to me his right wrist already slashed from a previous encounter of depression with his paramour, and spoke of his girlfriends acid marks that were self inflicted  as evidence of her love for him. I had sent the girl home (hopefully to her parents) who was in the process of dumping this boy, and sat on the pavement to console and hear the scared bewilderment of an incoherent young boy unburdening himself.

I knew that my intervention would perhaps only postpone their inevitable need to indulge in more dramatic scenes of rage and passion, that either or both would feel obliged to enact, as the script of their love story. I have witnessed far too many young teens who become sexually promiscuous who become worn down by the pressures of living their lives too fast. 

Warriors of bleeding hearts, Indian society has no real place for these young people who are still really children at heart. They  are ensnared by their own emotional curiosities to play act the Romeo & Juliet - Laila & Majnu dramas of love.....and fall off their own radars of capabilities without ever giving themselves a chance to discover how to enter into a world of adult maturity at a pace more in keeping with their ability to comprehend its complexities.

My heart felt so sad to see this weeping child with so little confidence in his future. Attempts at suicide are often known to be cries for help. Unmonitored, many children, especially those who study in schools that are not designed to give individual attention to their students, go astray not because they want to; but because children often don't know how to protect themselves from destroying the real freedom of their adolescence.

Today on my walk I avoided the street on which I sat with this young boy yesterday. I knew he would not be there today but his memory would have been there for me. I hope he is buried in his books for his twelfth board exam that he said he was preparing for. I hope that today the bleakness of yesterday is less intense. He plays the drums, or so he told me; so maybe he is jamming with his friends somewhere. I hope he knows that I am rooting for him to get on with life; and that instead of tears he needs to bring the joy of happiness back  into his eyes once again.

Sunday, 19 February 2012

Buskers of the night....

The sound of Surendran's brush as he paints is a comforting noise. A scratchy sound that holds its own rhythm, and breaks the stillness within the house that is now closed for the night . We are still working together in the studio in our home these days, and it brings back memories of those earlier times when circumstance had us sharing one studio and painting through the nights was dotted by numerous cigarette  breaks and endless cups of scalding coffee. In those days I was only a nescafe drinker. Instant, laced with milk and two teaspoons of sugar. My water-tea with no sugar had yet not made its entry into my existence. Yet tonight I am having a cup of coffee once again, almost as though in reverence to the faithfulness of detail, so as to perhaps re-live the memory in all its exactness unknowingly.

Co-incidentally both our works have women painted boldly in frontal confrontational postures. The studio  is filled with their presence and they appear to bristle with life; impatient to be completed. 

Begum our cat has been ceremoniously banished from the studio since this evening. Her crime:  attempting to walk over Surendran's wet painting that was doing a Shavasan on the floor!  Her curiosity has led to many a drama. Paint-paws bring great trauma to my fur friend who intensely dislikes soap and water; and  in  the instances when white fur has been transformed into colours of the rainbow from nosing about in forbidden places ; there has been soap and water and paint and temper strewn all around the studio, tornado style. So right now we have Begum tap-tapping on the latch as though she is playing Spanish castanets, to register her annoyance at being denied entry into what she considers her domain! 

Another noise that punctuates the air is the new automatic air freshener dispenser. Clean freak that I am, I am deliriously happy to have these spurts of fragrant air scent my studio, with timed precession and a gentle puffing sound! 

The wedding season is in full swing and there is the  distant sound of fireworks that crackle through the night air.......

Late at  night the creaks and sighs of a house tell me that my home is finally resting. The hum of my fridge or the water in the pipes, the woodwork that expands and contracts, or the sound of a tube light that buzzes and ticks....the rustle of things settling......

My street dogs are always careful to wander into neighbouring lanes to vent their spleens, and bark and snarl amongst themselves. What floats up to my studio is only the quiet muffled murmuring of their grouses.

I will soon go for my shower. The sound of the spray of steaming hot water will get muffled as my body buffers its cascading path, and is slowly soothed of it's weariness.

My tired muscles will make silent noises that only I can hear inside of my skin, as I  drift off to sleep.

Tonight it will be Surendran who will come to bed as the moon disappears;  and when I hear the bed creak as our thick cotton mattress creases in the imprint of his frame, I will finally shut all noises out of my dreams.

Thursday, 16 February 2012

Musings from a chair....

I have been doing, as they say in Gujarat,  up- down to Ahmedabad,  since the last three days. Suffice to say the reasons are too boring to bother narrating, but I want some sympathy points nonetheless, so tut-tut away and smooth my ruffled feathers please! Destination Spain as holiday has changed  to some place in Asia. As it stands today it may probably be Thailand,  and my excitement is mounting at the idea of packing my  bags and travelling with friends to this land that is so seeped in cultural history. Though my first husband was from Thailand, I in fact never lived there and visited only briefly on one occasion. However what I do carry of this country is my surname; and I chose to retain it even after my marriage broke up thirty years ago, because even way back then it had became integral to the "Rekha " part of my identity!

Yesterday Gulammohammed Sheikh celebrated his 75th birthday with some of his friends throwing a surprise party for him.  It was very sweet to see him blushing beneath his stylish beard,  as he was buried under floral tributes and presents wrapped up in fancy paper and tied with bling bows. Perhaps what was even more special  was to see all the tiny babies of yesterday all  grown up as young adults. My auntyji status suddenly  took on a whole new meaning, much to my delight!

With spirits soaring as they generally do at parties,  the inhibitions of many were cast aside last night,  and an impromptu sangeet of sorts occurred. Amidst all the singing that happened, it was a young girl who stole our hearts with the sheer beauty of her voice,  as her mother sat with her eyes  alight with the exquisiteness of sheer joy. Tiny babies toddled about announcing the arrival of another generation making it's appearance in our lives in Baroda.  And as the strains of a melody mingled with the sleepy wailings of hungry babies and other muffled sounds of merriment, I felt the magic of Baroda come alive,  as it does in such moments of special intimacy;  keeping the legends of Baroda as a special art centre a truth through all these many decades.

I am sitting in a printing studio right now and watching my prints come out of a very large machine. I remember my days in the dark room with Jyotibhai as I learnt how to print black and white photographs. The slow emergence of an is like an epiphany moment that catches your breath with its impact. I am scheduled for some more late nights in my studio with a deadline that is looming rather ominously right now. The only one who enjoys my owl-nights is Begum our cat. Her fur brain believes that she has more hold of my time if I remain awake working, whilst she curls up with one eye constantly open to check on my activities!!!!!

Baroda has the last days of winter paraded out for us. The heat is slowly coming back and our woollens and shawls are fast making their way back into storage! Heavy silk saris will snooze away the summer and may make a few rounds during the monsoon,  if they are not asked to trail through puddles of water and muddy roads. 

I have to start my swimming soon. Thundering thighs and cellulite dimples will make plump pigeons look sleek!  Will fill you in on my horror stories of slipping and sliding about the poolside as I drag my flab for some serious  exercise. As they say....Watch this Space!!!

Thursday, 9 February 2012

The thorn of the horny beast!

How can any self-respecting individual imagine that watching a gang rape is entertainment! It completely defies logic and brings to the foreground the huge issue of propriety in relation to sexual conduct in India. The emphasis that is placed upon women to conform to conservative modules of life-style as assurances that may guarantee them their safety from predators, is the moral farce of a country that in fact has too many men with their zippers open, and erectile dreams in our faces. Pornography for me is an absolute no-no issue, and I find it rather amusing when people want to pass off their dysfunctional sexual appetites for it as their democratic freedom. Any gender, any sexual orientation and any age does not provide me an excuse to condone this voyeurism that is both predatory and demeaning in nature.

What perhaps leaves me gob-smacked is the audaciousness of elected members of parliament who can sit so blatantly with their aroused libidos, and have wet dreams over atrocities that they in fact are supposed to be creating policies and laws to prevent from occurring. That they were allowed to resign instead of sacked/thrown out/banned from political office for five years/arrested and put behind bars, all shows the t true nature of the playground of political maneuvering within regional  party politics, that always keeps it's eye on the numbers game! Who gives a damn, or in this case should I say f**k,  about the  issue of ethics! 

The paradox of this entire depravity of the ministers is perhaps lost on these fertile sperm-spillers who loudly proclaim extremest views on women's behavior at the drop of a hat, or should I say palluv. Their  rampage of moral blustering where women have been slapped for wearing sleeveless clothes or visiting a pub, or being with a boyfriend,  is never seen as an impingement of the very fundamental rights of the freedom of Indian women. It is in fact lauded in the name of moral vigilantism by the very same political spaces of ideological sharing that the BJP affiliates to; and therefore these political parties with morality issues high on their campaign trail, (stated from self-proclaimed moral high-grounds), should do some serious introspection today.  Cadre of their own ilk who are violating the written laws of the land, and violating the norms of moral decency towards women, are now being protected by party spokespeople. What a travesty of truth that such an obvious act of willful denigration that is punishable by law, gets put on the back burner by senior BJP party members. Arnab Goswami perhaps for the first time held my total admiration, as he pressed home his point passionately, without bothering to appear objective as the anchor of the program towards the tainted ministers counsel.

Sleaze and debauchery is often so largely writ on the faces of far too many elected members of public office. Power and money are well known as the aphrodisiacs of corruption; and well unfortunately the aphrodisiac obviously too, for perverse sexual desires. 

Indian politics just sinks lower and lower every day. The ideas of fighting corruption gets swallowed up in the muck of layers of vested interest that leave no scope to focus on how to make India a more transparently functioning democracy. And no peoples' movement will ever see the light of day because big money and power will never hold real justice. 

Do I sound cynical, just OUTRAGED! The idea that elected members of  parliament can flaunt their sexual perversities for an entire nation to see recorded, and then flex their political muscles to save their skins is indeed a sad day for Indian democracy to reckon with. I am a woman and I certainly wish to register my intolerance for the leniency with which these individuals are being treated. If we are to call ourselves a democratic nation, then the protection of women's dignity and the safety of children are imperative issues to address. Clean up parliament and stop playing vote bank politics. The filth is fast becoming strangulating.

Sunday, 5 February 2012

Heritage well worn

Art audiences in many cities in India need to wake up. The student population in fine arts colleges are all rather asleep these days and imagine that art can  be created in their cocoons  of isolation. This is why too often I become rather irritated when talking to art students and young artists, who express views that originate so transparently from lack of exposure and information; making them all so boring to communicate with in the end. The petty regional politics in the arts is also another cesspool that festers making simple interaction a monumental task to achieve.

Visual arts educational institutions are so closed to encouraging people to come and engage with their students. The Baroda faculty of fine arts has become a true boys club where the teaching staff carefully guard their territory and strut around in a patriarchal comfort zone that is rather amusing to observe. It was therefore so refreshing to recently meet with Meena Vari from the Shrishti  design school of Bangalore, who on our very first meeting when we collided at the Delhi Art Fair,  was brimming with an enthusiasm to communicate and exchange ideas. Biased as it may be, I find it is mostly professional women who  carry  the fire in their bellies with  much more conviction than men in similar positions.

On a more humorous note,  have scandalised many who sit at the table with me during a breakfast of south Indian food where my favorite combo is idlies, with coconut chutney, sausages and soft bacon with a touch of blueberry jam; all to be eaten together. Perfectly yummy and a must try for those who do not have conservative tastes in food. Ashvita Gallery spoilt us with a traditional Tamil lunch of traditional cuisine that was served on the plantain leaf. Subtle flavours and mouth watering delicacies left one seduced for life. 

I  also succumbed to the temptations of the weavers magic and bought eight saris from the most elegant of shops in Chennai called Sarangi.  It was a zen  experience packaged in south indian elegance, with the rustle of silks and the fragrance of sandalwood all mingling together to make me feel I was in wonderland.  To add to this happy zone, after the opening of the exhibition was over at Ashvita gallery, the director of the gallery and his wife took me and the three attending artists of the show to the rooftop verandah restaurant  of the Raintree hotel,  where we had another delicious meal with the additional delight of a soft sea breeze that was an out of this world experience for those of us from dusty Baroda!

I am certainly voting Chennai as my most favourite city in India. The people of this city  are so refined and friendly,  and courtesy is very real in everyday life. The old  architecture is still very much in  evidence and what you feel is an understanding and comprehension of the traditions of a rich heritage; being preserved and valued as progress and change also occurs.

Back in Baroda the dust assaults me and the pandemonium of a ravaged city scape become my realities once again. 

Thursday, 2 February 2012

From Chennai....

I am currently in Chennai where the exhibition I have curated titled  "Quiet Conversations from the Courtyard" is being hosted by Asvita Gallery. The four artists in the show, Karishma D'souza - Kim Kyoungae - Malavika Rajnarayan - Sonatina Mendes- are all artists who belong to the collective studio in Baroda.

The exhibition is once again my insistence to draw attention to the more quiet articulation of young artists who are not driven to make art that is loud in the proclamation of its intentions, but who instead negotiate the personal spaces of discourse to comprehend the many nuanced areas of identity as urban Indians.

I am often saddened by the wasted opportunities of  Indian curators who appear to desire to serve the western definitions of "global art"  in a rather self-serving  need to "fit in" with the "international curatorial bandwagon"! The predictability  and incestuous sameness of ideas is now rather tiresome, with every major text almost always  bearing the same authorship of these "sanctioned" few. Good as these curators  are we need to take risks and get new blood into the arena. I think the curators of the Kiran Nader museum need to be congratulated for the quiet work they do to produce amazing shows for a public audience that are crafted from a comprehension of understanding the responsibility of the role of curation.

No cultural space as diverse as what we have in India should become so closed and rigid. The same dogmas that conservative cultural insistence produces  can also become a similar currency for progressive decay,  when only a few are bestowed with "presenting" contemporary cultural enquiries, making it into a fiefdom that is dangerous.

I always encourage that we need to become much more aware of the responsibility of knowing what exists in the visual arts when conceiving projects that may fall outside of personal interest; because if this is what will guide the roadmap of our contemporary history, then once again it will undoubtedly be a skewered one that is imprinted from partisan affiliations alone.

So let us acknowledge therefore too that if curators are to be informed by a contemporary cultural history they need to have a greater humility to be informed by a wider viewing of art; and to step out of their ivory towers of insularity that now have become comfort zones. Indian art has so much that goes unnoticed because there is no data base that such people democratically create. We need to avail of technology where we allow facilities like the cloud to offer curatorial  assistance to make data bases that invite artists to leave visuals to be viewed. I do hope that our Bombay and Delhi curator friends will hopefully  wake up before it is too late and change their methodologies to make for more truthful representations of Indian contemporary cultural history!

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