Tuesday, 26 June 2012

Imagined and otherwise....

I chatted with two of the artists from The Collective Studio last night about memory. Our lives as artists are so conjoined to the world of recollection and wherever we are physically, we immediately create layers that  reclaim prior associations to help in extracting meanings from new experiences.

In the Netherlands I spent my time in structuring a personal project of intimacy whilst visiting museums within the normal routine of viewing them, where I began to record my image and other reflections on the glass protection of art objects and art works. These sandwiched yet flattened layers become yet another skin that holds the form of my physical presence and which will be further transposed when placed as the pictorial skin on the female figure when assimilating my new series of works.

Identity has long since evolved beyond being associated merely with  issues of ethnicity and nation/state. Personal factors of who I am  have always been pivotal in commanding the definitions of my politics. Resurrecting a broken spirit every time it maybe crushed I believe,  requires that we comprehend the value of the lessons of vulnerability and not be overcome by the fear of its consequence. There is a fine line between conviction and rigidity, and the finesse to distinguish between this comes from openness to examine without prejudice.

My friend pointed out in Amsterdam how anthropological information,  when researched by people outside of the specific political/cultural/geographic experience, perceives its understanding from stipulated availability of existing data and is a very different account than if compiled by a domicile  of that region. This account may not necessarily be incorrect  but it is formulated  without the nuanced and the intimate space of perception, making it thereby prescriptive.

How much does memory get altered by what we decide is yet another question that varies from the circumstance of a memory, and what we desire it offers us. When war and genocide stain political history then collective memory offers to retain a conscience of atonement. The alteration of such memories is improbable, yet when filtered through the expressions of creative structures like literature, music, dance, theater and art we may well find that subjective perceptions may deliver them in modified and adapted ways.

I am always curious about the secret stories that objects carry with them. Silent memories that do not tell you everything but tease you into finding out. My own home is filled with objects.....not always antiques but just  objects, some old and some new,  that come from other homes and places bringing with them a multitude of stories I make mine from my imagination.

The episodes that shape our lives leave us with memories that are markers of both time and something far greater than that....they are more importantly perhaps the imprint of who we are. The memory of my son after his birth and the image of a child of a landline accident whose truncated body was propelled by his hands as he boisterously played a football game, are memories that form a vital part of the imprint of who I am.

Sunday, 24 June 2012

I walked the cobbled streets....

I am not governed by any faith or superstition .....but when my girlfriend recently joked that in my last life I had obviously been rather bad, therefore making this life have circumstances that are sometimes difficult.....I was almost ready to start believing it maybe true!!!! I have returned from my trip to Amsterdam just a few days ago only to be swallowed up into a series of difficult situations. My mother-law in Kerala is ailing and in an advanced state of geriatric senility , my mother fell down and has badly bruised her muscles in her left leg, and my best friends aunt is terminally ill. However  this is the reality of life and each day brings with it tests that will challenge ones capabilities.

However the seven days in Amsterdam were a great get away before this.  As travel always does, it teaches one many things. I have come to believe that political correctness has its benefits, sometimes. In Amsterdam I found that the general population of people choose to be very courteous and extremely warm and friendly. The city has a consciousness about their environment, and the sight of men in black whizzing past on bicycles, and women with zanily decorated bicycle baskets in office attire who pedal a mean mile, makes our over crowded Indian streets crammed with private vehicles, seem utterly stupid in comparison.

The trust invested in a citizen over there, to be honest and ethical in their support  of a public system, to enable it's efficient functioning,  talks highly of the values people hold about self dignity and their own role within defining the type of country/state their wish to have for themselves. Trams and metros, trains and buses all ply people back and forth within the Netherlands, making it so easy to travel without endless planning and concern about availability of transportation. No one ever cheats and people in authority are very helpful and accommodative to the bumbling of those who are new to their rules.

However public toilets are not found easily which had me having to do my "hotel act" on a few occasions. This act has been perfected by me since I was a teenage traveller. Private hotels are not very encouraging of outsiders using their washroom facilities, especially in Europe. So I would walk up to the reception with great authority and purpose in Amsterdam or any other city we were visiting that day( a full bladder in the cold can be a good motivation to turn up the purposeful quotient, trust me!), and charmingly (interpret that as a sweet smile hiding genuine agony to use a loo desperately!) tell them how I was over from India in their lovely country and needed to pee! Well I like to believe its my 40 watt smile that always worked and not them avoiding the potential disaster of a puddle on their pristine designer carpets of four weary desi women that made they toilet doors swing open in our favor! 

The museums had many gifts to offer as visual treats.....a chanced upon room with large paintings of Francis Bacon that held translucent orange and carnation pink, an imposing landscape of Anselm Kiefer that brought alive Elliot's wasteland, the portrait of his wife by Egon Schiele that is hauntingly tender, impressive paintings of Rembrandt and Frans Hal that hold the magic of light and observations that reveal beyond the exterior descriptions of their subjects,   the museum of Vincent Van Gogh brought to the public by the commitment of his sister-in-law and his family where his paintings offer you a purity of color that stuns you into silence to confront his passion for his art which is truly  humbling....  and for those who haven't seen the works of Hans van Bentum....then do so right away. 

The curation in all the museums was stunning.....despite massive cutbacks of funding for the arts there still remains a clear comprehension of the need to support and make available art to a society. Individuals step in, and endowments  from benefactors  create alternative methods of viable sustainability to the cultural continuity and production of art. 

But the city of Amsterdam, enchanting as it is, has most of it's architecture sinking. As a result far too many homes that line the canals leave you with a feeling of imbalance as they tilt and mess with the alignment of your vision. Inside too the homes follow the tilting that comes from the foundations sinking, and have death defying staircases that are more vertical than inclined,  narrow and small treaded leading to many a fall with consequences that are bruised ribcages and busted knees. Many of these old narrow structured homes have been converted into hotels, and the Orlando Hotel where  we stayed was one such hotel. Nothing to write home about with a grumpy owner and rather depressing rooms to its credit, the Orlando could do well to improve on its infrastructure. However Rose the caretaker was very sweet and accommodating. Mr. Lodder the owner should thank his stars that he has her, because most people would otherwise pack up and leave with his surly ways.

And for a tourist destination they could well improve on the restaurant culture of their city.  Restaurants close mostly by 10 pm....and those that have a few more minutes on their timings will turn you away in favor of shutting shop early for a football game! Well Holland lost, so I feel vindicated!!!!

But for a traveller it is the many unexpected moments that make a trip memorable. Chanced upon conversations, the color of the sky, the delight of trying a new cuisine. We walked from morning till late evening with the occasional stop at a cafe. Hot chocolate on a cold day is heaven!

I also spent a day in conversation with five artists at the Rijksakedmie. Inside the intimacy of their studio, with an hour and a half to structure a meaningful encounter with each artist, those with the passion of belief brought their hearts to the table. 

Now back in my own studio I have brought my mother to recover, into the studio with me. Her sofa-bed has bright cushions and the black cat with a crocheted cape, gifted to me by Karishma. I re-arrange my physical space as I do my mental space to accommodate all that I know I need to, each day.

What did I bring back from my trip this time?
The color of the night sky of Amsterdam....such a magically intense blue, that it makes me shiver in the mere  delight of recollection!

Friday, 8 June 2012

Four corners make a universe....

The Collective Studio has a life of its own that is really very special. The various corners of it hold surprises each day for me as I make my "cup-of-tea" round in the morning. In fact I love it the most when the artists are not around at this time and I can just roam around quietly observing their work. It is also the details that clutter their personal spaces that tell me the most interesting stories about them. Today it is travel and reading, looking and feeling and continuously shaking oneself out of the comfort of the familiar that these young people are encouraged most to do.  Talking with my own teacher last evening we spoke about how age determines the curiosities of pursuit.  How there is a vital need as a visual artist to swim in waters of a certain type of exposure and learning, especially in relation to cinema and literature, where everything must be viewed and internalised. There is both the past and the present that needs to be contextualised when we are younger, and the processing of information that should leads us to substantiate the positions we take.

But as time goes by many of these things start to become obsolete in some strange way. The antennas of perception get trained onto other nuanced areas of life that then become  the  provocateur of stimulation to ideas and visual articulation. Sometimes time alone in my studio is far more valuable that sitting with the Collective Studio artists to watch a film screening. Our library is filled equally with theoretical books as well as sumptuous books of visuals. However today I have finished my quota of theoretical reading and my need  now is much more to spend time delighting in visual conversations, where my curiosity is not about the how or the why, but more of a sensual pleasure of knowing and understanding from the culmination of information and experience blended together. Therefore a museum (a place I can lose my self for hours) visit these days becomes like a walk with a friend. A time of quiet conversation and reflection.

Which brings me to my reading these days. I was gifted, by a wonderful girl friend of mine, William Dalrymple's The Last Mughal. I am excited to sink my teeth into this inviting narrative of a passage of history that I have wandered through so often over the last thirty-five years as a painter. A story of Bahadur Shah Zafar, and the consequences of the East India Company's wresting of political power; and the city of Delhi from its pinnacle to its destruction in 1857. I think from what I can gauge from the samplings that I steal a read of from the voluminous pages  of this historical saga, is that the writer has a crisp and simple style that allows you not to get buried under the weight of the topic itself. I contemplated taking it on my trip to Amsterdam, but have decided to wait as it weighs a ton and I can imagine my spine protesting with the over load! 

Instead ( I am sure this will raise many eyebrows) I bought Jerry Pinto's co-authored biography on Leela Naidu. Both these individuals intrigue me. Leela because she represents a type of woman from an era that my mother and my maternal aunts come from. One of my aunts died of alcoholism and holds a story of similar tragic consequences where dreams become nightmares in ways that are sad to perceive. Jerry Pinto on the other hand is someone who I have observed over the years from a distance.  And on too many occasions he shoots his mouth off in public in ways that leave you wondering whether the energy tablet he takes perhaps has expired. Wired up and always more defensive than is necessary, the last time he made me  wince was on a program with Niddhi Razdan where she finally blocked him out! Well Leela can well be termed as a collaboration of  beauty and the beast perhaps, so let's see! I hope it holds a narrative that explores a society which reflects the political and historical times that frames her life.  

Monday, 4 June 2012

Rowdy Bawdy and Terrible!

I made the mistake of going to see Rowdy Rathod believing, idiot that I am, that "Don't Angry me" was an indication of the film being a spoof -fun- action type James Bond/Jackie Chang kind of cinema. Well what I was subjected to was a tawdry trashy film that transported me back to the worst examples of popular cinema of the seventies! Everything about the film screamed retrogressive and cheap! With Sonakshi Sinha looking like a yesteryear Reena Roy rather paradoxically,  right down to swinging hips and over mascaraed false eyelashes; plus pouting village belle stereo-typed virgin girl who is both dumb and wide eyed in big bad city; made me want to instantly throw up my chewy popcorn and flat coke! Worse still was the senseless violence that went on unendingly through the film till one felt completely jarred and violated by it all. 

The film should have not been given a U certificate. I was aghast to see the theatre full of children ranging from infants to nine and ten year olds. The result was that many toddlers and primary aged children were crying from the vicious depictions of villainous men and gory scenes of mutilation and revenge. I was reminded of the Godhra atrocities and wondered how "entertainment" can be visualised through carnage!

The idea of good versus evil becomes warped when we believe that stringing up human beings after slitting their throats is emblematic of virtue, and is somehow morally correct. The reactions of the adults in the audience was perhaps more chilling for me than the debacle of the movie itself. A delight that was almost palpable amongst most of the onlookers was horribly unnerving. One felt as though there was some secret identification occurring to act out such portrayed feats of heroism which takes law and order into ones own hands, and that valorizes brutality and dehumanised behaviour as a societal circumstance of acceptable choice. If this is the sensibility of the film fraternity whether from the south or otherwise, I am appalled and horribly ashamed.

Cinema must certainly incorporate reflections of life and society that may very well be intolerable and often unpalatable; and which definitely  needs to be examined and depicted.  However let us not confuse serious cinema with that which trivialises, sensationalises and denigrates the norms of calibre and standards of excellence and intelligence, all in the name of charanna  ki entertainment!

Actors like Akshay Kumar and Sonakshi Sinha do a great disservice to themselves if this is the legacy they desire to leave  as their imprint within the film industry.

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Dr. is the beginning of dread!

On the phone with a friend in Bombay today, we both lamented over the greed and ignorance that comes as a heady cocktail as medical care in India today. Horror stories abound of people having their organs removed without their consent, of deaths that get covered up, or simple negligence that has cruel consequences that are irreversible. People I know have been treated for ailments as serious as cancer only to find out that biopsy reports have got mixed up. My mother was often like a dervish in a twirl of endless medical tests, until I put a stop to it after I received a feeble explanation from a well meaning physician that he thought it comforted her to do the tests! 

The most empowered of people become intimidated by hospitals and medical procedures. I myself always dread any surgeries as my body does not respond to anaesthetic and requires a much higher dosage. So regaining consciousness during operational procedures and the panic it causes emotionally is rather a harrowing memory. A simple dental surgery that others need a single injection for has me needing seven before it takes the required effect! Anaesthetic junkie...thy name is Rekha!

Being informed is of course vital. Being enquiring absolutely necessary. And above all being comfortable with what is being decided as the proceeding medical intervention is always a must. But finally the most important factor is always the sense of trust we repose in our doctors that is what finally makes us compliant with whatever medically needs to be done. Also as a woman it is imperative that I feel comfortable with the physical touch of my doctors, either men or women. I often am appalled by the transgressions of doctors through their the gaze, or the smirk that holds power over ones vulnerability, or the the desire to become over familiar and personal in areas that are not connected to the consultancy of the issue the at hand. 

I hope that a time can come where spare parts can just replace the old worn out bits of our bodies, and that DIY instructions come with the pack.  So bye-bye doctors and by pass the by-pass.....oh happy day!

As for now I sort of put my practical cap on and march around doctors and hospitals with my focus on the immediate and scuttle out as fast as I can. However the bunch of doctors whom I frequent: a physician, a gynaecologist, an ENT specialist, a surgeon  and a pathologist are really amazingly sensitive, informed and caring medical practitioners.....but not everyone is as fortunate as me. I also believe that a city like Baroda still preserves an intimacy that allows for people to perform service with greater accountability.