Sunday, 24 March 2013

Casualties of Love....

I opened the Mumbai Mirror this morning to be greeted with a headline that reads "Wife sues Chintan for obscene drawings". I was so saddened to read this as front page gossip. Two young people whom we have known since their student days in Baroda, who fell in love and decided to be a couple; and who struggled to attain their dreams of life as artists in the big culture capitol of Mumbai. So what went so drastically wrong to make them become a warring couple in the glare of the public?! And more importantly, who is leaking these stories to the press?!!

Well unfortunately love stories often don't last forever and people once madly in love do grow apart. This happened everyday. However when this occurs one must dig deep within oneself and find the grace of wisdom as the anchor through such periods of personal upheaval. Because undoubtedly it will  be the most difficult period in your life.  However if one self-reflects and leaves personal ego, power and revenge out of the equation, then one can come up with that essential factor that will dignify the entire proceedings; which is the process of civility that must govern all interaction. It is a dangerous game to set out on attempt to "teach the other a lesson". People will stand by and watch the tamasha and the only people who will suffer will be the warring couple. Lawyers will profit and newspapers will have fodder for their gossip mills. And finally what will happen to the two individuals at the centre of it all. They will grow deeper into this trench of personal doom.

Of course there will be hurt and emotional issues very close to the surface at all times during a divorce proceedings. Immovable assets that have been invested in as part of the "together"phase" with the dreams of longevity that gave reason and purpose to these decisions have to be divided up, sold, or bought over by one of the divorcing parties. Collective financial savings, jewelry, books, cars,  art, house-hold objects....and sometimes even pets (!) all have to be re-allocated to belong to two instead of to a "couple". Its a tough job but it can be made much easier if civility, decency and refinement are employed by both in question. What has to be asked is how much do people wish to destroy the other as a personal process of vindication in love stories that go wrong? 

Perhaps the sensible thing is when both parties stay away from being influenced by "well wishers"who feed them "crap stories"of one another. A love affair is between two people so let the conclusion also be private and personal, with good will that underlies the initial trust between the two individuals.  Better sense should always prevail with the attempt to hold on to a friendship as the goal between ex-lovers,  so that the past can maintain a space of preciousness as a memory forever. This is crucial and so easily attainable really. It merely requires the two warring people to put aside their anger and talk  respectfully about a solution that is mutually beneficial. 

Male crudity is a cowards weapon to use in spaces of vulnerability and must be avoided at all cost. Two lives will waste valuable time in the process of acrimonious divorce proceedings that are rooted in possessions and money alone. Anyone who whispers in their ears to "fight it out"are more the enemy than a friend. Couples who are in this stalemate must rely on their former trust of one another to insist upon a decency towards each other,  so that their private lives do not become sound-bites and fodder for rag journalism. 

I took no alimony, property or possessions when I divorced. This was my choice. What I took was my self respect, personal dignity and self awareness of my feminist politics. I was  21 years old at the time of this decision. Life may not have been easy in those years for me, but it was completely without regret, hatred or revenge and I remain grateful for my instinctive wisdom that led me to this choice. It will always be challenges that are painful and full of complex nuances that make you find the truth of your own resolve. The world of art in fact taught me how to compile my philosophical space and to recognise that material worldly goods alone are trivial in comparison to the ideals of  optimism, of holding a social conscience for empowerment of the less fortunate, of comprehending the lessons of non-violence and perhaps most importantly, the space of nurtured learning that believes in a progress and development for all. 

I wish these two friends the strength to find their dignity within their relationship, and to mediate the civility necessary to proceed with their divorce in a manner that will teach them to be better people. As artists we are trained to perceive refinement. At this juncture it is these lessons that must find its true meaning within the practise of their lives. 

Wednesday, 20 March 2013

Queen of my castle

I read recently how Oprah is re-doing her home to become something much more personal than the show stopper homes she has had till date, that merely reflect the image of a super successful woman who has enough money to buy everything that she desires....and more! Well common sense  is often the last wisdom to impact us!  Personally I have always disliked overly "designed" homes that bear the stamp of statements and current trends. Instead I prefer interiors of homes to reveal the essence of the people who inhabit those spaces; where you discover glimpses of the personal and the private from the arrangement of things that reveal the unstated.

Practicality and functionality should determine the way a home grows. In accordance with this you add a pinch of whimsy and you will always come up with a winner! A home must also be inviting....where people who share your space understand the house rules and yet feel at ease with the easy spirit of the space. Too often untidiness and dirt are excused away as "casual" lifestyles. However a time comes when the dust and grime swallows one up and you are left (in a hot and dusty country like India) feeling overwhelmed and out of control. So my mantra is always keep the upper hand on time management and everything will run like clock work !

The trick to a beautiful home is not to try and imitate others, but to know what works best for oneself. The key to this is to make rules within a home that are related to routine,  and to remain consistent with this at all times. A home should never be a showpiece for others. However it shouldn't either be a private pigsty either! Small details that are dealt with in time avoid catastrophes and crisis management of the hair tearing type. Each day should hold a rhythm that makes personal sense to you.

Always remember the old saying that the grass will appear greener on the other side.....
So for example: a big house will be the great dream for somebody.
However the more space we have the more we accumulate!
Ok! Then a small space is the answer.
Well in such cases space management and order is essential!!
Basically it is all about adaptability and finding joy without over reaching or underplaying....

I have lived in all types of houses. From the huge palatial ancestral houses of my grand-parents, to the grand colonial bungalows of the air-force days to the rented one room abode of my student days.....and each of these places place holds special memories from the spirit of how they were transformed into homes.

I have had a match-box home and a studio that measured only 6 feet X 18 feet for ten years of my life, and yet I lived with the elan and joy of a queen in a castle! Today we have a six thousand square foot home within which I have my studio too;  not counting the neighbouring Collective Studio space, my mother's adjoining flat and Surendran's studio that is a five minute drive away from our home Sauparnika. All this requires my attention and yet the real essence  of our home and respective studios reflect a harmony of co-existence that comes from the way our home has evolved over time. Objects gifted by loved ones and stray memorabilia that hold personal stories evoke the real nature of whom we are as people. Scratches and scars on the furniture mark the history of existence.  The aroma of lemongrass oils and the fragrance of sandalwood or rose joss sticks are always percolating the air in our home. The glow of simple paper lights and the quiet tidiness of a room adorned with candles and fresh flowers at the entrance,  transform an ordinary day into holding the significance of family togetherness.

I am often welcomed in the morning by the heady fragrance of jasmines arranged in the living room by one of our spiritual children. Or greeted in the evening with lotus flowers bought from the market by them to decorate the dining table for dinner. It is these acts of love that embellish and bring grace and beauty to the aesthetics of a home.

Our furniture holds memories that are equally vivid to the bright array of cushions that liven our space, and both Surendran and I have our "favourite"chairs that everyone politely leaves vacant for us to cozy down in at night!  A home has to be much more than a cold design space with brand labels that impress. It must hold the imprint of your heart and only then will it sing the right tune to captivate and delight you each day.

So for any of you who are either shifting, renovating or planning a new space, don't try to make your home look like a hotel or match a photo-shoot from a magazine spread .....
Instead make it hold the charm of good taste from the experience of your understanding.  Understand who you really are and not what you imagine yourself to be, and allow this to reflect itself in your choices, because a home is really the mirror of your soul too.

Wednesday, 13 March 2013

Too many things going terribly wrong...

I watched a film yesterday. Boy A.  It is a British film adapted from Jonathan Trigell's novel of the same name. The film is a story about how life creates moments that lead to tragic consequences; where ideas of right and wrong are not prescriptive text-book teachings but in fact are often defined from those darker areas of personal pain that others may not be privy to. Societies who are in the process of evolving and progressing continue to create "systems" to act as deterrents for other "systems"to not be abused....and yet the inherent aspects of human nature veers towards those abusive spaces of revenge and retribution. So we have paper rules with no great implementation and like blinkered mules we trudge on not caring (or daring perhaps) to topple the rotten apple cart for fear of the retributions we would face!

Systems like jails in India are the complete antithesis of what they actually are meant to be- which is:  spaces of reform and rehabilitation as part of a punitive process for crimes. Instead ironically they function for the influential and powerful as office spaces for the incarcerated to continue to conduct those very activities for which they have come under the scanner. For the poor and the underprivileged jail is a fate far worse than hell imagined, where ignominious acts of sodomy and rape are daily practises that dehumanise and defeat the spirit to survive; and the years of silence as the down trodden class gets merely reinforced by the treatment meted out to them in such situation, leaving them neglected, isolated and irrelevant. The middle class, educated to stand up and resist oppression, find the duplicity of the system the hardest to bear perhaps. Injustice and lengthy  procedures  with endemic corruption sucks their lives away cruelly as many combat the conflict of their own dilemmas  to remain committed to ethical practises as pursuit of redressal; often becoming bankrupt and passing away before being able to aid the cause for justice they have embarked upon.

Public outrage and commentary on issues is vital to a democracy. However the fine line of vigilantism and witch hunting becomes the dodgy area of suspect intentions. These transgressive attitudes waylay hard fought  activism for reform and change in systems of governance that will have significance if change must be voted in and become implemented policies that hold rules and regulations . What makes headlines is not always going to translate into action that  addresses the root problem and so we fall into this tail chasing scenario of hype and hoopla with little else to underline the problems at hand except mere outrage alone.

Today I see the aggressive nature of people in the street, and it has sadly become you and me. Eye-balling and challenging gestures all manifesting the frustration of systems breaking down to make chaos and lawlessness the structures that we are forced to live and abide by. Who do we take our complaints to? Police-people who are too bogged down with corruption themselves to know what sensitivity is required to perform their duty ethically, or preceding magistrates and judges who do very little to camouflage their personal agendas when servicing the people? The choices today offer little comfort to those who seek  uncomplicated straight forward solutions to their problems.

Who cares in the end....
We should.
But is saying that enough .......?
Unfortunately not....much more is required from each of us....
So we need to become more pro-active to carry the outrage to its correct target....
......which is visible change within those corrupted non-functioning systems......

Monday, 11 March 2013

When an artist endorses rape....that is truly a shameful day!

It was a terribly saddening moment yesterday when an artist whom we have known for years came home to have lunch with us, and shot his mouth off  making the most unimaginably reprehensible comment. When the issue of rape came up in the course of the conversation he said that he thought that  even rape was an enjoyable act! I immediately informed him that such a position was unacceptable in our home and that he would be obliged to tender an immediate apology for this dastardly remark. He continued  to reiterate this horrendous sentiment five times no less that "rape would be enjoyable for the victim"! I was truly stunned and outraged.  I admonished him on his insistence to hold his position, to which he patronisingly told me to "simmer down and not be childish"! This coming from a man who is married to an English woman and lives between India and Britain. My ethics and decency did not permit me to retort that in the event of his wife ever being subjected to such a heinous act of violation, he should remember to enquire of her if she had enjoyed it, as he advocates! 

Such endorsements of criminality and condoning of violence is terribly tragic especially coming from someone who professes to be influenced by the teachings of  Ramana Maharshi. What could he have understood if his megalomania and self importance shuts out the comprehension of sensitivity and decency. I am truly at a loss to understand how people with education and the privilege of travel and access to information  can formulate such crude ideas,  and then try to masquerade them as spiritual gyan. What a joke!  Suffice to say he is not welcome in our home with such attitudes. Surendran and I were shell-shocked and appalled by the incident; and mutually decided that it is a waste of our personal time to entertain such associations,  if the basic value systems of others do not match our standards.

The fight to make the issue of rape and violence against women matters of collective consequence, and which must be viewed as serious and meriting our outrage;  would appear to be the logical mindset. However this isn't the case for everyone unfortunately, as I am fast recognising. At a friends home recently we all talked about the decline of discipline within the home environments for children. Today the goondagiri raja has parents coming  into schools to punch and beat up teachers who are attempting to do their job effectively and uphold parameters of equality that are not dictated by affluence, but which are value based. The panga culture however seems here to stay. With the Biti-baba types indulging in date-rapes and being protected by their influential parents, why am I so surprised that an artist friend shows his ugly mindset to expose that he thinks a rape victim would have "enjoyed" being raped?!

Perhaps it saddened us the most that we had exposed our adopted grand-daughter Aditi to this putrid experience, and we spent time undoing the damage to bring back her space of safety and comprehension that such attitudes bear no place in the society of empowerment to which she belongs; and for which a multitude of like-minded people the world over stand united to fight for. 

Friday, 8 March 2013

Zero tolerance for violence against women....

Not a day passes without the crusade for the up-liftment of women being fought for across the world,  and with both men and women lending their voices to this cause of necessity. I was very happy to see the cover of the Femina issue for International Women's Day sporting Aamir Khan as the spokesperson for gender rights and equality. We however need many more men to stand up and speak out against violence towards women and register their outrage at the skewered bias towards male progenies that lead to tragic terminations of female fetuses. In the same issue of Femina (March 16th 2013),  I have contributed an article for their guest section looking back, in which amongst other pointers of gender relevance,  I high-light the need for men to stand up and be counted on issues of gender equality. Their views on this subject must now be audible if we are to collectively address a nation to find their conscience and acknowledge that violence against women must be dealt with zero tolerance.

For International Women's Day I share this recently published article with you......

Manifesto for Indian Men.*

Crimes against women are the front-page news each day; the staple diet we feed to the adolescent boys of our country. In this unhealthy climate of violence against women, why don’t Indian men who are different from the stereo-typical desi lafangey begin to stand-up to be counted! With the mood of zero tolerance for sexual harassment and oppressive behavior towards women resounding through the protests that flooded the streets of India recently, I thought it appropriate on the occasion of International Women’s Day to examine some basic norms that define respectful co-existence of the sexes. I would also urge and encourage men to set the record straight by declaring through communication and action that there are indeed many men in India with a gender-sensitive conscience; who are equally appalled to find themselves pigeon holed and portrayed as thugs and brutes, within this growing scenario of male-hooliganism that makes national headlines that are both gruesome and tragic.

The loin-in-your-face and the hand-up-your-skirt attitude of the caveman variety, with the myth of chest-thumping he-man aggression as the calling card of male virility is totally off-putting for women today. The crude innuendos of popular Indian films, which characterize stalking and harassment as the modules of courtship, obviously have inept research teams with no clue on what women really find appealing. So if sex-in-your-face macho-ism isn’t the trump card to play, then what is it that does impress women genuinely?

The funny thing is that the answer is very simple. There are no tricks involved to determine dignity and honesty within relationships between the two sexes; and men only have to reflect upon one of the age old precincts of common sense wisdom, which is to respect another as you would yourself. It is in the small gestures of consideration that we humanize our engagement with people, and determine the value of intentions by our corresponding actions. We need to make this the credo for all human behavior if we are to evidence significant change in society.

Authoritative despotic men who revel in power tactics that intimidate are intolerable caricatures of playground bullies. Women despise the display of strong-arm posturing, preferring instead men who can negotiate co-existence through insightful compassion. Life is not black and white but holds nuanced spaces that require collective endeavors to be deciphered. Honesty and vulnerability are valued instead of action-man bravado and mob mentality.

The division of the sexes is a conservative mindset that needs to be abandoned in 21st century India. Men who parade sexist attitudes need to sit in the dunce’s corner. The new school of thought insists on demolishing gender hierarchies. Women seek equal status as the logical platform in male-female associations, and cringe at the notion of adopting the bhai prefix to male friendships as a means of “inviting” protection. This Indian tendency of attributing purity to women via concocted sibling status, as a method of desexualizing and attributing “virginal” respectability, is demeaning to the ideals of empowerment and independence of women.

Perhaps Indian men need to become more comfortable with their sexuality so that it does not burst in our faces like a flooded dam that finally becomes potentially dangerous.  The lead up to intimacy must hold finesse and be absent of violence. Subtlety is undoubtedly the most alluring magic within the arena of sexuality and it has to hold consensual desire for it to manifest its beauty. So get it right guys because the rules of the game are finally changing. Rev down your engines and change your gear because the map of co-existence no longer reads the same today. Amen to that!

* published in Femina march 16, 2013

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Communication buttons....

One of the artists in residence at The Collective Studio talked to me over lunch today about the sense of dislocate she felt when viewing video art. We talked about many things from this space of dilemma and I shared with her how perhaps it may be very simple issues that hold the key to opening up that space of connection, where understanding is not hampered by preconceptions.

In 1982 (all those many years ago, when I first experienced art practises outside of India, and not from art books alone!) I encountered performance art and computer graphics, both of which were alien in their formal presentations at that time for me.  The mindset of learning tends to wire our comprehension to seek for meanings in the form of identifiable constructs that reflect experiences we can relate with. If we believe this is not possible we shut ourselves out with assumptions that offer escape.

The connection people have with more traditional art practises like painting, sculpture, printmaking, photography, ceramics etc. is that you can come into a viewing space which does not have a start or a finish or a sequence on a loop. This offer a viewer the space of assessment and perhaps more interestingly, of control.

The necessity that prompts new materials and new media to hold visual communication is a history too many are not that clued in with in India, resulting in a kind of fill-in-the-blanks that leads to second guessing instead of informed experience. 

An invitation to the Fukuoka Asian Art Museum as an artist in residence some years ago provided me valuable time to look through their vast compilation of video art and performance. It was hugely informative. It allowed me time to research a visual communication that I was curious about and which  challenged me to make further enquiries to formulate my responses. 

We do have some fine video art and performance in Asia. However there are those also who believe being avant-garde is doing anything nonsensical;  and we are then paraded before substandard rubbish that gets labelled as experimental art! Such posturing is both embarrassing and boring and I have grown weary to the point of now just being plain rude when subjected to bad art....period! But what gets to me is that niggling question of simple logic: why can't such artists train their aesthetics and inform their intellectual facilities to produce significance and standard within their work.

I remember with great hilarity a  Bombay curator who put a work of Surendran's upside down in a show as a deliberate "experiment" some years ago! Well Surendran in his usual cryptic way when asked for his permission stated that he had not conceived the work to be exhibited upside down. However if her concept for the curation demanded this idea, he informed this young lady that  the responsibility of her concept would therefore have to be validated by her alone. What the result became was a farce! Then interestingly when I visited the show (quite by accident) I was verbal in my critique of it resulting in pretty pouts and frowns of sadness!!!! Oh for crying out aloud do grow up and entertain discourses that aren't always flattering!

Which brings me to the issue of badly written curatorial notes. In the recent years most every concept note is meandering and full of jargon that beats the drums of pomposity and does little else. Those that I receive I plough through with the patience of Job, ending up grumpy and irritated by the drivel of it all.  I fail to understand why things supposed to be serious, that are related to art, cannot be stated with the required  directness. Is it because in doing so we will expose the emptiness of the idea itself? Well maybe some reflection may be in order. 

The desire of communication drives us to deliver through these many different ways. What we need to do is to learn to empower ourselves with the knowledge to give and receive with greater honesty.

Friday, 1 March 2013

Back where I belong!

I decided after the Indian Art Fair 2013 to take time off from work, primarily to let my body rest. Many years of working exhaustive hours in my studio has been the order of my life, and I would not change this factor because it has provided the framework I desired for my personal existence.    Understandably however my body has taken a beating, and so better sense kicked in and I decided to put my paint brushes down and folded my apron for the month of February for the first time in my life as an artist, and allow my body time to heal and replenish it's energies.

Interestingly the habits of an everyday schedule are hard to undo so easily, and I found myself over these three weeks often desperately wanting my "studio fix"!  However my sister and I had coincided our schedules,  and so once again for the first time ever, I was a free bird on her two week visit home from Canada, which was great fun indeed.   We saw more movies in these two weeks than I do in an entire year (!) and drove around Alkapuri like two mad hatters, visiting shopping malls and having sister bonding galore; flying over to Mumbai to visit Mithun and Samera for a sleep-over where we all indulged in eating yummy food, window shopping, some splurging,  and mostly catching up on family time.

Back in my studio today as my sister wings her way back to cold and snowed-out North America,  I am sitting next to some beautiful new books, both bought and presented,  that are enticing me to over to sit down for a read. A set of digital photo-image works on paper await the intervention of imagery in water colour being introduced to it's surface, and stretchers and canvas are in the store waiting to be called upon when decisions crystallise. Perhaps it is Begum who is the happiest as she snuggles down in her favourite chair to snooze the afternoon away ....!

Back to work brings out musings that I have tucked away to ponder over.....

Of late I have encountered artists and writers who are past the age of being classified as young or emerging (two terribly over used words in my opinion), whose careers have stalled. What becomes the malaise in all these cases is unfortunate laziness and short-cuts, and then there will always be the  slew of excuses about irrelevant personal stuff (sob...sob) that becomes sadly embarrassing to say the least, as the protective placenta of reason. It is rather puzzling because it has not been for the lack of opportunities. Perhaps not recognising the privilege of  receiving may also be one of the problems.  

What finally becomes apparent in many such cases is the desire on the part of the individual for the "event" alone : whether it is the exhibition, the residency, the book deal etc.; and where little  consideration for the substance of work or the space of self-growth is ever comprehended as essential, above all else. I observe people who spend too much of their time looking up " where next to go" without realising that travel and relocation must occur from pointed necessity, rather than a random game of darts where wanderings leave us more lost than before. 

Critical spaces are shrinking in this ever growing political correctness and the over individualised societies we live in, resulting in less honesty amongst peers. The goals often feel less about the quality of work and more about half-baked ideas that do not go through their required gestation to become significant, and hold meaning. Call me harsh in my assessment, but agony aunt I refuse to be! I am always there for genuine cases where support and nurturing benefit; but when hard work does not evidence itself, then I am not going to buy any hard luck story simply because it is being dumped at my doorstep!

Standard is accessible to all  once you are equipped with the privilege of education and opportunities.  I use with deliberation the word privilege because every child unfortunately does not always have the chance to go to an educational institution. So those of us who have been nurtured by such spaces of learning must recognize the difference it should offer us. If we choose to ignore the rules that give us access to this area of self-development where standard and quality are the yard sticks of achievement,   then we have only ourselves to blame. However in the conversations I have had with those who are falling off the wagon,  I hear the echoes of blame and victimisation all too clearly. Some one needs to remind them to walk the talk. I have said it before and I say it again at the cost of sounding repetitive,  hard work is the only road to self-fulfilment ...if this is done, most often, all else falls into place.