An Annual Homage..
A boy begging on the street might not know what 'art' means or who is the prime minister of our country..but mention the name Gandhi and the dirt-streaked face lights up... Indeed even after many years of neglect, Gandhi survives in public memory through the very phenomenon he resisted all his life...the currency note.
Even after so many decades of his demise, Gandhi possesses a phenomenal iconic value, quite untouched, if not untainted. Last month saw a flurry of art events centred around Gandhi and the things he has come to stand for. The significance of the timing was not lost upon those creating or attending these events and quipped to be tributes to the Father of the Nation, the shows were a platform for artists to deconstruct and reconstruct the icon of Gandhi, informed by their own opinions, in order to portray his significance in today's world.
While Delhi saw two art shows, Gopal Khetanchi's 'Gandhigiri' and a group show curated by RK Singh, 'Gandhi through the eyes of the artist', Bangalore saw its own high profile version called 'Who has seen Gandhi?'. Though the two former ones stressed on the Mahatma and his principles, the third interpreted Gandhi the normal Indian man who led an extraordinary life.
Gopal Khetanchi's 'Gandhigiri'.
“Gandhigiri” is an ode to the father-less India which has strayed into a land of extreme consumerism, fuelled by greed and the urge to make things move faster. "I am trying to portray the difference between India and Bharat on my canvas," says the Jaipur based artist. Showing at Gallery Positive, the art works depict a Gandhi affronted by the continuing struggle in a post-Gandhi India, looking lost in the web of abject poverty and corrupt bureaucracy that is modern India. Juxtaposed on a harsh statement on the degeneration of the Indian society, the Gandhi in these paintings is in a pensive, almost melancholic mood, waiting for a new dawn. A series of about 15 large oil paintings on canvas, the show is a mixture of severe photo-montages, some interesting portraits of Gandhi and an installation.
"When I first saw Khetanchi's new series of paintings on Mahatma Gandhi, what struck me most was the tenderness with which he has portrayed a complex subject. Several artists have used Gandhiji as their muse, but what sets this artist apart is how he demystifies the context in which he portrays the father of the nation.” says Anu Singh, Director of Gallery Art Positive. Indeed, one can see from the artist's handling of the subject his attempts to strike a balance between the picture of 'what is' and 'what could have been'. Having said this, his contemplation on the theme seems to be limited to the shattering of Gandhi's dream for India. The tenets of peace, satyagraha and non-violence do not get as much place on Khetanchi's canvasses as much as the depiction of their failure does. This, though is a realistic depiction of reality, lacks the tiny spark of hope that could have uplifted the mood of the entire exhibition, making it more positive than positively lamenting.
A part of the sale proceeds from artworks in the show, will go in support of Dastkar, the Society for Crafts and Craftspeople, in synergy with Gandhi's passion for the hand-spun and handmade.
RN Singh's “Gandhi through the eyes of the artists”
“A myth by its very nature appeals to different people for different reasons and the very variety of these reasons gives power to a myth. Therefore, it is necessary to ask, “What is it in Gandhi that is relevant to the artists, at least to the Indian artists of today?” One can think of several Gandhian beliefs that are deeply relevant to the artists of contemporary India.” says art-critic/ film-maker K. Bikram Singh. Scheduled to co-incide with the Commomweath Games, this group show of 15 artists, including two photographers i.e. Deepak Tandon who is a also a painter and Sarabjit Babra, aimed at reminding the audience of the basic principles of honesty that Gandhi believed in at the time when they are being exposed to corruption and bribery at its worst. Giving the artists a free reign in terms of the medium they chose to work with, curator R N Singh simply asked them to go beyond just drawing Gandhi's portrait and actually understanding and depicting their interpretation of his belief system in the artwork. A mixed bag of artists from all parts of the country lent an interesting flavour to the show, increasing the horizons of not just the mediums but also to their point of focus. While Meghansh Thapa reinterpreted the 'Three Monkeys' of Gandhiji in contemporary idiom, Bhuneshwar Bhaskar, a graduate in painting from Magadh University, worked with the iconic pair of round glasses that became synonymous with Gandhi. Manas Jena from Odisha and Kamalkant from Madhya Pradesh, created fascinating textures on the surface of their painting, employing subtle colour schemes, both of which set their work apart from the others. Yet, while Kamalkant's work is more or less in the realistic figurative mould, that of Jena has references to the history of Indian civilization. Deepak Tandon's photograph of a travelling torch repairer locally called 'Torchwala' is extremely intriguing as it holds a bond with Gandhi and Gandhinism which is much deeper than what is obvious in one go. Gandhi's significance in the protagonist's life is multi-layered and rooted in his humility.
The curator explains the thought behind the show, “These works are an attempt to sensitize the lay-viewers and those who sit at the helms of affairs of this nation. When most of us talk of development and growth, we cannot but remember Gandhi as a yardstick by which we should measure our progress.” The clarity of the thought process behind the artworks is obvious and the visual language is crisp and engaging.
Rahul Bhattacharya and Tangerine Art Gallery's “Who has seen Gandhi?”
In the spirit of the times, this show happening far away in Bengaluru created a huge debate in the Delhi Art circuit. “A key aspect of reinvigorating our times with the values of truth and dignity, intrinsic to Gandhi, is to be able to visually reclaim Gandhi and the symbolic manifestations of his ideologies and philosophies. When a person who communicated and lead the nation primarily through his “personal touch? is visually reduced to a stagnant confined image, we know that it is the time to contest and reclaim his imagery.” This was the premises from which writer-curator Rahul Bhattacharya conceptualised the show “Who has seen Gandhi?” at Raj Bhawan, Bangalore, with Tangerine Art Gallery.
The group show with 22 art-makers working within their preferred media, gave them a platform to revisit the effect and influence Gandhi has had on their lives as an icon passed down from generation to generation by artists. Informed by their personal interpretations of Bapu, the artworks generated not just interest but also controversies by the bold statements they made. Debanjan Roy's take on a possible post modern image of Gandhi, attired in contemporary clothes, roaming a dog with a cellphone on his ear disturbed many a conservative Gandhiwadis, and as Johnny ML pointed out in his blog, ....brought to mind the satirical works of Chinese artists on Mao in their visual and mediatic technique. Looking it from the perspective of someone belonging to the generation from which Roy borrows this sensibility, I could personally understand the premises it came from and in a manner respect his positioning of Gandhi as a metaphor in an India he couldn't see. The show however tested the acceptability of the people to them who view Gandhi first as a Mahatma and then a human being. The deconstruction and reconstruction of the icon was a tad too subjective in its treatment and appeal. Quoting critic Johnny ML, “Gandhiji was not a flawless god. He was a human being that walked on the earth. Hence, critiquing him would come natural. Criticism is leveled at flawed creatures. But any kind of critique should come with a tremendous amount of historical understanding and daring. Gandhiji is a knowledge system in himself, so attacking him culturally needs another knowledge system.” Though in complete agreement with this statement, terming the show as an attack on Gandhi in his body and icon would perhaps be an overstatement.
November would see another show, "Freedom to March Rediscovering Gandhi through Dandi" at Lalit Kala Academy, Delhi. Conceived by Anubhav Nath, Director of Ojas Art and co-founder of the Ramchander Nath Foundation and Johny M L, the show sees more than a dozen artists trace Gandhi's route to Dandi..only on four wheels. Launched on 2nd October, the show deals with multiple metaphors: Salt March as envisioned by Gandhi, Gandhi's Salt Satyagraha as we perceive it today and most importantly our perception of the Mahatma and the relevance of his teachings today, as explained by a very excited Nath. With a formidable group of artists like Atul Dodiya, Probir Gupta, Rameshwar Broota, Manjunath Kamath, Gigi Scaria, Murali Cherooth and Vivek Vilasini to name a few, one waits, impatiently so, for what promises to be a visual treat for the curious mind.
As we move into November, and the art scene gets truncated by Dussera and Diwai, the Gandhi fever seems to have died now, and we look forward to see what lies ahead.