Art News & Views

North-East Opsis

An intermingling dyad: A probe into the lingual problematics of contemporary Indian art with specific reference to North-East

For eons in the creative/ intellectual arenas we have been encountering oppositional dynamics, dilemma and conflict laden dichotomies and disparities  be it the disparity of aesthetic modernism and political modernity, or the war between 'autonomy of art' and the anti-thesis of it, or this ideational concern regarding the conflict of  the global and identity-specific art language ('Indian-ness' in this context) as manifested in lingual diversions of the new post modernist experimentations of media arts, video arts and installation versus the modernist technique of conventional painting on canvas. And for eons we have tried to transgress, mediate, negotiate or resolve these disparities by various ways, means and methods dialectically or otherwise. In doing so, we are driven by an assumption springing out of a linear approach that any oppositional dynamics ought to be resolved or negotiated. Propelled by the linear approach, this “will to resolve” have become more predominant and intensified in the complex theatre of globalisation (aided by certain aspirations of uniformity in qualitative lived experiences in the economic and political regime) where homogenisation seems to be key feature, though a lip service to multi-culturalism and differentiation at social and cultural paradigm is often offered. A section advocating this globalising spree of so called socio-political liberalism of western liberal democracy headed towards a dream of absolute dissemination, where fixed notions/status of nation-identity and such other postulates in all their social/political/ economic/cultural contexts were to be eventually liquefied subsequently leading to resolution of the inherent contradictions and an emergence of unilateral paradigm, a paradigm of unified World Order, - a desire for actualization of the Utopia (read 'END OF HISTORY' by  Fukuyama). However, barring the semantic level, things were not rosy at the material level as this dream of a universal world order of a liberal democracy seemed rather a tall claim springing from the false promises of globalisation. Predictions about crumbling 'grand narratives', 'absolute monolith'(read nation/race/geo-political culture specific Identity-Apparatuses) have gone wayward and against the backdrop of such complexities renewed interest and awareness about nationhood, identity and all such other socio-political-cultural postulates have emerged again further complicating the slippery terrain. It is at this juncture that we can see a “Going Back” tendency in all the realms of art, as literary narrative trends reinstate faith in Realism or as in visual arts the furtive refuge in the modernist technique of conventional painting on canvas as opposed to the new experimentations of new media arts/ installations etc adhering to a global lingual expression devoid of any geo specific/spatial luggage of art language. And herein we are grappled with the dilemma and conflict of transcending these two oppositional lingual dynamics and a “will-to- resolve.”

In this context, if we consider that all 'knowledge' is contingent to its circumstances/ evaluating factors, which are always variable, unlimited and complex we can perhaps mediate the dilemma. The main concern here is tracing that knowledge which has more truth-functional values. Whereas this “Going Back” tendency to the conventional lingual expression in painting is concerned, we ought not to equate it with the high modernist position of the bygone era as this ideational strategy in informed by the awareness/knowledge of the three-four decades of post modernist condition. A subtle underlying line of differentiation lies herein though one can see a facile similitude on the surface. (One is not considering those artists here for whom the lingual expression of painting is rather a matter of craftsmanship, technical preference and individual choice of liking/disliking than a pure ideological concern.) Perhaps for them this ideological strategy is an assertion of an identity issue and interventional means against homogenising tendency of globalisation. Now the question that inevitably arises here is language and practice of painting synonym to the geo specific identity or Indianness as to be taken in our context? How are we using the language and this strategy of sticking to the practice of painting for the affirmation/ assertion of our identity, our locale or Indianness in particular? Are Indian artists going for any praxis weaving up a very distinct trend like their internationally acclaimed counterparts in Pakistan who have taken up the tradition of Manuscript painting to appropriate contemporary concerns/life-states operating within the conventional lingual structure/forms and designs? At one point do we have to examine if this whole issue of disparity between these two forms of lingual expression is redundant at the deeper level of the conceptual formulations? Is language the “Mean” or an “End in-itself”? Is not the language just a carrier and signifier of the transitive mutations and evolutions of the mediumistic/ materialistic contexts in and through time and space? What if the thematic and ideational concerns of these two oppositional trends are similar, in spite of their lingual differences? Let me substantiate with few instances taken from the contemporary art practices from the North-East of India, particularly Assam, which can perhaps be applicable to the pan Indian context also. The first Installation Art (1990) in Assam, entitled “Cerebral Corner' by Dilip Tamuli was a politically reflexive take on the issues of Nationhood and violence. (It is indeed noteworthy that his attempt was simultaneous to the first mainstream endeavour by Vivan Sundaram.) Further, the first collaborative work of performance art and Installation in Assam by Dilip Tamuli and theatre artist Rabijita Gogoi (2002) deliberated upon the issue of identity in the present context of consumerism and globalization. A series of video art and sound installation by the Desire-Machine Collective, a collective of two artists Mriganka Madhukailya and Sonal Jain in the last few years of this decade have vehemently taken up the issues of Identity and the problematic dynamics of Centre/Periphery. Their works like, Daily Check UP, Disturbed area network or Alfa Beta (2005) question the representation of the northeast in mainstream Indian media as a deviant, exotic space where the people are violent and "uncivilized". They express how NE is marginalized as the ethnic "other” and how representation legitimizes and privileges certain kinds of knowledge. The young Naga artist Temsuyanger Long Kumar reinforced a new “cultural discourse” by juxtaposing the huge installation of the “Murung”, a symbol of Naga world-view and cultural discourse with the British parliament., Artist like Temsuyanger has scripted a new narrative of equation in the dialectics of the socio cultural dynamics of the East/West, orient/occident, “tribal”/”non tribal” and all other such binaries. With these new signs of social transgression and cultural transformation in the time/space, we can hear new voices, new assertions and new narrations in these works which are representative of the contemporary GENNEXT of the North-East. Though these artists speak in a global language they speak about their own people, place and the locale as such. Parallel to these newer lingual experimentations we have artists like Shobha Brahma, NeelPawan Barua, Munin Bhattacharjee and others who have been sticking to the conventional mode of expression through painting in canvass with the same ideational concerns and thematic about the notions of Identity, Selfhood/ Nationhood, and making and unmaking of all such existential components. It is interesting to note a third section of artists like Noni Borpujari, Kishore Das and others who very often frequent both the world of lingual dialectics without any apparent ideological problem/ contradictions, as for them, the concepts and ideas are of central concern than this lingual issue of disparity. Does it eventually amount to the notion that language is more about a means rather than an end-in-itself? Are these two so called oppositional dynamics in actuality, an intermingling dyadic structure to carry and capture a larger ideational content and its multiple contexts of this paradigm called the contemporary Indian Art?

Perhaps the main problem essential for us now is not about the sanctity of language or this so called challenge of resolving the lingual disparity. Perhaps, a parallel development of both the trends in simultaneity is but a undeniable historical fact of our contemporary reality as I mentioned in the beginning that, as that of having for eons a Duchamp face to face with Matisse or Picasso (but even Picasso painted Guernica!), Melarich and Rodchenko vis-à-vis Beckmann, Donald Judd, Carl Andre faced on Noland or a Pollock!

For all the efforts of artists like Janet Wolff, the one who painstakingly tried to weave up a point of marital compromise or symbiotic mode for the two realms of aesthetic modernism and political modernity, it remains a constant oscillation of a pendulum, a perennial dilemma. As for my own position, I would like to stand with Arthur Danto who says
“Art would be in the final moments of its self-destruction, if it infinitely means only for itself . . . gazes at the mirror and finds it empty!”

  Moushumi Kandali 




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