Contemporary Art: We Have What The US Needs

Written by Suneet Chopra | Updated: Jul 25 2004, 06:24am hrs
The success of Indian contemporary art, or that of Picasso, in the world today reflects the emptiness people feel in the so-called free world. It is an emptiness that has percolated from the top down.

The apex of the US, with an uneducated prophet who seems to have lost the capacity to sift truth from lies, indulges in bombast and seems patently unable to convince even himself of the correctness of the outrageous views he holds, was never so worthy of contempt as today.

In such a condition, art and gimmickry lose the distinction between them and clever little tricks of a flea circus have taken the place of originality in a world of easy come, easy go. Everyone has his fifteen minutes of fame, as Andy Warhol declaimed- and may never be seen again.

Mercifully, the contemporary art of the subcontinent, and especially of India, is fashioned to survive and continues engross us long after the fifteen minute variety has faded away.

That is why it is worth investing in. And art lovers all over the world are opening up to Indian contemporary art in preference to local varieties, just as curry and dosa have taken over from hot dogs and other junk foods.

We offer the West well-thought out originality and gallery owners who take exhibitions out of the country ought to concentrate on it even at the cost of missing out on a few brand names.

This came home to me after seeing the Bose-Pacia/Nature Morte exhibition at their new gallery in the capital. The exhibition consists of the works of three artists: Rashid Rana, from Lahore, with his studio at Warris Road (named Shyam Benegals wifes grandfather); where the artist Gargi Raina had her family home, and where I was born at my mothers family home. Incidentally, it is also the setting for Bapsy Sidhwas Crow Eaters. So, when I heard of where this young artist had his studio, I expected something unusual. And I was not disappointed.

He has built large digital images out of minuscule ones. The large image serves as an icon, the little images spell out a narrative. For example, there are portraits of Shah Rukh Khan, Hritik Roshan and Salman Khan composed out of shots of the young men of Lahore, reminding one that the exclusiveness of the celebrity is a fraud. They are just the paradigm of a much more prolific reality.

Then there were works that highlight the hypocrisy of predator imperial states selling their plunder of the world as the white mans burden. But the most radical are his burqa images, portraying the conventional concept of what is proper, only they are constructed out of hard porn photographs, reminding one of the hypocrisy that characterises prim and proper presentations. Indeed, by focussing on the horrors of what goes on behind the conventional facades our society puts up he raises new questions about truth, reality and telling things as they are.

The second artist, Ashim Purkayastha from Bengal, defaces postage stamps, playing with conventional imagery to leave an impact based on the repetition of an image. Generally he leaves one stamp in the originally form to provide a discontinuity in the sequence. It is interesting to see that he has chosen the postage stamp to work on, for India was one of the earliest producers and users of the postage stamp, so this form of art has a long connection with our history.

Purakayastha, from a family once settled in Bangladesh makes a sharp attack on the temple-mosque brand of politics aimed at dividing the subcontinent on sectarian lines and making it easy game for imperialism as West Asia is today. The resilient unity of contemporary India is based on its secular fabric and network of modern transport and communications. The art of Purakayastha reflects this.

Finally, there is Talha Rathore from Pakistan, who blends the overground concern with the environment and its underground destruction by an empire and its allies largely responsible for global warming but refusing to do anything about it. Her miniature works blend contemporary forms and concerns with painstaking execution.

Seeing the exhibition, it is clear that our subcontinental contemporary art provides a high level of execution, much more concern with the human condition, frank and honest treatment of social and environmental issues that tend to be swept under the carpet in the West and the advantage of a continuous old and tested aesthetic tradition. Gallery owners should choose modern young artists like Gargi Raina, Natraj Sharma, Chintan and Hema Upadhyay, Valsan Kolleri, Jensen Anto, Atul Sinha, Sukvinder Singh, Mohan Singh, Neeraj Bakshi, Kavita Nayar, Kaushal Sonkariya and Hem Raj, to blend with the seniors when they exhibit abroad.

They will find the investment worth while. We have what the American market needs, but we prefer to sell bazaar images of gods and goddesses on jeans and underwear instead of competing in mainstream art as we should. u