The salt route

Written by Garima Pant | Updated: Oct 25 2010, 04:45am hrs
For the students of Gujarat Vidyapeeth, spinning every day at 11 am is something that is more than routine. And for Dhirubhai Patel, principal of Vinay Mandir school in Dandi, khadi vastr nahin, vichar hai (khadi is not a cloth, it is a philosophy). These were some impressions curators Johny ML and Anubhav Nath came back with from their Dandi trip, the inspiration behind art exhibition, Freedom to March Rediscovering Gandhi through Dandi, which will be on at the Lalit Kala Academy from November 12 to 18.

Of the 22 participating artists, 18 went for the journey on the salt route. The exhibition will showcase masterpieces that were subsequently created by these artists, including Gigi Scaria, Sudhir Patwardhan, Hindol Brahmabhatt , KM Madhusudhanan and Sukesan Kanka.

Says Nath, "India has greatly evolved as a country, race, society and populace post-independence, which is also post-Mahatma Gandhi. We tried to understand contemporary India, using the Mahatma and his teachings as a tool." While for Johny, the whole concept was to understand and explore how artists could relook the notion of resistance. "We have lost the sense of resistance. Today, resistance is expression of difference and the market is a system that enjoys difference. Gandhiji's life was all about resistance; his life was meaningful resistance. Through this project our idea is to look at the state of resistance today vis-a-vis the Gandhian symbolism, which is static on one hand and on the other, vibrantly performative in our social life," he adds.

For the contemporary art scenario in India, Gandhi is a strong metaphor, as depicted by his three monkeys, which aptly justifies the persistent interest in his works and philosophies. "Gandhiji is a grand narrative and whenever the human freedom is curtailed, cribbed and confined in places like Guantanamo Bay, Gandhiji's image comes before our eyes," says Johny. However, for artists part of this show, the question that kept arising was, would Gandhi have agreed to the Gandhiisation of contemporary India and all that was being carried out in his name. "The journey helped in putting into perspective many aspects of Gandhi's life and also gave a first-hand experience on the current perception that the populace holds," says Nath. He adds how Mahatma Gandhi selected Dandi and salt as his metaphors to inspire an entire nation to independence. "In this show, we deal with multiple metaphors: salt march as envisioned by Gandhi, Gandhis salt as we perceive it today and, most importantly, our perception of the Mahatma and the relevance of his teachings today," says Nath.

Apart from the pleasant memories, there were some rude shocks that greeted the group too. Johny recalls, "When we first went to a village called Aslali, which was the first stop of Gandhiji after Sabarmati, we saw several young people and their faces going blank at the mention of Gandhiji's name. To our shock, we realised that these young people were handling local politics of that village." For artist Gigi Scaria, it was the neglect of monuments and places of national history that was most disturbing.

Gandhi would have agreed!

Sukesan Kanka

For the youngest artist of the group show, it was an experience of a lifetime. And it was the vast expanse of salt that inspired Kanka to begin his works on Gandhi. Beginning his journey from the Sabarmati Ashram, which Kanka calls a "powerful place of silence", it was a journey that meant endless dialogues with nature for the artist. What also inspired Kanka was Gandhiji's attire, which he thought was "simplicity at its best, accompanied by the power of knowledge and thoughts".

INSPIRATION: In this work, he attempts to explain salvation, or moksha by showing Gandhis three monkeys. Only, he has painted just two monkeys, while the third is a man closing his eyes toward salvation.

Hindol Brahmbhatt

Partly following Gandhian philosophy in my life, this journey took me a step closer to Gandhiji's thought process," says artist Hindol Brahmbhatt. who has been working on Gandhi for the past eight years.

INSPIRATION: In this show he tries to connect the father of the nation with with other leaders "who always tried to reach to common man,with their work". He recalls how through this journey to Dandi he and the other artists met people who were connected with the Dandi movement. "They shared their experiences with us and brought all the stories alive. It was as if we were also the part of movement," says Brahmbhatt.

Gigi Scaria

For artist Gigi Scaria, it was reliving history. Despite having been to Dandi before, Scaria was still amazed at the historical importance held by small places. "We visited a spot near a school, which was the last stop before Gandhiji left for Dandi. Also, the walk helped us to see those places for real, which we had just seen as monochrome images," says Scaria. He also recalls how the walk allowed him and other artists to reconnect with history and with Gandhi.

INSPIRATION: His work on display shows an under-construction bridge with Gandhi walking in the middle. "I am trying to portray that Gandhian philosophy and principles are easy to follow and one does not require bridges and subways to help them follow his principles," says Scaria.

V Viswanadhan

For Paris-based Indian artist V Viswanadhan, it was his third visit to Dandi that he fondly recalls as as exciting as the first one in 1976 with Adoor Gopalakrishnan, Kadamanitta Ramakrishnan, Pazhavila Ramesn, etc". Viswanadhan says none of these journeys were as painful and tedious as the one Gandhiji led in 1930 and did not take as much time as the Mahatma took walking the 320 km from Sabarmati to Navsari Dandi. "The salt march movement shocked the British empire; it gave inspiration to as many resistant movements in the world and founded the real independence movement of gave to the entire Indian population the impetuous strength it needed," says the artist. He also fondly recalls how the most memorable aspect of the journey was the changing landscape of the country, the motorways, comfortable hotels and restaurants, the communication towers and facilitiesthe symptoms of a globalised world that give no chance for Gandhian thinking!

INSPIRATION: And as an artist what was the experience equivalent to "As I believe that the path is traced by walking, all the journeys helped me to trace my being of an artist," says Viswanadhan.

Alok Bal

An avid footballer, this Baroda-based artist re-learnt all what he had read about Gandhi on his journey from Ahmedabad to Dandi. Focusing his work on the aura around Gandhi and what has been happening in the name of Gandhi, Bal has created two works for the show that attempt to define what's happening around the aura of Gandhi and how people are using the name of Gandhi in today's world.

INSPIRATION: In one of his works where he has painted Gandhi upside down, Bal says he has tried to portray the politics in salt production. "With the image I have tried to portray the apathy and exploitation of labourers," says Bal, for whom it was a surreal experience to relive history while visiting Dandi and the museums there.