The Artful Dodgers

Maverick:The Artful Dodgers
by Farzana Versey

The Asian Age, Op-ed, May 29, 2007

The Hindutvavadis were right when they spoke about how the paintings of the Shivlinga, Goddess Durga and Jesus Christ by a student from MS University, Vadodara, would promote religious enmity and hurt religious sentiments "with nefarious intentions like creating riots." Somebody did later decide there has to be communal parity, so Prophet Mohammed became the next target.

My target is the artist community. What made them gather together and make those sounds of, "We strongly condemn attempts on the part of communal political outfits to unnecessarily politicise issues connected with artistic expression"?

Will someone please tell us that when artists themselves portray political issues, in what position are they to hide behind the skirts of artistic expression? Would they speak up for Gurmeet Ram Rahim Singh, the Dera Sacha Sauda chief, who was accused of "sacrilegious imitation of Guru Gobind Singh"? On what grounds does imitation of clothes and speech qualify as sacrilege? If we are told that we must follow in the footsteps of those who found God or were enlightened, then why does someone fashioning His persona after one such saint become an issue?

Does anyone have the answer?

Artists happily wear the garb of noble commitment when it suits them. They may paint a downtrodden people and their buyer will be someone who is perhaps an exploiter.

Regarding the Vadodara controversy, an art historian said, "Surely government and people have better things to do?"

When the government tax department raided 25 art establishments in New Delhi and Mumbai, there was collective anger, although art is like any commercial enterprise today and must be open to such scrutiny.

If these people want to ask questions like, "What do the cops know about art?", then could someone ask them what does that Mumbai businessman, Guru Swarup Srivastava, who paid Rs 100 crores for 100 M.F. Husain paintings, know? What do tyre manufacturers and other assorted such characters know? It is market frenzy. And because you cannot frame your mutual fund portfolio, you find something prettier.

Most of these sanctimonious types tend to sound irritatingly paranoid. "The sense of fear is palpable," said a filmmaker. "This is not just an attack on art. If they go on at this rate, they will also ban Mahatma Gandhi’s image, because he too doesn’t wear enough clothes."

Puerile logic. Have you heard of the VHP going to various temples and covering up the frescoes there? They care diddly squat for the Mahatma, but it sounds so artistically right to bring in that name. Opportunists! Said another artist, "Such actions will only prove detrimental for India’s cultural future."

Says who? A bunch of people who attend art camps organised by some fat cat in a beach house when they are not gracing every little art opening where champagne and whatever thingies go with it have become mandatory? People who do nothing for a living or for life have suddenly acquired a designation: "Art connoisseur." Their outings are covered on Page 3, and their clothes are commented on.

I love observing such trivial pursuits, so I know that one such aficionado looks like a tribal woman, another’s T-shirts are the talk of the town, someone’s beard goes through a change and another one carries an attitude.

A couple of novice artists had exhibited a work rather blatantly titled, "T*ts, Cl*ts & Elephant D*ck." One would have thought the freedom of expression wallahs would wah-wah the effort. No. They thought it was in bad taste. These same guys, some getting out of their sick beds, stood to protest as part of the Free Chandramohan Committee. Why?

Do they know whether this bloke will become a good artist and a good tax-paying citizen? Have they wondered about his motivation to paint what he did?

Have you noticed that the big names are becoming passé because the new breed of art lovers is into promoting raw talent? Guys who would otherwise be shaking a leg in the nights and walking their dogs in the morning take time off between power lunches and high tea to sponsor some fellow who they are convinced will play their game.

After a while these people form a coterie. They may or may not call it affordable art, but the paraphernalia is the same as at any event, for the patron cannot be seen as a lowlife promoting lowlife. The glitzy mosaic galleries where the crisp clatter of stilettos mingles with the jaded whispers of laboured praise and "sold" tags capture more attention than the paintings themselves become the venue for this baptism baying for blood money.

On a pavement outside Jehangir Art Gallery in Mumbai, there has been street art that has quietly been going on. I once bought an affordable painting and still recall the utter naiveté of the artist from Kolkata who gave me a discount. K.M. Shenoy — a true pioneer for having started this movement — did not like it. He did not want the artists to short-sell. In fact, he used to photocopy his drawings and have several prints. His logic was impeccable. "No one asks the writer to publish only one copy of a book."

How one aches for such honesty where art does not become a mere facilitator for social chatter and the sari does not have "an old Warli depiction." For heaven’s sake, stop making a mockery of what those poor people do on their huts by carrying your fake concern on expensive silk.


  1. Farzana,

    Would like to comment on the article. Part on the Sacha Sauda guy. He seems to be a good guy. I belive he is also a lucky guy that his goodness has a following of 10 million people. I am not getting into the rut here but I believe that there is a difference between being/becomming like a Great Guru of the past and trying to imitate him.

    The Sikh community was hurt at the Imitation bit... otherwise he was sucessfully running his dera for all these years. The biggest one is in Punjab incidentally.

    Dont be what you are not... he was dressed in Guru Gobind Singh's fav outfit and got himself clicked with a steel pan as if he was giving Amrit like the Guru has done to creat a race. That funny? No.

    FWIW I dont have a problem... it is at least at a very lesser level than what the jerks do on Jesus and Mohammed. Sick.

    What you write actually makes sense...

    see this guy is also a Guru and so was Guru Gobind Singh. But today the followers of Guru Gobind Singh are far far far more than what he has. Maar to Parni hi hai :-)

  2. Need time to discuss this....


Note: only a member of this blog may post a comment.