Sunday, September 27, 2015

Shaping the Niraakaar

Today is Anant Chaturdashi, the last day of Ganeshotsav. All mammoth Ganpati idols in the city will be  immersed in Arabian Sea by tonight. The string of ten day festivities will come to sudden conclusion, and like every year, devotees will ask Ganpati Bappa to arrive a bit more earlier next year... Pudhchya varshi lawkar yaa...!!

There's something endearing about a God whose primary identity is that of a son. And that's how the cherubic, pot bellied personality of Ganesha with baby fat all over has got affixed permanently into public psyche. It's a deity that comfortably melds into animation as Bal Ganesha and children enjoy his role in folk tales as much as elders enjoy his various avataars at Ganeshotsav pandals every year.

It may be surprising for some to learn that the most famous Ganpati of Mumbai, Lalbaugcha Raja, has assumed several disguises since His debut. The Lord has been presented in the form of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and also Gandhiji at one point of time. These avataars resembled the muses much more than traditional Ganesha Himself. It's all the more worthy of appreciation that Sarvajanik Ganeshotsav Mandal, organizers of Lalbaugcha Raja, were progressive enough in their vision to have allowed such representations to be installed during the first fifty years since the mandal's inception way back in conservative 1930s. 

However, as the years went by and this idol began gaining popularity, particularly as a faith center for votive, it may have become imperative to freeze a definite form for Lalbaugcha Raja that devotees could meditate upon. Perhaps as a result, since the late 80's, the mandal shed its flexibility and settled for a permanent design of this idol as we see it today. In 2011, they went a step further by securing global copyright over the use of its name. The sculptor family that has traditionally been commissioned to create Lalbaugcha Raja, too applied for a patent over its most popular form in the very same year.

We won't get into challenging the propriety of such patents from devotional perspective. It's more a matter of business, politics, branding and intellectual property than of faith, that 'God' needs to be given form and that a particular form requires to be frozen as the only appropriate one to be worshiped. 

Else we look at the humongous pyramids of Egypt and feel humbled by them. We look at entire epics written on a single grain of rice and marvel at the ingenuity of its creator. Whenever human effort has surpassed and excelled beyond a certain common denominator, we feel the same sentiment towards it as we feel towards the concept called 'God'. Then the size and shape of the form ceases to matter. We see God in Perfection, wherever it is. It could be a huge pyramid or a tiny little grain... and, it could as well be a figure some ancient artist conceptualized in the name of God several millennia back. We know God when we see one.

Blogger Bikramjit of Me and My Random Thoughts responded to the previous blog post by Aamrapali.  "I have a question... how do we know this is how Gods looked like... the impressions are of that person who first drew and then everyone took the idea from that", he commented. This was my humble attempt to answer the same.... Bikram, Many thanks for writing! Do keep in touch.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

A Godlike God

Today is Ganesh Chaturthi. I woke up at five and did what most millions of Indians must have diligently done first thing this early morning... changed my profile picture on whatsapp to an image of Lord Ganesha. An old painting by Hemant that's now placed in the home of an overseas collector. That's the only one I put up year after year. Somehow all other Ganeshas done by various artists including Hemant, that pass off as modern works of Art, fail to engage me at all.

It may be clever to carve a tusk and trunk on a mound of clay, and the observer would guess it is Ganpati. Ardent followers of the deity have discovered him in the most unlikeliest of places. Tomatoes, jackfruit, papaya, capsicum, various tubers... and even in random rocks by the street. Nature itself has variations aplenty to prove omnipresence of the form. It doesn't require an artist to relay mere form to a devotee. When an artist creates, in figurative or abstract, enigmatic or explicit, regardless of its superficial treatment, one would expect something more to be added to the subject than merely its physical features and body language. In ancient India, they described this 'something more' as Rasa.

In English, there is no single word that would appropriately define the meaning constituted by Rasa... 'essence' comes the closest. Any painting or sculpture to be regarded as a work of Art must possess essence of the subject in a way that goes much farther and deeper than just its physical attributes. It is that element which emulates and appropriately expresses the dharma and karma of the subject. That is called Rasa. 

Ganesha form observed in natural fruits and tubers

To make it simpler, if a figure of Ganesha is to be created for the masses, the artist must not lose touch of a fact that his muse is, above everything else, a deity for the observer... a figure meant to be worshiped. It must incorporate that spirit which makes the God, a God. In recent times, paintings of Lord Ganpati by contemporary water-colour artist Samir Mondal carry that Rasa despite all their modernism and semi-abstract rendering.

watercolour paintings by Samir Mondal

Artists, like any other professionals or businessmen, price their creations based on their investment in an artwork. Lesser the artist has put of himself in the piece... that much more affordable a painting or sculpture becomes in terms of sale. In a vicious symbiosis of sorts, it is this affordability factor that single-handedly determines why routine, anaemic Art sells the most.

I have been asking Hemant since years.... to create at least one series of assorted deity paintings where Gods would look like.... GODS.


Thursday, August 13, 2015

A Second Lease of Life...

Typewriters... the mother of our modern day keyboards, keypads and the grandmom of touchpads! The root of why 'hand writing' has almost gone extinct from the face of earth... drowning along with itself, another sublime science, the Art of Graphology. 

Those were the days when the HR of any recruiter would smartly bypass verbatim talks of a candidate, looking for deeper truths ingrained in the curves of his pen-strokes. Today, rules of the game have changed. Just as unfair as it is to judge imperfections in the art of a pre-schooler.... predicting a person's character, intent and mood from bits of scribbled lines doesn't make sense if he does not use the medium regularly for self-expression. The very premise of Raj Kumar Hirani's recent movie, PK is an irony that the protagonist lovers cannot recognize each other's handwritings. Admittedly, I too cannot remember the last time I must have written a page by hand. Such is the influence typing has had on the last few generations of humans... that we've literally forgotten a trait we took millennia to develop. We learnt to type. We forgot to write.

sculptors Hemant Sonawane and Jeremy Mayer

While speaking of typewriters, let me mention it was nice meeting Jeremy Mayer and his art yesterday. This self-taught artist assembles typewriter components into interesting figurative elements. Beautiful, intelligent, interesting sculptures. Here, he is in India at the invitation of Godrej and Boyce Manufacturing Co. Ltd. As a part of their Archives Outreach initiative, he has transformed 60 units from the last production of their typewriters of year 2009 into a kinetic floral shaped sculpture titled 'Lotus'. It now stands installed at Godrej Hubble at Vikhroli, Mumbai. Hubble is a space Godrej has designed to host exchange of ideas, network and to conduct community building exercises. Lotus is perhaps the first kinetic sculpture corporate India has had until now. No use of adhesives, welding, soldering techniques or paint. The rawness of machine components offers a riveting canvas to the delicate subject of a lotus flower.

The first Indian company to manufacture typrewriters 50 years back, has indeed invented a graceful way to bid adieu to a very successful chapter of their corporate journey. This also signals welcome to a new era where the fourth generation of Godrej family would take over reins of management hereon. Welcome, Navroze!

Another point to ponder is a profound social statement Godrej has inadvertently made. It's been quite some time since computers have put the good old typewriter to extinction. With Jeremy's art, they get an additional lease of life. The same components that once lived as typewriters will now go on to live a life of another kind. The humble machines will live on in museums of another kind... the artistic ones!

My special note to Ms.Pheroza Godrej..... you should have hosted your event today instead.

Today, August 13th is World Organ Donation Day.


Thursday, July 30, 2015

About the Leftovers....

Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam. 

I've been flaunting this name on my portfolio for over a decade now. Who wouldn't? After all, I was that one lucky artist chosen by the Indian Naval Defense to paint a picture for the great man, ten years back. The frames of INS Vikrant I painted were gifted to Dr. Kalam and Dr. Manmohan Singh respectively, during an event hosted by the Indian Navy around 2005-2006. 

I secretly hoped that that my artwork would be hanging on one of the walls of his place. That was my inchful of destiny to get close to the legend. No other Indian President has been as much a people's man as Dr. Kalam. Despite his tryst with the highest realms of space research and nuclear research programmes, he seemed so uncomplicated that even a street-side common man could fall in love with him. From children to youth to senior citizens... it was as though he was born to be loved by all.

A sea of masses descended to offer Dr. A.P.J. Abdul Kalam a final goodbye on 27th July, 2015.

Every Indian felt the pain of his departure. On the same unfortunate day of his death, several civilians were shot down in an unexpected terror attack in Punjab. It therefore seemed only natural and appropriate that India's leading newspaper, The Times of India, should carry a Black & White cover-page the subsequent morning. Two highly depressing news side-by-side had left the entire nation mourning. Felt instant respect for the thoughtfulness exhibited by this daily.

And therefore... for this very reason... it felt all the more absurd, cheated and mocked upon, when one spotted a hint of yellow at the top of the folded newspaper! Hello, was it April Fools' Day? The Black & White print was, it seems, not a token of condolence or reverence... but an advertising gimmick by Epson Colour Printers, supported and saved by The Times of India for an opportune day like this!

A pathetic and sorry state of Indian media.... While terrorists attacked Mumbai's Taj Hotel on 26/11 several years back, television channels had to be "requested" not to disclose army positions live. These otherwise smart people lacked the sensitivity then that terror masterminds in Pakistan would be using their platform as a window to guide their henchmen inside the hotel. In a repeat of the same episode... the day before in Punjab, Indian media was again regaling in showing off where exactly our army-men were positioned. It's an act equivalent to treason.

Here, we're ruing as much for who's gone.... as for who's unfortunately left behind.


Thursday, July 9, 2015

Dark & Lovely

The Kareena Kapoor sculpture commercial is viral by now. Over a million views across Lakme's social networking platforms. Before it was made, we agreed on the look of the output. It would be gray monotone - the colour of raw clay - with only the red lipstick standing out for display. Somehow it never occurred to us that the background could be maintained brown or black. The gray colour of clay, with which the bust was originally carved, seemed like a more authentic and natural choice than the brown tone of soil. It was more about the chemistry of artistic vision and marketing requirements.

But this project apart, it occurs to me that Hemant has indeed never had a human female represented in Black, be it in his paintings or sculptural art. Maybe because black is equated with evil in fairy tales that we do not want a cast of it in an ideal life.

Light is bright, shadows are dark. 
Hope is bright, despair is dark. 
Happiness is bright, gloom is dark.
Matter is bright, vacuum is dark. 

India has seen a tradition where a person's face is blackened in public as a show of humiliation. Black paint, black powder... anything works. Would this practice have the same effect if the person's face was smeared with white instead? What is it about Black that makes it seem obnoxious? Our parents still crib if we wear black for an auspicious family function. Christians wear black for funerals, signifying it as a colour of death and condolence. Black cats feature as a representation of supernatural evil in movies.

photography by Naeem Akram ; courtesy

We find fair faces more attractive. Darker complexioned people need to have really good facial and bodily features to find social appeal. Across the globe, in developed nations, this colour consciousness takes the form of racial discrimination and hatred. Back in India, Fair & Lovely cream has managed to turn our whiteness obsession into an industry of sorts, such is the magnitude of it.

We speak of silver lining to a dark cloud. And of light at the end of a dark tunnel. 

Why does fairness have such impact on our psyche? Perhaps because Fair skin implies a protected life ; deeply tanned skin shows its struggle under the sun... either current or inherited... Is it this struggle we try to shrug away from by associating ourselves with more fair toned people?

Is it because dark is mysterious and manages to hide things? Is it because we look for certainty and assurance and would prefer some vision into the future in an already insecure life? Does light offer us a temporary delusion of being in control of things? We wait for sunrise... Because nights are dark... They stand for all activity coming to a standstill. The night stops all distractions that engage our fluttering minds throughout the day. It calls for reflection, introspection. Maybe we do not want to look within...

It seems as though light helps us run away from ourselves, from reality, from Truth. If indeed it is so, this is most certainly a brain bug. An emotional preference that should have rested within confines of hope and assurance. We have allowed it to encompass areas unrelated to its original scope. 

Remember the womb we all have spent our first nine months in.. that was the darkest, cosiest, most secure environment there could ever be.

Bye for now,



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