Event Report - Chalo India Art show Tokyo 2008

Chalo India Art show Tokyo 2008
(The article was first published in JapanHopper, a social media site in Tokyo, in 2008)

I grew up in a middle class middle environment family in India where everything a human life needs, was available in small controlled quantities in nineteen seventies and eighties.

I was educated with texts that India is a great nation with a great accomodating history. It had great wealth in ancient times, and in modern times, which started during 16th century it became a pauper at the world stage with nothing to showcase except utterly poor masses, turbaned people doing street tricks, hermits, villages, cows and later British dominion.

I was fed with nationalist rhetorics of my political and social leaders of my time and previous times especially the leaders who had a brush with British administration. I believed I belong to a great nation.

Then I saw television in India for the first time in eighties and got to see my country from the lens of world.
I realised that all that was fed in me through my education system and the rhetorics of my political leaders and all the greatness of India was all about its internal media created by political system and people who dreamed of the state which Mahatma Gandhi had envisioned. It was not the international view of India which I received as part of my education but only the national view which was highly skewed.

I kept frowning about it all the years that my country which had everything from land to resources lacked collective will, outgrown legends and individualistic attitude. As I went to college and subsequently to job I found out many things which were fed into me in the name of nationalism was fake and made of mediocre principles of community leaders and torchbearers.

I was sad but I realized then that given all the negations, there were few things which kept me close to my nation despite camouflaged nationalism, rhetorics, crime, grime and a failed socialism. These were:

1. Land
2. Democracy
3. Government
4. Currency

I will explain them a bit to come to my point:

Land is a lifeless entity on this earth but has mysterious connection with its people who are born on it. Though land is not biologically connected with its people but who knows it may have a connection, otherwise how do you explain the deep affinity people have for the land where they were born and raised. So it helps to ask that if I have any affinity for the land I was born and brought up, don't I have any level of morals to defend it and work towards its improvisation? I will cover Land - Native people connection in detail in my another article.

Natives of the Land could be humans or animals or the natural resources and we are bound by our deep yet again mysterious connection with them though once again we are not biologically connected with them. How else do you explain of our longing for the forest which used to be covering our native village, the river nearby and our soujourns into it, or our wandering around our land and feel its greatness, vastness or emptiness, all with a feeling of "mine". You do not have such feeling when you go abroad destinations (other than your country[land /land of your forefathers and yourself]). Shouldn't then you have some, even lowly moral obligation to defend your land, work towards its improvement, spread the gospel of best practices from other parts of the world and bring in global solutions to solve the local problems?

Democracy is the highest and best form of governance I am given to understand. I agree to it with disclaimers. I agree to it with conditions.
But as they say in Indian wisdom 'Excess of anything is wrong and goes wrong', Indian democracy is practised with utopian state and its subjects in mind where both state and its subjects coexist without contributing to each other's growth as long as it permits.

Government in any country should be a legitimate government, recognized by world governments and should strive to be 'by its people for its people'. In democracy this is a tricky proposition and is exploited by statesmen and its subjects every day.
Currency is the national identity of a citizen. Currency weighs in the citizen and citizen weighs in his currency!
I am a middle class non resident Indian living in Tokyo and have a taste for art and artforms. I have visited several art exhibitions while in India and had never visited one abroad before "Chalo India art show" in Tokyo. The exhibition in India all were and have been bold messages; from the current state of nation gripped with north and south poles of economics to natural beauty and beasts of the country. But none of the exhibitions I witnessed in India were so brazen what I have seen at "Chalo India (translation:Lets go to India)  art show (ongoing till march 2009)" at prestigious Mori Art Museum at famed Roppongi Hills building in Tokyo.
To the uninitiated in Tokyo life - Roppongi Hills is a landmark building in the world famous romantic district 'Roppongi' in Tokyo. Roppongi area shares its destiny with world class night clubs and cream financial banks and institutions. As a traveler if you miss witnessing Roppongi district bloom while in Tokyo, you will miss a beat of Japan! The area is infested with rich and superfluous from every walk of life and these are the very people who make or break impressions, set trends and don the hat of cultural ambassadors which is nothing but a garb but an influential and far-reaching, far-fetching garb.
As I started my journey through the art-show, I had expected the same bold messages in the form of paintings, displays and collages as I had seen back in India but soon my steps trembled as I watched the botched images of India through the twenty five or so current ambassadors of Indian art. I realised how tough it is to become an artist and not become financially successful when you are trained at top colleges in India and tutored by some great masters in the chosen art-form. I realised that the only formula is "selling is success". If you are not 'selling', you are not 'success'.
In the art world, everyone dreams to become a Picasso, Monet, Van Gogh, Raja Ravi Varma, Tyeb Mehta or MF Husain. But it appeared to me that most current artists have taken the extreme route of success shown to them by celebrated MF Husain (MFH). Though there is no art of MFH being showcased in "Chalo India", but his impressions seems to have impregnated almost all artists showcased here. Put your wild imaginations into the garb of art and give it an unfitting name with a derogatory remark and sensationalise it -and succeed.
For world of art - India has remained a loose nation with loosest democracy, poor with abject poverty and beauty with dirty embedded. From the time I remember, India's images appearing in world publications has mostly been 'sadhus', turbaned laborers and workers and people highlighting poverty in the backdrop of all the vices of socio-capitalism which is not unique to the country.  That how it has been and that is what has been sold profitably over the years and no artist has the courage or inclination to break the 'milking cow model' of business - Indian art!
Though I wandered lonely under the prying and pinning eyes of japanese and other nationals, I could muster no solace in the exhibition.
I would like to mention few displaysists whose painting drew large crowds of amazed onlookers which would certainly make them feel proud but I and my fellow indian friends felt deeply ashamed of.
Ashim Purkayastha
"Gandhi/Man without specs" series of collage. I doubt whether this has ever been showcased in India. It is so easy to point fingers to a dead man who happens to be 'father of a nation'. Special scornful mention goes to the display of Indian currency bills on which Gandhi is shown as a funny man adorning hats of a comedian, hunter, man with beard and the other portion of the currency bill showing nudity at its dirtiest. Go and see it to interpret it yourself.
Justin Ponmay
"The Blind". This display shows the desperation of Indian faces which have joined fates of each other. A disgusting show of India when it is riding the economic boom and favored even at wall street as world economic superpower in a decade.
Jitish Kallat
"Death of Distance". It seems that the artist does not earn the same Indian currency and earns in some other currency! He might not even be living in India. And if he does live in India then he must be using the same currency he has scorned in this dispay. This is what I call 'licking and kicking the same ass'. I cannot imagine some japanese citizen mocking the japanese currency this way or the "Gandhi/Man without specs" display as I have mentioned above. Not today, not before when Japan was rubbing its way from world war's ashes, not in future.
Vivan Sundaram
"Metal Box". This display makes me feel my country is made of metal junk. This might be true but I am not ashamed of it. May be the artist is and found a selling proposition in it. This is the moment of India and countries like it who have got a lifetime chance to participate in the modern economy and metal junk is one of the price to pay for it. All developed countries have been junk metal box in one point in time when they were on their path to economic glories, including Japan.
There is one another display for which I do not remember the artist name. The display shows a microphone blurting out the audio of the famous speech of Jawaharlal Nehru, India's first prime minister and architect. The audio is distorted to give you a feel as if the man was hopeless while he was giving that famous 'tryst of destiny' speech in August 1947.
There was no display which showed India in even negligible bright light. The last straw was an big collage on which these big art illuminati sugar coated, philosophical yet no-logic-vague statements about India seemed like an epitaph on the grave of a country which is believed to have cradle of civiliations and its gurus have mesmerised the world with their finesse.
To conclude it all, I have decided not to visit any "Indian art show" while out of India as I feel the business model the so called artists have chosen in the name of it, is just a profitable proven venture. Selling India the poorest way is the surest way for these artists to survive in this capitalist society. The interesting assumptions here:
1. The artists are not earning Indian currency anymore.
2. They have not made any financial success with Indian currency in India.
3. Artists are the only super-exposers of India and all hard working middle class Indians, Indian IT successes, Indian entrepreners, people who hobnob with wall street giants are all fakes.
I have visited couple of art exhibitions in Tokyo by Japanese artists but I have never seen such hate in their works for their country in the name of 'artistic freedom'. I had similar experience in London. Both Japan and England went through super poverty to super fluous over last couple of centuries but in their transformation was deep nationalism which was not forced but was adopted by individuals as their ultimate identity which should not be lost at any cost. Every home has some dark secrets which family members try to hide and rectify before neighbors know it. Same is with nations. It is all about perceptions in todays world. It takes so much blood and sweat to make a nation's perception internationally and obviously no time in maligning it using the powerful media we all own.
Artists are one such breed who can think and imagine where average people can never ever dream to think. This is the very reason that artists are best suited to make or break perceptions of a community because they rule on our unconscious consciousness.
I have been keen observer of works of "Leonard Tsuguharu Foujita ", "Kaii Higashiyama" and "Takashi Murakami" and never I have seen anything which makes be sad about Japan. Why can't Indian artists achieve the same?
It is OK to showcase reality (which in India's case is always poverty and mockery of the democratic systems as per these art-mavericks) but at the same time you should do something to showcase the reality where the hard work put up by millions of workers within and outside India is indirectly trying to raise the perception about India as preferred destination either to park international money via business or for livelihood. The artists ignore the vibrancy of India knowingly and think great of themselves when their extreme-exposure displays/paintings/murals are sold at sotheby's and christie's of this world. To my knowlege, most of the paintings/displays which I have mentioned above are never showcased in India as it needs real courage and not just reel courage that these artists draw upon. Most of the paintings showcased in the exhibitions are already adorning the halls of famous art houses and drawing rooms of art lovers (read filthy rich people!). These art houses and art lovers are the people who make the most impact in making or breaking the perception of nations as they control vital and far-reaching media houses. Switzerland and Singapore are one of the tiniest yet so tenacious countries because of not only the hard work of their citizens but smart work of their politicians, media managers, system promoters and artists. "Artists impression" is a strong corner in a design magazine yet our contemporary Indian artists have been selling superbly "poor and pathetic India impression" to world over. 
Forget the hardest work put over by Indian immigrants all over the world and being one of the few highly regarded asian communities by the rest of the world. Forget the young political and academic masters who could muster great show of courage to get our freedom from British in the aftermath of WWII and great depression which gave hope to many other colonies. Forget homegrown leaders who brought up India from economic zero to modern world hero nation. Even forget the classic clash of India and China where China could grab much bigger pie of Industrial revolution of this century to which India befitted its reply by best of the class service industry backyard of the world. How can one forget the nation where he/she was born and brought up.
How could it be raped so blatantly without anyone coming forward to throw even a small piece of towel to hide its private parts?
Interestingly the sponsors of "Chalo India" show are some respectable companies from Indian industry as well. These companies are projected as bellwethers of the industry. I could hear the bells which are weathered by "blindness of money" which these companies are ready to accept. Call it 'opportunity cost', in finacial terms.

Re-published for posterity!

1 comment:

  1. रोचक आलेख है। इसका हिन्दी में अनुवाद प्राप्त हो सके तो इसे गर्भनाल में प्रकाशित किया जा सकता है।