‘Guernica’, the bold, questioning, war-critiquing, iconic work of art by Picasso, is one among a galaxy of art-expressions, that goes infinitely deeper than providing ‘luxurious set dressing’. Similarly, popular culture too, even in the melodious and often-times ‘commercial’ strains of its many songs, creates ‘A Bad Dream’ by alternative-rock band Keane, that, once again, in a stark, poignant and haunting way, through its amalgam of music & lyric, examines the futility of war!
Film, Literature, Sculpture, Music, the entire gamut of the Arts, has always, been inextricably socio-political. In India too, within the sometimes constraining and myopic boundaries of the entertainment-arts, we have, strong voices that manifest in films such as Mulk, Article 15, Thappad, Lipstick Under My Burkha. Poetic moving images that do much more than entertain. They stir, instigate, make us uncomfortable, make us ask, delve deeper, search for the right QUESTIONS! Art, as has always been the case, is ‘beyond beauty’. Transcending the superficial. Today, as the world grapples with arguably the most paradigm-shifting event in history, the Coronavirus Pandemic, ART and Artists, have a vital role to play. An absolutely indispensable, multifaceted, set of duties.
RECORD & CHRONICLE
While the world, by way of personal experiences, stories, photographs will capture facets of the pandemic, as will the wider, global media-machinery; it is imperative that artists, through song & lyric, poetry and painting, images and imagination, too, record this momentous event. To have with humanity, until posterity, a moving account of the pandemic recorded through the creative lens of an artist, to my mind, seems one fundamental duty of the artist, and of society.
HOPE, RELIEF, RELEASE
Another crucial role of art and artists at this juncture, is to provide relief. Human beings don’t only need ‘physical rescue’. We need relief for body, mind and soul. Many artists, singers, visual artists are already engaged in this, and though their individual medium of expression, have been providing hope. From singers performing in their apartment balconies in Mumbai on the 1st test-quarantine day, to any number of youtubers, performing artists, making videos and putting them out there for us to watch, listen, be entertained by, and ultimately, feel some semblance of normality!
MIRROR, TRUTH, CRITICISE
Arguably the greatest role of the artist during a period such as the world is witnessing, far more important than entertaining and simply-recording, is to seek the truth and capture it. While governments and organizations sugar-coat statistics and the situation, it is the Artist, along with the Journalist, who is that one, dedicated, unwavering truth-seeker, who will, for instance, find that messy hospital-ward with intermingling covid and non-covid patients and manifest this grim reality in a telling yet touching poem. An artist will find the irony in administrative video-conferencing and unmask the veil that is being strung in the form of public-perception through a satirical painting. And ultimately, it is us, citizens, who will watch, observe, interpret, these myriad expressions of our many artists, and find the courage, conviction, and evidence, to question people, decisions, missteps, and emerge a healthier, more honest, more robust society.
Exposing our inherent societal hypocrisy and placing a painful mirror in front of us has been the essential purpose of art and artists. From Manto to Ghalib, Ray to Ritwik, did precisely that. Alas, we are in a world where even artists are becoming increasingly unsure of taking a stance, expressing their ‘real’ opinions for fear of backlash. As a truth-seeking teacher & writer, I can only urge the art-community to be bold, be involved, be invested. That there is no such thing as Apolitical Art. That we need Art and Artists more than ever. That Art, has A Higher Purpose!