Art – A Higher Purpose!

‘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!

Writer OR Author?

The debate rages on… Who is a writer? And who is an author? The simplistic definition is that a writer is someone who writes for others. An author, someone who writes original work for himself or herself. Is it really that black and white though?

Over time I’ve come to form a notion of what really makes an author. If we were to broaden the scope of this question, what really makes an Artist? This is where things become rather interesting, and seemingly contradictory. Because in my view, one can have a writer who is a better ‘artist’ than an author! Let me explain.

There are many people who have honed and refined their craft to within a degree of perfection. A writer who can fill pages with lyrical verse with his eyes shut. An actor who can perform the perfect shot take after take without a shred of rehearsal. And a musician who can soar to dizzying heights of effortless performance. The question is, does that stir your soul as a reader, watcher or listener?

I think therein lies the answer. I have had the good fortune of experiencing all three – brilliant writers, prolific actors and consummate musicians and I’ve come away, often times, completely and utterly, unmoved! That may sound surprising and incongruous but it has happened. And each time I have tried to analyse why, I’ve got the same answer from within. There was something missing despite the ‘perfection’. The artist’s unique, individualistic, peculiar, strong, opinionated voice. A differentiated style, stage-play, or sound, whichever the case, that makes that person, even if a touch flawed technically, memorable. A rawness and originality that tugs at one’s insides, makes one uncomfortable, ecstatic, enraged, excited, depressed, all at the same time. Something that truly hits ‘the right notes’ – within the audience.

Let me exemplify what I am on about. Amid the deluge of Bollywood films that are made and released each year, how many stand out? How many films would we instantly be able to identify as belonging to a specific director? I defy anyone to name more than three or four. Why is that? Because as beautiful and perfect as they all might have started ‘looking’ these days, films, despite being a visual medium, are formulaic. They all look identical. To think of a director’s unique style that stands out, one will really have to think hard and then a name like Wes Anderson (Life Aquatic, Fantastic Mr.Fox, Rushmore etc) or Alejandro González Iñárritu (Birdman, The Revenant) might come to mind. Closer home in India, possibly Abhishek Chaubey (Ishquiya, Udta Punjab) or Anurag Kashyap.

Same is the case I’m afraid with books and music. Too few, too far. And before you think this is some tirade on art vs commercial, it isn’t. Certainly, Jagjit Singh cannot be considered ‘alternative’ or ‘parallel’. Or a Michael Jackson be deemed ‘non-commercial’. But even in the mainstream, it is just so terribly rare to come across a genuine, fresh, clutter-breaking voice!

An artist then, to my mind, is someone who, with all his or her flaws and limitations, reaches into you and makes you sit up. Because art isn’t always about perfect proportions, language or expression. Art is art. Art is personal, beautifully blemished self-expression. And that is why, who is a writer, and who is an author, will remain an eternally unanswered question!

In Search of Lost Time!

The ‘Theatre of Stories’ is brought to Jaipur by our dear friends Ritu & Surya Singh of WOLF. Each year, around the time of the Literature Festival, the ‘wolves’ feel inspired and come out to howl. And this year, having got a sneak peak into their eclectic vision, the ‘exploratory universe’ they have created at the Clark’s Amer Hotel in the shape and form of their ‘Theatre of Stories’, is a veritable feast-for-the-eyes.

The artist-duo has worked closely in collaboration with many people, and Theatre of Stories is the combined brainchild of an Indo-French amalgam, manifesting in a multi-form assortment of artistic delights, thoughtfully constructed and lovingly curated. Installation, Fabric, Mixed Media Photographs, Playthings… It is ALL here.

If beauty lies in the eyes of the beholder, so does the grotesque. Because one man’s beauty, is to another man, repulsive. That is what perception is, INDIVIDUAL. The exhibit at Clarks seems to celebrate this ‘individual perception’, or as the famous French novelist Marcel Proust opined, ‘with new eyes’. Revisiting everything from the tangible to the nostalgic, the simple to the luxurious, the mundane to the magical; Theatre of Stories reinterprets the world, anew, afresh!

Jaipur is extremely fortunate to receive this month-long exhibit, this fantasy-land of a new way of looking at our shared reality. So from the 22nd of January on, I strongly recommend students, grown ups, shoppers, non-shoppers, art lovers, and lovers & mourners of life, to drop by, and you might just find something that slipped through the cracks, In Search of Lost Time!