are the excerpts of an interview conducted
during the exhibition in Pune, India in August
2007. It was published in an Indian magazine
- vidrohi - in their October-
Dec 2007 issue.
means - rebel,
usurper, one who
This is a magazine run by the most disprivileged
section of the Indian society - people who are doubly
disadvantaged on account of caste and class discrimination.
Particularly the rural sections of this stratum are
frequent victims of police atrocities, communal riots
and resource-denial by powers-that-be. Theoretically
there are about 250 million Indians suffering social
exclusion in some form or the other - in water supply,
education, housing, jobs, etc.
on the interview are at the end.
Q – The
exhibition has made quite a stir locally in
a number of ways. Primarily because your art
rejects the given definitions of art as well
as those of aesthetics. Could you therefore
elaborate on what you mean by ‘art’ and
what can be the purpose of art?
premise of congruence of art-and-aesthetics
is challengeable. Beauty is a very relative
term. It is time-and-space specific. What appeals
as beautiful to an Indian eye, may not be so
to a french eye, and what may appear beautiful
to a french may not be to an american. That
is one part of the problem of defining beauty.
Second part is – the very definition of beauty
has always been constructed by elite in any society
in the world – whether chinese, african, european
or indian. Therefore, this definition always presumes
art to be subtle, ambiguous, etc. It never gave a
thought to what, the lowest stratum
of the society finds as beautiful. That is why, I
keep the debate about beauty completely out of scope
for my art. As a matter of fact, I prefer it not
to be called art. It is serious work for me. Not
some leisurely activity that ‘art’ seems
to imply. Nor do I have any ambition of being recognised
as an artist. My only purpose of producing paintings
is to communicate with people across the globe. The
issues I handle, I address through my work are very
urgent, very intimate to our survival as human-beings
and very ungainly. I might quote what I had said
to an american lady in this context – if someone
is drowning and crying for help – and if we
are going to decide whether to help him on the basis
of his accent – if it is Oxford english or
texan drawl or thick african– we are not fit
to be called human-beings, leave alone artists. To
me issue of beauty is as peripheral to the project
of art as is the accent of the drowning person.
Another factor is inadequacy of verbal language as
a means of communication. I have a well-earned-by-them
derision about social sciences and their psuedo-lingo
employed in analysing social problems. Not only the
so-called social sciences but also literature or
everyday language seem to have obfuscation of issues
as a yard-stick of good language. Communication seems
to have become a secondary purpose of language. Hiding
the main issue and keeping the reader guessing seems
to be a desirable outcome. Every fiber of my being
rebels against such ambiguity when it comes to dire
poverty, violence and global inequity. There is no
ambiguity about these issues. People kill people.
People trudge miles everyday of their lives for a
bucket of water, generation after generation – in
Africa, in India. My attempt is to depict this social
pathology. I find verbal language a hindrance to
state it. Social agony of those dying of hunger,
destitution, wars, displacement is the same. It transcends
language, caste, colour, race, creed, geography.
I feel I owe this to the society, and that has been
my sole motivation for the six years I have been
Talking of specific paintings,
how do you think your
painting on the non-literates focuses
on the issue?
painting can be seen on this site at
Art-People - The Marginalised – Gallery 1 -
2nd row-2nd place
A - There is a lot of politics
behind keeping people non-literate. Those without
information and knowledge are easier to rule.
Information or knowledge are capital, useful
to wield power. According to the UN, there are
some 1 billion non-literate people in a world
of 6 billion, 98% of whom are in developing countries.
In our own country, when priority is a two-time
meal, education must take a back-seat for children – they
are needed as workers on fields and in factories. ‘Education-for-all’ is
an empty political ploy. When primary education
itself is in doldrums, higher education is a
far distant chimera for rural Indians. In cities,
you pay and buy a degree. It does not have anything
to do with what you really learn. Education is
a commodity in urban India.
tell us more about the Nandigram painting.
can be seen on this site
Art-People – The Pathology – Gallery
2 – 1st row – 4th place
A – Since
I live in Britain, I
do not know what all
happens here in India
at grass-roots level
on a daily basis. Only
when an atrocity like
Nandigram takes place
it reaches us. During
my journalistic days,
I have seen people killed
en masse all over India…for
their ideologies – in
Chhattisgarh, in Andhra…[regions
in India]. But then what
else could one expect
of the capitalistic states
But when a self-proclaimed left government kills
its own people , the very ones it is supposed to
represent, it is a big betrayal. At least I did not
expect such a massacre from a duly elected leftist
government. The 14th March killing spree was not
an event or a coincidence. It was a culmination of
a process of oppression. It exposed the so-called
pro-proletariat governance thoroughly.
Then, do you hold communism
as an ideology responsible
for the massacre?
A – No.
We always make this mistake
of locating an immediate
scapegoat. If you look
closely, it is the State
which is responsible.
Logic of State dictates
that you got to repress
a section of the population.
Therefore, any party
in power will always
repress part of the population.
It has to create an identity
for ‘us’ and,
as a corollary ‘them’.
And call ‘them’ an
enemy of the State. And
then you shoot the enemy
of the state – then
there is no democracy.
Nandigram saw this happen.
This is not a fault of
communism, it is where
the logic of a state
leads us to. The parliamentarian
left in West Bengal is
nothing but a government
of the goons and musclemen.
What do you want to say
through your painting – Prison?
can be seen on this site
Art-People – The Marginalised – Gallery
1 – 1st row – third place
A – Besides
what I have already said
under the painting, I
might add that Prison
is an institute legitimising
social approval to crime,
prisons do not limit
crime, they add to crime.
There is a vast complex
of social and economic
vested interests to keep
this institute alive.
What is your view on
freedom of expression,
and what do you think
we should be doing to
I do not think an artist on his or her own
can do anything about ensuring freedom of expression.
Who is going to listen to me if I stand alone
and cry hoarse about it? This needs a total
overhaul of social attitudes. Each and every
person has to raise voice against curtailment
of freedom of expression. In totalitarian regimes – like
China, the middle east, most of the African
countries absence of freedom of expression
is given fact. But it is painful to
see that even in free societies like India,
the USA, the western democracies the atmosphere
is getting vitiated. Because now we see that
the establishment in these societies too is
resorting to violence to suppress free thought.
The vested interests in keeping the establishment
in tact have become so much aggressive that
they are discarding the norms of civil society.
in these societies at least a section of the
society was sympathetic to the plight of the
deprived sections. Now, this section holds
the deprived section responsible for the lag
of the society. Holding a victim of the system
responsible for the lack of the progress of
the society is a cruel turn to civilization
which we are witnessing. For example, so far,
the cry was ‘India is shining’,
then came the realisation that India is not
shining after all. And now the subtext is ‘India
is not shining because of the deprived sections.’ This
is perverse. If this is the prevailing thought
then forget freedom of expression, it will
be difficult for the less deprived sections
to lead their already miserable lives too.
And let us analyse what we mean by ‘freedom
of expression’ as well. If I want to do something
for the society – say write a poem, then I
must see to it that the poem reaches the society.
If I am after getting the poem published through
Harper Collins or Penguin, and it does not get published
or it falls flat after such publishing, this is not
what I would call freedom of expression. If I paint
on a social issue, and wash my hands off saying people
do not understand it, what can I do - that is wrong.
If my social commitment is genuine, then it is my
responsibility to make sure that the painting reaches
the people and people understand it. Establishment
may call it propaganda, protest, whatever, I must
have courage to withstand that and convey my honest
impression to those for whom it is meant.
What do you, as an artist,
have to say about politicisation
of colours – like
orange is held as rightist
hindus, blue for the
down-trodden in India,
red for communists, green
This is really unfortunate
that colours have acquired
these meanings. Unfortunate
because viewers prejudge
a painting through those
glasses. But come to
think of it, colours
are also time-and-space
specific. Like orange
is a colour of Irish
Barring red and green
no colour has universal
meaning. Nobody in the
West knows that blue
signifies the down-trodden
in India. And green is
seen as the colour of
Q – How
far will cultural movements
go in contemporary situation?
A – I
have my own doubts about ‘all like-minded
artists coming together’. Art, to me is
essentially a personal venture. My own art is
not self-centred but how I portray a particular
issue is very much my own decision. All artists
will join the protest against draconian laws
curtailing freedom of expression, but what am
I exactly supposed to be doing, after raising
my hand in protest? Write a song? Paint a picture?
Spontaneity is killed invariably in a movement.
And spontaneity is the fodder for art.
Therefore it is imperative that a movement brings
the artists together rather than artists joining
together to form a movement. The movement has to
be big enough to understand the individual artists
and employ them in the project of social change.
an individual level, artists too have to be clear
about a couple of things. There has to be a clear
distinction between knee-jerk reaction and meaningful
expression. Knee-jerk reactions can beget waves,
not a movement. Such reactions are transitory
while meaningful expression is longer lasting.
And such expression needs a lot of homework.
Are artists ready for that homework?
Another thing one has to be absolutely clear about
is limits of one’s own reach. To me, an artist
can only state a problem. Finding solutions to a
problem is not an artist’s job. It is the job
of a movement. Nobody has solutions valid across
time and space. Local problems have to be tackled
by local movements. I am not running a pharmacist’s
shop – to give paracetamol to anybody with
There is always a criticism on my work that my paintings
are pessimistic. I do not see much point in this
labeling – optimistic or pessimistic.
This is work, and if a movement benefits from this
work, that is the greatest tribute my work can have.
My work starts and ends with the depiction of social
pathology. If someone derives strength out of it
to protest against the pathology, the work has served
its purpose. An artist should have honesty and humility.
That is an artist’s integrity. Only that can
save him from any megalomania of seeing himself or
herself as a prophet!
for sharing that, Purandare.
I too share the feeling
that the visual arts
must be more than an
appeal to aesthetic senses.
One of my friends once
said, "Art must
show conflict, otherwise
it's just a bowl of fruit."
is definitely difficult
breaking away from the
social norms of what
art should be, but great
artists throughout history
have depicted the social
injustices of their time
with some success (Goya,
in particular, comes
to mind). However, it's
to gain an audience as
the elite upper class
is often in control of
the galleries and museums.
remember our conversation
when you had returned
from India regarding
how pleased you were
that the populace engaged
you in intellectual discourse
regarding your art -
unless one paints only
bowls of fruit and pleasing
landscapes, what could
be more satisfying to
a man of talent with
a social consciousness
interview and I'll definitely
pass it on to other friends.
It's a shame that people
all over the world are
held down because of
who they are, where they
live and their cultural
background. I think I
mentioned once before
that I'm an American
Indian and we are second-class
citizens in the U.S.
you.I certainly feel
validated that what I
am doing finds a response
The disprivileged anywhere may have specific grievances
but the very deprivation is a colossal injustice.
is a really great interview!
You really have an eloquent
way of expressing your
I agree whole-heartedly, and was enlightened by your
explanations about color being tied to specific symbologies.
Color has been linked to many different movements
and cultures, and using a particular color in a painting
can be misconstrued as holding certain meaning if
linked with certain subject matter. So you are correct
in saying that a conscientious artist must do their
homework, so as not to be misunderstood.
point that struck me
was your comment that
an artist's job is to
point out the problems,
not necessarily to fix
them. That is up to society,
once they recognise that
there are problems. The
more artists and acitivists
there are pointing out
the problems, the more
attention will be drawn
part about verbal language
being ambiguous, at best,
I also identify with.
People respond more effectively
to emotion, which can
be drawn out through
artist paints what he
knows. Your work is testament
to the fact that you
are very knowledgeable
and aware of world-issues;
empathetic to the plight
of the poor and down-trodden.
You have definitely done
your homework. Your work
is SO important!
interview! You speak
so eloquently. I agree
that art is the most
immediate and powerful
way to grab someone's
if you consider those
who can't read, or those
too impatient to read.
Music is also powerful,
but people don't always
catch the message the
first time around.
I also believe that it is true, a political artist
must show the world the problems, the solutions are
not his/her responsibility. Your work makes people
think and evokes emotion. If people are exposed enough
to the truth, many will feel they can sit on their
butts no longer.
wish I had your depth
of thought… There's
so much I'm not aware
I would have run out
of words. You obviously
know your subject through