Following 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.
'Vidrohi' literally means - rebel, usurper, one who challenges the establishment.
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.

Comments 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?

A –The 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 painting.

Q - Talking of specific paintings, how do you think your painting on the non-literates focuses on the issue?

This painting can be seen on this site at
Art-People - The Marginalised – Gallery 1 - 2nd row-2nd place

- 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.

Q- Please tell us more about the Nandigram painting.

This painting can be seen on this site at
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 there?
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.

Q - 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.

Q - What do you want to say through your painting – Prison?

This painting can be seen on this site at
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.

Q - What is your view on freedom of expression, and what do you think we should be doing to safeguard it?

A - 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. So far, 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.

Q - 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 for muslims?

A - 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 fundamentalists too. 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 environmentalists too.

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.

At 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 a headache…
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!


Thanks 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."

It 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 increasingly difficult to gain an audience as the elite upper class is often in control of the galleries and museums.

I 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 like yourself.

Excellent 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.

Thank you.I certainly feel validated that what I am doing finds a response across cultures.
The disprivileged anywhere may have specific grievances but the very deprivation is a colossal injustice.

This is a really great interview! You really have an eloquent way of expressing your views.
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.

Another 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 to them.

The part about verbal language being ambiguous, at best, I also identify with. People respond more effectively to emotion, which can be drawn out through visual stimulus.

An 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!
Dawn, Canada

Great interview! You speak so eloquently. I agree that art is the most immediate and powerful way to grab someone's attention, especially 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.
Juliette, USA

Quite astute...incredible.
MaryLou, USA

I wish I had your depth of thought… There's so much I'm not aware of.

Brilliant, I would have run out of words. You obviously know your subject through and through.