not-so-'beautiful' themes

An exhibition of paintings on not-so-‘beautiful’ themes
by C K Purandare

Sea-shores, sun-rises and sun-sets, flower-vases or depiction of mythological and historical scenes is what one normally expects in a painting. This attitude has its roots in the social value-system. Usually it is the middle or the upper strata of the society who decide what can pass as art. Economic well-being of this class, their stability, their ideology decide what is ‘proper’ as art.

It is not really acceptable to express social misery through art. Collective misery does not merit as a legitimate subject of art even as individual misery does. That is why themes like heart-breaks, depression, mental ill-balance are ‘approved’ for art but not the Indian partition, Godhra massacre, Nandigram, AIDS… Art dealing with such topics is either castigated as ‘leftist’ or is disqualified as ‘art’ altogether.

‘Foundations' by C K Purandare
'Prison' by C K Purandare
‘Foundations' by C K Purandare
'Prison' by C K Purandare

Sixty years after independence people trudge miles for drinking water, thousands of children start unhealthy life due to malnutrition, corruption, religion, ignorance are the tools to play power-games – this is our reality. Map of the world has yet other social miseries. Hundreds of thousands of innocents die futile deaths in imposed wars. Common man in developed countries is either indifferent to such global inequity or looks down on developing countries like ours. This reality is disturbing. My attempt is to record this inequity through painting…

I have also done paintings on world class literature. These are imaginary literary portraits on characters from Dostoyevsky’s ‘The Idiot’ [a London publisher used my portrait of Prince Myshkin for the cover-page of a book on Dostoyevsky] , Canetti’s Auto da Fe, etc. Many of these paintings have been displayed in a number of exhibitions in Scotland – in Edinburgh, Glasgow, Perth, Aberdeen, etc.

It is impossible to take all the paintings to one place. And it is very difficult to bring bigger works to India. You can see all my work on my web-site though. Viewers from all over the world have commented on my paintings, these comments can also be seen on my site. Even if most of the paintings are anti-west many people from America, Canada, Europe, Australia have appreciated my work. Viewers even from remote countries like Argentina, Romania, Israel have conveyed their positive responses.

Art, to me, is a means of communication. I do not rate expression of ‘beauty’ through art very highly. There are two main reasons for this position. One – verbal language is the main means of communication but many times language creates more confusion than clarifications. Language is alright for daily mundane transactions. For example, if I say ‘this is a round table’ both the listener and I get it alright. There is no ambiguity in it. But try telling someone ‘I do not like red walls’ and his understanding of ‘red’ and mine are more likely to be different than same. This communication stays ambiguous. This is the limit of verbal language, an inadequacy. My attempt is to see if this shortfall can be overcome through painting.

Then, I think the given definition or concept of ‘beauty’ needs to be reassessed. Beauty is taken to be an integral part of art. I doubt if a universal definition of beauty is possible though. Over a decade I have been living in Britain. I have seen paintings, sculptures of world-renowned artists in Europe and America. Their concept of beauty is different than the Indian concept. African and chinese concepts would be still different. Still, as said earlier, this concept is defined by the elite in any society. In other words, there is nothing sacrosanct about this definition and it can be challenged and changed.

And then, the topics I handle can hardly qualify to be called ‘beautiful’. Social injustice, inequality, poverty, violence are my topics. There is nothing beautiful in all this….
The forthcoming exhibition has paintings on themes like Nandigram, Iraq war, Kashmir…etc.

[translation of an article in Loksatta – Aavishkar –July14, 2007]