On my last visit to a Gallery in Mumbai, a painting left me thinking…
The year was 1980 and S. H. Raza painted something that was a swirling mass of colour – violent and broken. He termed that painting ‘Witness/Darshak’. The tag underneath the painting at the gallery says ‘Acrylic on lino carpet – 46.5 X 46.5 in.(118.1 X 118.1 cms)’.
But it looked like it was painted on three strips of different material. Something that looked like leather, then canvas and the last was the carpet. Why is that important? Mainly as it begs the question why? Why the different materials, the many layers and strips? That painting blew my mind. I am not even sure I like that work or would want it hanging anywhere in my home. But I am compelled to ask – What was he thinking when he painted it? Was it pain or anger? Did it prove cathartic or was it a festering sore. The name an artist chooses to give his/her work is often profound. Without that name, this painting to me would have been a nameless faceless abstract. Something that meant the artist threw colour around and was done with it. It may well have been a celebration for all I know.
To me the words witness and Darshak don’t mean the same thing. There is a subtle difference. Darshak could be just a spectator but witness is someone who actually was present when an event or conversation unfolded. So did Raza mean he was a witness to something or is the viewer of his painting witnessing something? Or are we all silent spectators to an event that he is documenting on canvas? This and many such questions are why art is engaging to me. Why it is compelling and worth looking into. It is that which holds a society together; it’s past, present and future.
At the same gallery there were a few nudes – painted by very famous people. And I found myself so far removed from the depiction that I was a little overwhelmed by my ‘detachment’ to art. If it were a woman who had painted those – my question to her would have been “how do you even get up every morning?” they were ugly and grotesque, even morbid. Now you may wonder why I choose to denigrate an artist’s vision after what I have just loftily claimed in the last paragraph. Well precisely because I can. It is because I have a point of view and it obviously does not gel with the artists in this case. Phew! And thank god for that. That is also what art is about. It is open to interpretation, ridicule and yes, you can scoff at it. Just as long as it is what you truly feel.
Update- A friend wrote to me just now and asked why I would put down another artist’s work… So I thought let me give my view point on that as well.
My reaction to the nudes was just that – mine. And since I have a very particular vision in my mind of what it means to be a woman, I was put off by that particular interpretation. That is not wrong. I choose to voice it because by putting my work out there to be judged, I think I have earned the right to voice an opinion. And it is because I understand that those artists probably have a viewpoint too for why they chose to depict the female form as such, and it is because that person is not there to defend their work or vision that I chose to not name them. Maybe if I had had a conversation with them then I would have got insight into their thought process, then I might have shown the work even if I disagreed with it. For than it would be fair. To give both view points.
I chose to leave it as a personal comment for it is just that personal, voiced on my blog and put forth to point out that art is about a voice, thought, debate. It is not sterile. And it must evoke strong reactions.