Monthly Archives: May 2010

The ‘Slum’?

Last week I visited Dharavi as a way to engage with my city as a  real conglomeration of living,laboring people, and because I thought it would be a cool thing to do.The urban architecture praxis  group called Urbanology has an office in Dharavi, where they study and conduct activities with it’s residents.

‘ functions as a virtual office for projects in cities including New York, Tokyo, Mumbai, Goa and Geneva. In addition to maintaining its website and providing support to partner organizations and initiatives, URBZ members organize workshops where ideas and visions about localities are expressed and shared. URBZ believes that the encounter of local actors and global contributors unleashes new potentials at all levels.’

Urbz has a project called The Shelter which is an open space for practices and where they conduct various activities from art class to Copoiera.This vibrant way of looking at living in the city away from the idea of development with a capital ‘D’ reeking of de-humanising and alienating concrete towers is cathartic and refreshing.I hope to get involved!

This takes me back to the Shivajinagar Signs project and the work that Namita Malhotra and I did in documenting visual culture in Shivajinagar, Bangalore.

Shivajinagar Signs Flickr Page

Shivajinagar Signs Group Photo Pool( open to all)

Shivajinagar Signs on Picasa

We spoke a lot about public art interventions in the project.Ways of  looking at, participating and inscribing the place with ourselves and our ideas.

Photo reworked and out up on the street as part of our art.
Shivajinagar, Bangalore.

This one, in the posh Commercial Street is a classic case of state centered development.

Mumbai fascinates me with its Indo Saracenic Imperial facades and it’s majestic churches, this city is a real life relic of the Raj.

But since the real heart-beat of the city lies in its quotidian spaces, peopled by people you tend to not see, we have a lot to learn.

For more urbanology go to the Airoots/Eirut Blog by Rahul Srivastava and Matthias Echanove.


links for 2010-05-14

On versions of the Ramayana and Mahabharata in South-East Asia

Sunday Vijay Times, Bangalore, 30 May 2004


THAI Airlines recently organised a Thai Ramayana at a five star hotel in Bangalore. The performance provided a good exposure to the rich art and also showcased the influence of Indian epics outside the subcontinent.

Art in Southeast Asia such as countries like Thailand,Laos, Cambodia, Malaysia, and Indonesia could be of the religious traditions of  Buddhism, Hinduism or Islam, or could belong to indigenous cultures with flavours that are borrowed from either of these religions.There have been continuous migrations and settlement of Brahmins and Buddhist monks, who went along with Indian merchants to the Southeast Asian kingdoms of Java, Cambodia and Indonesia, thus bringing with them their religions, cosmologies, concepts of social and political structure, the Sanskrit alphabet and the rich religious literature of India. India continued to be a source of inspiration for Southeast Asian cultures for years after the sixth century when the Southeast Asian kingdoms were first established. Buddhist and Hindu devotees visited holy sites in India, returning with first hand impressions of Indian art and architecture, religious texts, and images of Buddhist and Hindu deities.

If you look at the arts, especially at the performing arts of places like Thailand, there still are very obvious traits of an Indian influence. The khon is a form of dance drama that originated in the 16th century in Thailand and uses as its source the Thai version of Valmiki’s Ramayana, called the Ramakien. The Ramakien is the same story as the Ramayana and exists in Thai oral culture before King Rama the first wrote it down in book form. But the characters differ in name, and some differences exist as a result of  adaptation into a different culture.

Hanuman in their version is a lover of women unlike our celibate Hanuman. Ayodhya is Ayuttaya and the story is set in an actual place in Thailand. The Ramayana and the Mahabharata still appear widely in popular folk drama, tales and art all over Southeast Asia. The content and nature of these epics is universal and encompassing so as to allow the freedom for them to be understood and adapted in all the myriad cultures of these countries. They are illustrated in the relief sculptures of temples such as the Angkor Wat in Cambodia, the Rama temple in Malaysia, and mural painting in Vat Oup Moung, a Buddhist monastery in Vientiane, Laos. The Cambodian version is called Ramkear in the Khmer language.

The Wayang Kulit, the famous Javanese shadow puppetry also draws its inspiration from the Ramayana, the Mahabharata and the Bharatavarsha (a tale depicting the war of the Kauravas and the Pandavas).Wayang Kulit siam performed in a region of Malaysia called the Kelantan draws from the Hikayat Seri Rama, which is a Malay adaptation. The interesting thing about this art is that most of the puppeteers (called Kelantan dalangs) are Muslims. Kelantan is a strongly Islamic region, but it is also the main base forthe Malay shadow puppet theatre. Like other adapted forms, the wayang throws in a handful of Javanese and Malay characters for good measure and then pits good against evil in a classic plot. Warrior animals, giants, princes, and priests are all created in intricate and detailed leather puppetry and come together in rousing music and drama.

Performances of the Ramayana, such as our local Ramlilas are still popular in temples such as the Hindu Civa temple of Prambanan in Yogyakarta, Central Java. This temple was built in the ninth century and has an open amphitheatre and arena theatre now to stage the Ramayana epic. The Indonesians have an annual opera based on the Ramayana that includes a cast of hundreds of players. Performances by Thai exile-es became extremely popular at the Burmese court where most traditional dramas were serious Buddhist stories such as the Jataka Tales. There are streets, banks, and travel agencies, and other places of business, which carry the names of characters from the Ramayana in Indonesia. These epics continue to appear in media such as film, comic books and television. Like all great stories they are not time-bound, and remain great sources of entertainment and wisdom, brought to life by the arts of these different cultures.

On an exhibition of paintings by the hearing disabled

Sunday Vijay Times, Bangalore, 9 May 2004

THE artist Satish Gujral is renowned for his painting, sculpture, and architecture; in his book called a Brush with Life, he speaks of being entombed in silence after the accident that took away his hearing ability.  But Satish Gujral’s paintings are perhaps more significant for the crucial experiments that he did with Indian imagery and modernist ideas.

There is such a thing as deaf culture art called De.Via, short for Deaf View/Image Art which was the style of painters like Chuck Biard in America.  It came about at the Deaf Way arts festival at Gallaudet University, America in May, 1989. In their manifesto put up on the website, they say:

‘De.VIA represents Deaf artists and perceptions based on their deaf experiences. It uses formal art elements with the intention of expressing innate cultural or physical Deaf experience.These experiences may include Deaf metaphors, Deaf perspectives, and Deaf insight in relationship with the environment(both the natural world and Deaf cultural environment), spiritual and everyday life.’

This manifesto also recognises that all deaf artists needn’t always speak of their impairedness. They say De.VIA is created when the artist intends to express her/his Deaf experience through visual art.

Chuck Biard, who made this style famous, said, ‘I no longer paint what people would like to see. I paint for myself. It is about my own experience, my love of ASL and pride in our Deaf heritage. I sometimes create works that have no particular relation to the Deaf’.

A search on the Internet reveals that there are many resources in the field of arts which deaf people can access although a lot of them are available abroad. In Bangalore one such initiative was held recently at the Venktappa art gallery.

The gallery was host to an exhibition of paintings by the hearing impaired organised by painter M C Ganesh and A K Umesh, who is the founding secretary of the Organisation for Art and Culture of the Deaf and Dumb,under whose banner this show was held.

The paintings were varied in theme and media, from glass to oil to acrylic and collages. Most prominent in terms of content is the art of Ganesh, which suggests that he is moving beyond themes to explore colour and style. When asked about the influences in his work, Ganesh said that his paintings were  about suffering. Others have worked on themes such as landscapes and still life.

Most of these artists have diplomas or degrees from art schools like Ken and Chitrakala Parishath or have taken exams in drawing. Rajni is an art teacher certified by Fevicryl paints and conducts art and craft classes.Jyothi does graphic design and has trained in computer aided design. R Sreedhara who likes to paint portraits in oil and watercolours is also an accomplished sportsman.Rekha Chitrakumar worked at the Canara bank for 19 years.Archana who is a sculpture student at Chitrakala Parishath has also shown some of her work here. Ganesh Shetty, Rajni, M Jyothi, K Gayathri, C Pramod, Sreedhar, and Rekha Chitrakumar are some of the other upcoming talented artists.

Umesh feels that the disabilities of these people are a serious hindrance to their access to resources. He plans to conduct a painting workshop and exhibition involving more people, and also hopes that the artists. work will find a market in companies and bank calendars etc.  It is time that we make efforts to bring out talent in people with disabilities in India. In an increasingly competitive world, we need to ask ourselves how hostile we are turning towards the physically disabled.

To buy or not to buy: Cell Phones

Sunday Vijay Times, Bangalore, 26 September 2004

To buy or not to buy, is a complicated decision for some and a matter of urgent necessity for others who want to possess a cell phone. Earlier, you were noticed if you carried a cell phone; and today you are noticed if you don’t carry a cell phone!

On the road to freedom, one among the line of acquisitions of a young person is a cell phone, along with a bike and a job. Mahima, a student, says, “It is more of an an advantage to those who want to get in touch with me. But it works both ways. Now that I have a cell phone,when I don’t receive a message for some time, I feel unwanted!”.

To most people, it is usually a matter of connectivity and being reachable.A lot of service providers lure customers with specialised utilities that are quite handy. Hutch, for example, gives you live updates on cricket. Spice and BSNL even offer services like astrology. Accessing the Internet, checking mail and downloading ring tones are other facilities that your service provider will offer you. Even religious services like sermons for Christians or the Azan or call to prayer for Muslims, sending prayers by SMS to a temple, are all now quite common via cell phones.

While it makes many things easier, obviously with every new technology comes the downslide in our ability to perform the action that the machine  performs for us. Now that you have a phone you don’t have to memorise phone numbers because they are stored in the memory of the handset. You could use your calculator for simple calculations. SMS has been changing the way we communicate to some extent. You don’t bother with courtesies anymore. .Short and curt is all you need to be in a message.

Communication technologies create possibilities for wider and newer networks. Thousands of people have found dates and relationships through bluetooth, a wireless technology that connects your computer and phone to other people and helps you access people with similar interests.

Business people find the cell phone indispensable- be it to check the latest stock market news or to communicate with clients round the clock.In many districts of north Karnataka, SMS and cell phones have made communicating so much cheaper for businessmen in small-scale industries,says Nirali, who has researched the use of cell phones in small businesses in Karnataka.

Games are another feature which are used very often. Kids and adults both use phones to play simple games.Having a cell phone is also a good way to avoid conversation and eye contact with people! In situations of enforced proximity one can use the phone as a preoccupation.

Phones with cameras are in vogue, but they are expensive and only of appeal as an accessory.There are those who depend on their cell-phones for the minutest thing. Suraj, who works in an event management company hardly has time to run errands. So he uses his phone for everything – from banking to laundry. “I have realised how easy it is to access various services”, he says.

But, with the increasing use of phones comes the nuisance aspect of them. Very few people realise how much of an annoyance they can be to those around. Simple etiquettes such as switching off a phone during a performance or class, or speaking less loud when in a public place, seem to have been forgotten.Theoretically, the cell phone could soon become an extension of your body and nervous system. If you consider man as a part of many networks and communities,then the phone and the computer are his indispensable tools for existing, like added organs to stay wired or rather, wireless.

On a screening of the PBS Art 21 Series on American contemporary art

Sunday Vijay Times, Bangalore, 5 September 2004

ART 21, an eight-hour television series about contemporary American art in the 21st century, produced by PBS (Public Broadcasting Service, aprivate, non profit corporation comprising of America’s public television stations), was recently screened at the Chitrakala Parishath (CKP), by a group called ART (Art history,Resources and Teaching) in collaboration with the Department of Art History of the College of Fine Art at CKP .

With its focus on living and working artists with a range of themes and in different places, this series was a great insight into today’s world of visual art. Diverse in their media, themes, practices and inspiration, the featured works of the 16 artists had one common factor – the underlying complex and philosophical themes. The four themes for four seasons of the show were stories, loss and desire, humour and identity. Most work embodied a complexity of meaning and interpretation, but these were complex artists living in complex times.

The whole series – Art 21 – consisted of footage of the artists showing and speaking about their work, their philosophy of art, and the many things that art was to them. Some showed them working while most other parts were shot at their homes, galleries and other spaces they frequented. The films were engaging and intimate. In this sense the series made full use of the pedagogic potential of the television documentary.

Each programme began with an introduction by a famous arts personality to the theme of the segment.

Created by Charles Atlas, a film-maker and video artist, the openings featured film-maker John Waters, actress Jane Alexander, comedian Margaret Cho and dancer Merce Cunningham.The first part of season-one with the theme of stories featured Kara Walker,Kiki Smith, Do-Ho Suh and Trenton Doyle Hancock, with all of them using narratives in some way or the other.

Kara Walker’s work speaks of racism and gender in stories like ‘Gone with the Wind’. Her work comprises of tableaux with cutout silhouettes of characters in traditional tales involving African-American slaves and their masters.

Kiki Smith makes sculptures about the body and myths around it. Intrigued by witches, saints and catholic tales, she manipulates their traditional meanings in her work.

Do-Ho-Suh’s work is about issues of the individual and the collective. In several of his floor sculptures, viewers are encouraged to walk on surfaces composed of thousands of miniature human figures. In Some/One, the floor of the gallery was blanketed with a sea of polished military dog tags.Evocative of an individual soldier as part of a larger troop or military body, these tags swell to form a hollow,ghost-like suit of armour in the center of the room.

Trenton Doyle Hancock paints about the interactions between the comic characters  he creates, between mounds which are plant or human mutants, characters like Torpedo Boy which he claims to be his alter ego, another character called ‘the painter’ and so on .

The second theme called ‘Loss and Desire’ featured Collier Schorr, Gabriel Orozco, and Janine Antoni. Schorr works mainly in photography, but in ways that sometimes play on conventional views about the subjects she chooses. In her 2001-project ‘Forests and Fields’ , she dressed up young men in many different army uniforms and has them pose as soldiers in a mock battle. The pictures are shot to depict bravery, but these men are not real soldiers, so what does that say about both bravery and the uniform?

Gabriel Orozsco, one of the featured artists, is someone who on the surface manipulates games and objects, but all his work is deeply thought out  in terms of philosophy and relationships of object, man and nature. Janine Antoni makes sculpture and performance art, and sometimes both. In a work called ‘Lick and Lather’ she made busts of her portrait in chocolate and soap, and then videotaped her washing the soap figure and licking the chocolate bust. She was thus symbolically washing herself with herself and licking herself with herself.

The series was followed by a discussion by ART’s founding art historian, Annapoorna Garimella, Suresh Jayaram, artist and reader at the Art History department of CKP, and Vasanthi Das, film historian and visiting scholar at the department. During the discussion, a need for collecting and archiving art from places that don’t get spoken about, like the third world, emerged. A member in the audience also felt that Indian artists did not have the right platform to communicate their art to people.

On Nicholas Roerich

Sunday Vijay Times, Bangalore, 22 August 2004

NICHOLAS ROERICH (1894-1947) was a Russian born painter and scholar who contributed vastly to the arts and enjoyed an exalted reputation in the international art scene. He is one of those artists who not only voiced his opinion but also influenced change in the condition and outlook towards art.

Nicholas Roerich is well known in India due to his interest in India’s culture and philosophy. After having traveled widely all over the world with his partner Elena and conducting many expeditions across the length of ancient civilizations, he made India his home during the last years of his life.

The paintings he has made of the Himalayas are widely known and acclaimed. His son, Sveltoslav Roerich and daughter-in-law Devika Rani, the Indian movie star also settled in Bangalore in an estate called Tatguni. Sveltoslav, also a painter, is the founder of the art academy, ChitrakalaParishat in Bangalore.

Nicholas Roerich is also known for the Roerich Pact which aims at the protection of cultural treasures during times of both war and peace. He designed a flag, The Banner of Peace, to be flown over certain monuments and institutions, showing that the monument is neutral and not to be affected. As a teacher, spokesman for the arts and the Secretary of the School of the Society for the Encouragement of Art in St Petersburg, Roerich instituted a revolutionary system of training in art: to teach all the arts, from  painting, music, singing, dance, theatre and the so-called industrial arts, such as ceramics, painting on porcelain, pottery, and mechanical drawing under one roof. He also gave his faculty a free rein to design their own curriculum.

During his lifetime, Roerich made some 7000 paintings and published 30 books, along with costume and set designs for many Russian operas and plays, working with the likes of great composers like Igor Stravinsky.During his career as a theatre designer, he also created designs for most of Wagner’s operas.

Most of his paintings are picturesque and sweeping landscapes. He also made works that illustrate scenes and incidents from history.His career as a painter started at the university where he studied both art and the law. One painting that he made as a student called ‘The messenger to the master’s command’ was appreciated by both his teachers and contemporaries. It got him recognition among the artists in Russia.

His pictures speak mostly of spiritual journeys while some are of contemplative men in nature. His ‘Banners of the East’ series of nineteen paintings, depict men like Muhammad, Lao Tse, Jesus, Moses,Confucius, and Buddha, and the Indian and Christian saints and sages. They are very striking because of his use of colour, a trait he shares with contemporaries like Gauguin, but in terms of style they are largely stagnant. Unlike his contemporaries (the impressionists like Van Gogh who chose mundane and everyday subjects) he frequently alludes to historical, mythological and spiritual, Slavic and old Russian traditions. His work constantly brings up the inward and spiritual quest, with images of travellers to holy and sacred destinations, images of the mother goddesses and hermits.

The Nicholas Roerich Museum in New York is solely dedicated to showcasing his work and contribution. In the Roerich gallery at Chitrakala Parishat is a collection of paintings that he made of the Himalayas. His huge collection of paintings are spread out all over the world in private collections and museums.