Do Artists Want to Crawl into the Graves of Shame?

EDITORIAL : Do artists want to crawl into the graves of shame?/ Johny ML


Editor-In-Chief Johny ML, stresses the need for artists of all ages to respond to the political, social and cultural upwellings that our country is wrought with at the moment. In his editorial, he hopes to eke out a favourable reaction from the artistic minds who seem to be snuffing out the very embers which could illuminate their works of art and artistic pursuits.


Editor-in-chief  Johny ML

Johny ML

‘On the Concept of History’, citing one of the works of Paul Klee, the most influential philosopher of the twentieth century, Walter Benjamin says that history is an ineffectual angel with a wind from the heavens caught in its own wings, with face turned towards the past and body blown towards future, it rises up on the growing rubble that we call progress. This is a sad sight. Similarly, Samuel Beckett, the great Irish playwright and intellectual, writes in his famous play, ‘Waiting for Godot’, ‘Nobody comes, nobody goes and nothing happens, it is awful.’ When I look at our contemporary art scene, I can’t but remember these two unforgettable statements made by two towering intellectuals of the past century. They were sad philosophers, bogged down by the absurdity of their own times and their pessimism came from the genocides and wars that shattered the human conscience. Today, when I say nothing happens in our contemporary art scene, what I mean to say is this: we are going through exacting times that need immediate addressing not only through verbal articulations and street level protests but also through the visual thinking of the society. Unfortunately, the artists seem to be less forthcoming on this front. They are awfully silent and foolishly reticent. Something has to be done.

Work by Banksy

Work by Banksy

You may call me a sad art critic or a doomsday prophet of lesser worth. But when I talk about the nullification of visual engagements in our contemporary art scene, I do not mean to say anything about the economics of art. I do not want to talk about art market at this juncture at all. As an art critic, when I visit people or people come to meet me, they all ask one question: Is the big day on its way and will the market revive? I am not a market pundit to give them an answer that they want to hear. But I do give them an answer that emerges out of my conscience and my common sense. The answer is: the good days are coming. Here I almost sound like Mr.Modi, the Prime Minister of India, who while campaigning for the last Parliament Elections in 2014, told Indians, Acche din aane waale hai. Good days are coming. That is a very positive statement though Mr.Modi had apparently taken this phrase from the speech of his predecessor, Dr. Manmohan Singh. Good days are coming is a way of keeping the neck out and letting the positive streak to wade through the lives of the people. But I want to add that to bring the good days we need to work towards it. Hailing a few of the artists as master class (Subodh Gupta, Bharti Kher and so on) will not bring in any change. Something more has to be done and it should be done by the artists themselves. What is that something?

Work by Banksy

Work by Banksy

Silence could be criminal when you are supposed to speak out. The problem with our contemporary art scene is that the majority of our artists are not speaking out at all. Look at the social networking sites and public debate platforms. Nowhere, we hear the voices of the artists. We see young artists who are not yet introduced to the studied silence that the market asks them to maintain on issues, responding to the issues without knowing what would happen to them. But we see a criminal silence of the established and mid career artists. India is undergoing a series of social changes which are good at times and extremely ugly at other times. Beef is banned, possession of beef has become a punishable offence, school curriculum is tampered with, aggressively chauvinistic comments are made against women in India, rape is on the increase, farmers are kicked out of their farm lands, workers are left without jobs, massive populations are forced to live in subhuman conditions, religious places are vandalised, religious freedom is curtailed, nuns are attacked, censorship is clamped, forced viewing of visuals are mandated and so on, the issues are innumerable. While the film makers, photographers, writers, historians, dancers, social activists and people from many walks of life react and respond to each of these inhuman changes imposed upon the Indian society, we, the artists keep a very studied silence. What kind of art could emerge from this silence, I wonder.

Self-portrait with bandaged ear by Vincent Van Gogh

Self-portrait with bandaged ear by Vincent Van Gogh

Recently, a few readers who regularly follow my writings asked why I stopped writing on art of late. It is not that I have stopped writing about art altogether but the frequency of writing has considerably reduced. I have my own reasons to reduce my engagement with visual art as seen in contemporary India. First of all, a majority of our contemporary artists have pathetically failed to respond to the contemporary socio-political and cultural situations. They are still asking the questions about the revival of economics. For me it is nauseous. Secondly, artists say that their job is to create visual expressions. They are not activists. I do not want the artists to be activists and hit the road with placards and slogans. I do not ask them to face the police or army. What I ask is their minimum response to the social problems. I have not seen many of them making legible comments in the social media. They are all still attending camps, conducting groups shows, solo shows, attending parties and enjoying life as if nothing has changed. It is a criminal offence in my opinion. After the war, if our artists paint the atrocities of the war and exhibit nothing will happen in this world. When the war is on, they are supposed to speak up. If not they should shut up forever.

Guernica by Pablo Picasso

Guernica by Pablo Picasso

I believe in this pro-activism of the artists because artists are considered to be the conscience keepers of the world and the preservers of humanity. They are the repositories of life force and the reliquaries of human will. If they do not act and react who is going to do that? Artists are the ones who stand tall till the fight is over. He or she is the last man standing in a war front. He is the one, even if wounded, still holds the flag of humanity high. If they cannot do it, what is the point of making art at all? I do not say that if an artist does not speak up, his art is going to suffer. No, I do not carry any such illusions. But speaking up is one’s duty and one’s responsibility. When problems are under our nose, we cannot still think of the problems happening elsewhere. I have seen many artists switching to the revivalist mode or bringing the god and goddess images into their canvases and all. It may be good for them as the right wing patrons want some Hindu gods in art. But in a changing world, this kind of reductionism and essentialism is not going to work. Today’s heroes are going to be tomorrow’s shame in the art scene. There is only one way to wade through this situation. Change the way of thinking. Speak up for humanity and human values. Paint and sculpt, or do any kind of art that would help people to cull up their creative thinking powers against the censorial forces. When such artists come up with their very bold works, definitely art critics, historians, poets, social theorists, real cultural theorists, philosophers, general public including art buyers and sellers are going to hail them to the heavens. Otherwise, we all will crawl into our graves of shame even in death.

Johny ML

Editor in Chief, Art Tehelka


(Images Courtesy – The Internet)

2 thoughts on “Do Artists Want to Crawl into the Graves of Shame?

  1. ML your article on “do artist wants to crawl?’ is eye opener and same time very informative too.Yes but some artist are trying but not visible too so mu humble request you to organise regular shows ,workshops and in other ways too in different corner of india atleast so any artist can participate who are can or working on social & political issue.


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