Review: iaf2016/ She Stoops to Conquer: Very Expensive Social Message of Princess Pea at the India Art Fair/ JohnyML
Princess Pea, this time in India Art Fair has positioned her art between an absolutely commercial product with definite social message and a work of art with the collaboration of the craftspeople in India, which has been her ongoing concern for some time. In the tastefully arranged booth in the farther corner of the Book and Souvenir section of the India Art Fair 2016, Princess Pea has her latest array of works – a toy that resembles her Princess Pea brand character in various guises and in varying sizes, which could even go into a monumental size if there is someone to commission it in more durable material. These soft toy sculptures are kinetic in nature and one could press a button like thing at lower end of the toy to see the female toy bending towards her toes.
Princess Pea’s caricature like toy that reminds the viewer of different girlish characters from the folk and contemporary traditions of toy-anime-manga-graphic novel-picture book genres bends down when the pressure is applied. Princess Pea, the artist makes a very cynical criticism of the plight of the Indian girls who look quite hip and cool in their western clothes but are mentally servile to the dominant male chauvinistic system. A simple touch/pressure down there would make them bend and touch the feet (of the male) or she touches her own feet in order to receive all the flagellations that the society would like to inflict upon her for the perverted pleasure that it could have from the act.
This is also a take on the kinetic miniature erotic sculptures that are available in the tourist places, especially in the Khajuraho. A simple pressure applied in a device makes the male and female figures kiss, hug and even copulate. This is a game that imparts a sort of sadistic pleasure. Here in her toys that come under a project titled ‘Fall and Rise’ Princess Pea plays up the same game but as a critique of the male chauvinistic society. If someone buys it and keeps it at home, and if they care to press it and make her bend, at same stage, at some meditative moment and the moment of revelation, they would realize that they are making the girl bend beyond her physical limits.
Princess Pea aspires to impart the idea of social domination and also would like to use her toy as a correctional method; it, she believes that with constant use one would chance upon that particular moment of revelation. Priced at Rs.4000/- a piece, this is an expensive toy, one should say. But there are patrons who would like to acquire it. There are interested parties who would like to have it but no money in their purses for it. Can Princess Pea give it away to the people? No. She would like the people to buy it? How about making it less expensive? She should perhaps think about it. Raja Ravi Varma’s paintings were highly priced when he was alive. But his oleographs were just one anna (one sixteenth of a rupee) at that time. So most of the people could buy them and use them for various purposes including worshipping them. Kalighat paintings that we buy today for several thousands were priced at a few rupees at one point of time. The appreciation is not in the aesthetics; nor does it show the inflation of rupee value. But it shows the elevation of the craft into art. And you see the Kalighat painters even today do not earn the kind of amount the Delhi Art Gallery owner would earn by selling those Kalighat paintings.
What could Princess Pea do at this situation? She is caught in a dilemma I believe. To be a brand she has to make her toys expensive. To spread her idea of gender equality and the critique on the society she should make her works cheaper. She stands at the other end of Takashi Murakami, whose sculptures have become (at least the replicas) cheap in the museum souvenir shops. Princess Pea’s works are also sold from a souvenir shop. Now given a chance and given this particular amount of money, if I am offered a book on Alkazi, or a photography book by Steve Macrry and a toy by Princess Pea I would be the books not the toy. That does not mean that I do not want a toy made by Princess Pea who has taken the help of the craftswomen in Andhra Pradesh who are skilled in making such toys. She uses their skills to create her ideas; very commendable. But what about me and people like me who would like to buy one toy of Princess Pea? There should be a deeper thought to it.
Some people think that if anything given cheap people would treat them cheaply. If things are expensive, then definitely they are going to take care of those objects with seriousness. (Mothers are very precious but we treat them very cheaply, that is a different case). That’s human nature. But the ideas are important; if the idea pertaining to the work, people are going to treat it with reverence. Princess Pea’s works are displayed or rather her shop is set just behind a hugely expensive BMW car. Next to her there is an innovative artist’s perfume shop. Nothing comes cheap here. One cup of coffee is not less than Rs140/- One chicken sandwich costs Rs.400/- One ticket for one time entry is Rs.500/- So basically the India Art Fair is for the rich and powerful. It should be so. But Indians have way. I met maximum number of people who have VIP passes with them. So perhaps, Neha Kirpal the quintessential Indian entrepreneur with her acumen for sensing ground realities of India has let a lot of VIP passes issued and that too for multiple entry by multiple people!
Princess Pea should learn from Neha Kirpal. There should be a typical Indian jugaad way to make her toys popular. To become Princess Pea brand is very important for the artist. She asks me what is there in knowing the original name (of course I know her name because I was the one who gave her first show when she was a final year student at the Delhi College of Art in 2006). Yes, for many the brand should be known not the owner of the brand (In Malayalm we say, eat the pudding, do not count the holes in it). But the person behind the brand is often well known. These days the fake name is also a name and the person behind that name is identified the society and appreciated for having a fake name. Today in one of the newspapers a street artist is named as ‘inkbrushnme’ with the article discussing the original person behind it with an original name. It is poetic. It is willing suspension of disbelief. Like in a Spiderman movie, while we all know who is the real spider man a whole city and the citizens including the parents of the hero as well as his love interest remain in dark. In India, a wart or mole added to a cheek or a handle bar moustache would disguise the person completely. Princess Pea is well known as a person and her works with the message should also be known the way she is known. For that her works should come out of the high end showrooms. Don’t you think so?