The Unbearable ‘Lightness’ of Indian Mainstream Art

EDITORIAL: The Unbearable ‘Lightness’ of Indian Mainstream Art / JohnyML

Indian mainstream art practice and the propagation of it is like a selective inbreeding process for maintaining the purity of blood. It is Brahminical for sure. Inadvertently, the mainstreamers replicate colonial mindset and their implosion in the long run is going to render them useless, predicts JohnyML.

Editor-in-Chief Johny ML

Editor-in-Chief Johny ML







Nation wants to know. Yes, it is not just an adrenaline rich exhortation of a television anchor. All the nations in this world and the people who belong to all these nations want to know what exactly is going on around them. A nation and its populace decide the course that they are going to take from present to the future/s largely depending upon the mainstream events in politics, economics and culture. As these three entities almost comprise the various ramifications of the combined progress of a nation into the future/s we need not go hair splitting the subcategories. It is not what happens in the peripheries of the above mentioned cornerstones of development but all those that take place in the mainstream aspects of this holy trinity. Hence, the political course of a country is determined by the mainstream political thoughts and policies that govern the nation currently. Same is the case with economics and culture. Though we know that subaltern practices and alternative methods are constantly experimented and made successful by many people both in economic activities and cultural activities, largely a nation’s economics and culture are determined by the mainstream manifestations of the same. Therefore, it is imperative that people should know what’s going on behind these mainstream practices.


Compared to politics and economics, culture, as a vast field of ideation and creation is not largely determined by authority but by selective exercise of choices and the propagation of the same. In politics, despite all the misuse of powers and misinterpretations of the constitutional provisions and authorities, mainstream practices are determined, defined and exercised by certain codes of conduct which are accountable legally and ethically. Don’t get me wrong, I am speaking of an ideal situation. Economics, though we know, begets a parallel economy as an unauthorised check and balance system, when seen in the mainstream discourse, is determined by national and international policies and pressures. But interestingly, culture is one thing that is not contained by constitutional limitations. Thank god for that. Imagine a country where cultural expressions are controlled by constitutional dictums and law enforcing authorities. Living in such a country would be horrible. And we should again thank the makers of our democratic constitution that protects the freedom of the artists and other culture producers. If our nation is tilting towards a cultural scenario which is constantly scrutinized and the possibility of the emergence of a punitive system on cultural products and producers, it should be seen as a part of a larger degeneration that unfortunately drags politics and economics also into its ambit.


We are turning into such a lot that is capable of breast beating when clamps of cultural censorship are applied on certain cultural products and invariably that is a good thing to do so because resistance is something that always creates a new political, economical and cultural momentum in any nation. In fact, our country is going through and also feeling the throes of such resistance from various quarters. Mainstream takes the notice of it and responds to the situation. Indian politics is the best example of it. Resistance has taught the extreme right wingers to lean towards the middle and also dangerously to the left in their own ways! Resistance has taught the mainstream film makers to lean towards the alternative film makers and endorse their works or even fight it out for them. From mainstream Bollywood to the extreme vernacular such evolutions have been taking place for quite some time. One does not know why our mainstream visual art which is one of the major components of our general cultural scenario which has not yet caught up with the changes that are taking place around the visual art producers.


As I mentioned above, while mainstream politics and economics are determined and governed by constitutional authorities, mainstream art is never governed by any such authorities. While I say that such authorities should not come to exercise their power over cultural productions, I insist that there should be ethical decision makers in the mainstream art practices and their propagation within the national cultural body and elsewhere. If we cursorily look at the definition of the mainstream of anything we could say that it is something that sways people and has got a large mandate to be so. It is not necessary that the mainstream could sublimate the living conditions or thinking patterns of the people in a nation, but it could definitely influence in manufacturing the public opinion and determining an affirmative content. This helps a society to believe in itself (even in its own filth) and evolve through mainstream practices. Economics also emulates the same though its decisions are never populist in nature. The economic decisions, however hard they are, become popular over a period of time and larger sections of the society laud it and self-adjust to behave within the new economic features. That means, larger mandate always makes the mainstream. Unfortunately our art scene is something that enjoys lesser mandate but assumes the power of being the mainstream.


The mainstream art in India is governed by a group of people, a group of galleries, a group of dealers, a group of auction houses and finally, a group of publications. With due respect to all these above mentioned categories I would like to say that these groups, surprisingly do not enjoy any public mandate. Their art does not sway the public perception of aesthetics. An artist’s works, manipulated cleverly in the abovementioned streams and, finally reap crores of rupees in the auction houses, do not really move the public perception on art created in India or elsewhere. I should know what Tyeb Mehta’s or V.S.Gaitonde’s or even Amrita Sherghil’s achievements in the auction circuits contributed to the evolution of the Indian aesthetics. Does it show any pointer of evolution towards the future/s? Look around the new wave film makers in India. They come from nowhere and give hits that change the course of film making and film thinking. The definitions of mainstream and subaltern are constantly reformulated and the relationship between them is always realigned both in politics and economics (where films are major economic players). But only in art the mainstream remains still aloof and almost Brahminical. The coteries that control the mainstream of art reject vernacular expressions and aesthetics. In my view, this is the severest of right wing position that ironically these mainstreamers claim to be opposing in their aesthetic production and propagation.


The best way to understand this unbearable lightness of the mainstream cultural scenario in India is to take a cursory look at the mainstream art journals like Art India Magazine, Arts Illustrated, Take on Art and so on. There are a few other art journals in India that really do not make any difference in the thinking patterns of the art lovers other than providing a sort of liberally democratic platform to various artists and writers. The above mentioned magazines work like a cultural implosion. They do not address anybody outside their close(d) network. All that is published in these magazines either address certain interest groups or certain economic platforms. The same artists and their works are regularly discussed and features are created depending on the season in these magazines. If you are an observer of the workings of (Indian) art scene, you could definitely see these magazines are inter-related, always following the ‘mainstream’ in various galleries, biennales and art fairs. They endorse their ‘mainstreamism’ through two clearly defined patterns; one, high quality production, two, a visibly defensive list of foreign writers (read white writers) to bring internationalism and authenticity at once. Colonialism is something where a minority rules the majority by excessive deployment of pomp and fear. Our mainstream art does it; be it a magazine, a gallery, a biennale or an art fair.


What do our alternative practitioners do then? Unfortunately, the moment, these alternative practitioners make an impact in the society with their works, they simply are absorbed by the abovementioned mainstream system. How do a few people, a few magazines, a few auction houses determine the aesthetics of the 1.25 billion people in this country? Going by the definition of colonialism that I mentioned above, I would say, what we undergo today is a visual art colonialism exercised over us by our own people. This mainstream should break and it is bound to be broken. Artists are supposed to find new avenues for exhibiting and monetising their works. It is foolishness to believe that mainstream galleries would one day wake up to the rest of the artists in our nation. Anything that is implosive in nature is bound to be shaken by its own impact. Exclusionary approach and selective breeding has even engendered races and communities. Indian mainstream art is going by a blue-blood practice and this has to be polluted by newer ways of cultural breeding elsewhere outside of it. Such alternative practices that could generate money for artistic self sustenance should shake up the very foundations of these mainstremers until they will be rendered museum pieces or absolutely useless.  The nation wants to know why the mainstream art practice and propagation is like this. Whether you answer or not, the truth is going to come out. Indian galleries should wake up to my call and think about it. They should change their ways of inbreeding and selective implosions. If they don’t change, the change would change them into nothingness.


Editor in Chief 


( All images used are taken from the Internet and are for illustrative purposes only )

2 thoughts on “The Unbearable ‘Lightness’ of Indian Mainstream Art

  1. wow. I am sitting here having stumbled across this text looking for a definition of ‘mainstream art’ I am writing from South Africa. Your text truly has the ability to be applied to our own scenario in South Africa. These locked systems with gatekeepers and the amount of hoops to be jumped through get ever more ridiculous. Thank you for this, I would like to share it


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