Editorial : Rajan Krishnan / Commemoration without History is As Good as None / Johny ML
Today is the first death anniversary of the artist, Rajan Krishnan. There are a few commemorative meetings in Kerala. But is that enough? Isn’t it necessary to build a history around the artist if he is to be relevant in the contemporary art history in India, asks Johny ML.
When an artist dies those people who know him feel bad. They would miss him for a long time to come. In the initial years the pangs of that missing feeling would be so much, then slowly like a piece of burning camphor it thins down leaving a captivating fragrance for some time only to fade away eventually. Leaving no footprints on earth is what an ideal being does once it quits (the) living. But artists do leave their foot prints (thumb impressions and signatures too) in their works. What do we do with them? If the artist while living had created sufficient history to substantiate his works there are chances that he would survive the test of the time (but no surety). If there is no history to support the works, then some galleries may swoop down like vultures, take away all those works that he/she has left behind and create a new history provided they see gold in those works. At times, the families of the dead artists pitch in to create a fund or trust to run the artists’ estate so that the future trail of the artists’ works could be managed to certain end. Rarely, the governments come into the picture. Governments, generally speaking, do not want culture; what they would like to do is the fund management for the cultural activities; if culture could enhance tourism the governments would be all the more happy.
A year back on this day an artist namely Rajan Krishnan who was in his late forties died of health issues. Rajan was a dear friend. Today, to commemorate his contributions to the art scene in India generally and that of Kerala particularly, a few meetings have been called in different parts of Kerala. As Rajan kept himself politically neutral when he was alive, the involvement of the left ruled Lalitha Kala Academy’s involvement in one such meeting should not be seen as an effort to hijack the departed legacy of the artist for the left parties. During his comparatively successful career, Rajan had exhibited with the major galleries in India and also was lucky enough to have a client basis for himself during the peak years of his career. Rajan got national attention when he was handpicked by Amit Judge, the director of the now defunct Bodhi Art Gallery (which was the game changer in the Indian art scene) since then there was no looking back for him. Like many other artists who became prominent between 2005 and 2010 (those crucial five years) Rajan too suffered certain setbacks in his career with the collapse of the art market world over. By 2014, Rajan had already started re-thinking about his career.
While all of us, his friends have fond memories about Rajan, the crucial question is had he got sufficient history written about him and his works by the time he was no more? As an art historian I understand that ‘getting history done’ is a bad suggestion but having a life and works to be written about are a prerequisite for the historians to work on. If Lalitha Kala Academy’s involvement is not just ritualistic, what this government agency should do is to commission a few good writers from all over India to make substantial studies on Rajan’s works and publish a commemorative volume on his works and their historical and critical relevance. I do not know who holds the authority over his works today (his wife or a couple of gallerists). Whoever they are, they should come forward to collaborate with the Lalitha Kala Academy to produce this volume. This book could be bilingual or could be published in two different languages, English and Malayalam. The holders of Rajan’s works could contribute a few works to Lalitha Kala Academy as a token of appreciation. Getting Rajan’s works in the right hands is more important than anything else. If the holders are just looking for money, nobody can do anything with the artist other than just remembering once in a while.
The western countries and some of the eastern countries have this special quality of making their dead or living artists heroes and heroines of the nation through publications, exhibitions and creating buzz around them, through public-private joint ventures. Fortunately, we are living in a country where artists are the last priority of everyone including the government unless they are not wealth creators! A dead artist has more wealth potential than a living artist. But that happens only when a dead artist is presented as real asset. Such presentations need history back up. It is no time for mourn Rajan Krishnan; it is high time for locating him within the contemporary art history of India. Friends of Rajan may not be able to do it. Hence, the family, the holders of his works and the lalitha Kala Academy could jointly think about it.
Editor in Chief
( Image Courtesy : Kalakar FaceBook page)