17 May 2011

Art & Deal Issue 37

Essay on Young Artists' and Education -
from an 'outsiders' perspective.

Religion, Politics and Social Comment fills the Art Works of Sayed Irshad Ali from Udaipur with surprising commitment and concise clarity for one so young.

Perhaps a very dangerous thing to do at the beginning of ones career as an Artist to make such strong comment about such 'touchy' subjects in India, or is it?

Will this young Artist survive if he continues to comment through his Art?

Coming from Australia and observing a good deal of 'Art' in India over the past five years and being dumb-founded and disappointed by the constant 'copies' of not only Miniature Paintings but 'Modern Art' as well by various so called Artists' for their own commercial gains. And with his work still being very 'raw', it has been like looking for a needle in a hay stack, but, to be relieved and to be challenged by the refreshingly intellectual work of Sayed Irshad Ali has made my travels to India more interesting indeed.

A commentary of what is happening not just in Udaipur, such as water shortages in his 'Astitva (existense)' and the manipulations through marketing of 'Brand' names and 'Labels' as in the ever changing fashion industry with his very public work called “Brands at Central' and with his latest work 'Bigature' which comments on the state of and almost death of Miniature Art in his home town, but also with world events as if documenting the man-made tragedy, propaganda and comedy of 'Modern War' and conflict in his 'Shoe Men's Property 1 & 2'.

In fact making a comment on a single nation at the fore-front of making and finding excuses to plunder another nations assets of commercial value as an Artist would appear to be suicide indeed.
Not for Sayed Irshad Ali, it doesn’t seem to be in his vocabulary to be silent on any issue.

It is only when you speak with Sayed Irshad Ali that one begins to understand his mind to understand why he is so keen to comment.
He desires to get to his country-men at a grass roots level to bring further awareness not just of Modern Art but of those global and local issues alike that affect us all directly or indirectly and that we all suffer at the hands of so few 'controllers' of the world in which we live.

This begs the question is he 'Teacher/Lecturer' or 'Artist'?

In my Australia, Lecturers have to perform as Artists and maintain a level of national recognition as Artist to maintain their position as Lecturer. Whilst this does not mean that these Lecturers are great Artists' it simply means they are recognised as practicing Artists' and participating in regular exhibitions and/or taking further studies to justify them having a role as lecturer through criteria.
A similar situation exists here in India although it would appear that the Lecturers here have a reduced responsibility and obligation to perform and maintain a public profile as recognised practitioners of Art. A handful of very strong lecturers dedicated to practicing their Art does not justify all practicing Artists' having a lecturing role if their role as Lecturer is weak. What makes a strong and powerful Lecturer in the role as Arts Educator is their ability to give the gift of full sound knowledge to their students and those students go on to be practicing Artist or Lecturer and in many cases both to fulfill a criteria as job description.
Already we can see that the strength of the student as Artist or as Lecturer is dependent upon their Lecturers knowledge in the first instance and not of the Art produced by their Lecturer.

So will Sayed Irshad Ali fall into the trap of becoming an 'Indian Lecturer' and weaken his Art through his self imposed educational desires?
Here we have to look at his training and his influences and from what I can see is that he is as worldly as the subjects of his Art.
Studying from Chitrakala Parishat, Bangalore he has begun his career in an 'under-dog' position from the outset with this institution of learning being locally less valued and less desired as an institution nationally recognised as being of 'merit' and 'most favoured', however this will change no doubts for that.

Whilst his 'Public Works' are not as high profile as Times Square NY, (in fact 'Celebrations' is in an obscure lane way), we can see that he is aware of the Times Square 'Bill Board Art' reflected in his 'Brands at Central', 'The Gate', and 'Bigature' which have been exhibited in high traffic arterial roads.

Sayed Irshad Ali "The Gate" acrylic paint peal on
original gate - instillation

One to watch closely, will he make the grade?

Speaking of “grades” I was requested to go to Baroda (Vadodara) to view the works of several Artists' in preparations to curate their intended exhibition.
Baroda is said to be 'The Premier' Arts Education Centre in India, however, with being in Baroda I attended the “Fourth Spring Forth”, Painting Major, BVA Final Year Graduating Students Exhibition, I was gob smacked at the lack of quality in the works exhibited.
This lack of quality may have something to do with the Chandra Mohan incident, with lecturers perhaps frightened of reprisals for the security of their positions should they show support for the students and offer strong constructive critical analysis of their works.
At least one Lecturer had to find an alternative placement around the country due to their support of students and leaving this 'Premier' Institution in chaos.
It is now with this case going on in the courts that this Institution needs the greatest Lecturers India has to offer, like for example Shivaji Panikkar, who also has now left MSU Baroda, presumably from the poor treatment he received over the fallout of this case. Instead of this abandonment and reduced support for students, there is a turn around needed urgently to save the reputation of MSU Baroda, a reputation that has taken decades to acquire.

Where will the Galleries of Mumbai and surrounds go if Baroda is allowed to collapse?

It is now more than ever that this Institution has an opportunity to be that 'Greatest', 'Prestigious', 'Premier' and 'Respected' Institution to shine as a real 'Gem' in the Crown of Indian Art and yet I feel it will be allowed to suffer and die through Political measures.
With Chandra's work reportedly having been images of God and Goddess with some element of nudity and exposure of the flesh and genitalia, this act of court action and a ban puts India way back in the dark ages.
I mean to say in most religions, not just in India, but, around the world, we are taught that mortal human beings are created in the likeness of the Gods. With all due respect for the Gods concerned and the respectable dress codes in which Indian Ladies and Gentlemen dress by, I am sure that they would not like for India to loose the ground in which India has been making in the realms of 'Modern Art' practices, and I really think this whole conundrum has been blown out of all proportions. After all, if in-deed we are all created in the likenesses of the Gods and Goddesses, why would we be so ashamed of our bodies, if a few are ashamed, may I ask, why does the rest of the Indian population have to suffer this huge step backwards for Indian Arts. What is the difference of nudity of the God inside the Temple as opposed to the Gallery? and what about the Karmasutra on the Temple walls for all to see, are we going to ban this also? I dont think so. It would appear there is a lot to be learnt from the Temple.
It can only show the rest of the Art World how little India has learnt and can only suffer as a result on the Global Stage. India has to understand that it has been decades ago that the rest of the world went through this notion of 'nude' and 'nudity', its nothing new! Why is the debate just beginning here? It is not as “radical” as some have suggested.

My main reason for going to Baroda was to meet several Artists planning an exhibition there and once there I was railroaded into being “critic” for numerous young Artists'. Amongst them were Mukesh Ganji, Parashuram, Neha Thakar, Debanan Sasmal, T. Venkanna, Harisha Chennangod, Praveen Goud, Vibhuti Sharma, and since my visit Buddhadev Mukhejee and Premm Kumar Singh have e-mailed me after hearing of my visit to gain some critical comments on their works.

Mukesh Ganji (BVA, J.N.T.U. Hyderabad, MVA, C.K.P. Bangalore, currently at 'Space' Studio Baroda) from his very strongly stylised figures with an emphasis placed on fingers and toes in his drawings. This stylisation is carried into his paintings and I am delighted by the whimsical charm of 'Mr Rat, Mrs Rat, Mr Cat, Mrs Cat, Mr Man, Mrs Woman', it matches the strength of 'Two Brothers & Sister' 'Untitled 4' and his latest figurative work of reinterpretations of discarded photographs titled 'Army Officers'.

Photo inspiration for "Army Officers"
Within this latest figurative series Mukesh is reincarnating these forgotten memories in time, transforming all the figures with a new identity of individuality, making them strong and individually prominent without diminishing their comrades by reincarnating the assumed personalities of all individuals amongst the groups.
Mukesh I am sure is destined to continue his strength in the area of figurative work.
He has clearly demonstrated a keen interest and the ability to convey a humorous story as well as a more serious and controlled re-birthing and rediscovering of the discarded.
Clearly his determination has not allowed him to suffer as much as the students of Baroda.

Vibhuti Sharma (BFA College of Art, New Delhi, MVA M.S.U. Baroda) has taught me of the moon being masculine from an Indian position and I have given to Vibhuti the option of seeing the moon as feminine from a 'western' perspective. Vibhuti was shocked and said, “Oh my God, I did not think I was saying that”, we both laughed and I went on to explain that with a 'western' reading of her work “The Moon Fades Away” she was no longer just talking about a male person with her work being a multiple image of the masculine underpants and overprinted with the phases of the moon over one complete cycle, but she was now talking about a feminine connection to the moon with the female monthly fertility cycle.  She was talking of her deepest desires of a male companion to possibly begin a family. Vibhuti has several works linked to this theme which indeed are looking at desire, passion, love and devotion and reprocreation with seeing the work through western eyes, something which is maybe not taught in Indian Institutions and yet there is a huge influence on Modern Art in India from the West. Vibhuti has very exciting and powerful images and yet she did not recognise how powerful they truly are. This lack of awareness, is this a result of her time at M.S.U. Baroda?

Parashuram (BVA, J.N.T.U. Hyderabad, MVA, C.K.P. Bangalore) has a challenge ahead of him by selecting such a morbid subject as death. Despite this negative, Parashuram is dealing with death using a very strong symbology by his limited palate, black, the unknown certainty of death itself and yet so delightfully alive, white as in the purity of lifes path once lived, faces surrounded with coloured flowers demonstrating hope of an after-life, in his work 'Poignant music 2' a pressure cooker unnessesarily added to reinforce a tormented life has come to an end.

Parsharam "Poignant music 2"
A brilliantly clever mind lives within Parashuram, he also has a rebellious streak within him, a dangerous combination that is sure to create a valuable collection of masterpieces.
Hyderabad and Bangalore have obviously been a wise combination for Parashuram.

Debanan Sasmal (B.F.A. & M.F.A. in Sculpture from Visva Bharati University, Santiniketan) Whilst trying to bring an awareness of an imbalanced equalibrium created by man, Debanan has turned everything he makes up-side-down. We as a race of animals are increasing the destruction of our planet at an alarming rate and therefore potentially bringing about our own suicide. Debanan has placed the word OM and a God in his scales, and so these religious objects/expressions/icons/ephigies are also inverted to their up-side-down position. Is he suggesting that God/s have something to do with our own destruction, or will God save us and in what way will we be saved, are we looking for something or someone else to blame? The biggest confusion for me is why his scales are balanced in their up-side-down position if he is talking of an inbalance.
An interesting concept that needs a little more resolution and refinement to reinforce and convince his audience by bringing suggested causes and possible resolutions as to an answer to bringing the balance of nature back to its 'natural balance' what-ever that balance may be.

Clearly these young up and coming hopeful Artists' in studio spaces and practicing their passions of Art, are looking for opportunities, as they should be, but they seem starved.
Most admitted they experienced a void and vacume of constructive critical comment of their work whilst under studies at their respective learning Institutions, preventing an early progress both of intellectual stimulation and practical application.
I agree and disagree as I have observed that Sayed Irshad Ali, Mukesh Ganji and Parashuram all have one thing in common, they all have had a period of study at C.K.P. Bangalore and I am told there is a scheme where all students are open to participate at the BVA and MVA levels to an open disscussion as critique of each others work on a six monthly basis.
Some Institutions clearly are managing a level of success to give knowledge to their students where as others are losing what they once aspired to.

Neha Thakar, whom has completed both her B.V.A. and M.V.A. degrees from M.S. University, Baroda, as an example of where there appears to be a huge lack of constructive criticism going on, as I have suggested earlier this may be due to the Chandra Mohan incident.
With her more intellectual work called 'Delivered', a series of ice blocks wrapped with ribbon, the ice melted, the ribbon was left, a series of photographs were taken, leaving behind a work hugely devoid of a successful outcome.
Her explanation of this work was to express dissatisfaction with the Indian traditions of so many festivals and times when a gift is expected to be given.
Neha has demonstrated only one thing with this work and that is disappointment.

Had Neha had the intellectually constructive criticism of this work from her lecturers, she would most likely have gone on to explore the possibility to place further emotions and values by an actual object to be gifted within the ice either of a personal nature or something to at least signify the many festivals spoken of, a name tag attached, (Mother, Father, Brother, Sister, Girlfriend, Boyfriend, etc etc) The ice being a metaphor for the wrapping paper slowly melting away to reveal the 'charged' emotional and value placement of the gift itself and of the recipient.
These values and emotions emerging from the ice could engage an audience and invoke strong reactions with their own memories of gift giving and receiving experiences. Therefore changing the outcome and the level of success.

Neha confirmed what I suspected, as she revealed to me that as a result in part of poor sales of her work she has resorted to some part time lecturing, and with showing her work to her students they asked the same thing as I did, could she sell her work of the melted ice gift apart from documentation? No she could not.
Neha could only pass on her level of education and knowledge, and with that knowledge and vocabulary being shortened by the lack of critical analysis whilst in her formative years as a student, it only stands to reason that the level of Art Education can only go in reverse if this lack of training is allowed to continue.
With my constructively critical comments of this work Neha has promised me to go back to explore further the possibility of having tangible works for sale from a body of work that can now be realised with emotional and value placements, there-by allowing her to present a stronger example of a completed and successful Art Work to her future students and at the same time strengthening the role of the lecturer.
Given a little more guidance Neha will make a very fine Conceptual Artist and Lecturer.

If M.S. University, Baroda is indeed the Nations foremost Art Educational Institution then there is certainly a current major lack of support from the lecturers toward the greater development of students work practices to go on to enter the world of Professional Artists'. Perhaps at Baroda there is a concern that if given too much constructive criticism and too much assistance or dare I say it, too much knowledge, to produce better quality works it may spark another “incident” there, and there fore more lecturers will face a level of blame as scape-goats and face dismissal or reprisals with their careers as has already happened with the Chandra Mohan incident. Art history lecturers in their role as educators are perhaps the most objective to be able to give sound constructive critical analysis of an Artists' work due to their training in analytical construction and deconstruction.
If these young influential minds are to be developed then they must be stimulated and given constructive criticism on their intellectual and creative works.
They also need to learn at the University level how they can survive as an artist through their tangible works of Art. It must be remembered that their time of study is like an apprenticeship for other trades. The better the education, the better the practioner, the better the fame, the better the value of the Lecturer within the Institution and there fore the reputation is created.
The lecturers are the key to this cycle and they are required to be dedicated and educated themselves with a willingness to share their knowledge. Many at MSU Baroda currently obviously are not sharing this knowledge if they have it in the first place or they are fearful of their positions if they part with it to advantage of the students, which becomes a reflection of the lecturers and the Institution they represent.

My intentions are purely to demonstrate further need for academic structural change to incorporate levels of constructive critical stimulation as early as possible into Arts Degree Courses around the country as a progressive measure.
As well as bringing further awareness that MSU Baroda with its historical strengths for Indian Art Education is in a dangerous position of collapse through the narrow mindedness of a few individuals that have taken an extreme moral stance.
Its not the time for destruction of the Institution but its time for the Political influences that has brought MSU Baroda to its knees to do a re-think and restore this Institutions position and reputation for the greater building of the Indian Art Education Institution nationally.

Geoffrey Bjorn Mason Dip Arts (Fine Arts), B.V.A. (Sydney)                auntyolivers@yahoo.com.au