Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Amidst the noise and racket about struggle

Malavika Rajnarayan's Guest Post

In the course of a casual conversation the question arose as to why it is often musicians, theatre artists and writers who are more easily noticed, or are in the news in relation to political content in their work. One of the most obvious reasons that initially occurred to me was the location of the art-work/ performance and thereby its accessibility, or the lack of it. Reading, listening and watching (though, mostly moving images) have all taken higher preference over looking at a picture book, for instance.

Artists choose different modes to present their work, which then determines its potential to be received, read and perceived. All through history, there have been communities, guilds, ateliers, groups, collectives and collaborations that have served artists significantly by bringing together similar minds to voice their political concerns through individual and shared spaces of thought and delivery. These have invariably set the context and tempered the pulse of reasoning, questioning, dissent, political critique and activism in both overt and subtle ways. While it may be a generalised assumption that more obvious activist genres like street-theatre and public performances by artists/ political activists do tend to draw larger and wider viewership, the attention span of the audience does not seem to sustain itself for longer periods of time, despite the increased access to information and media. To examine further, the disparity in viewership across different sections of society and varying geographical and cultural territories often diffuses the impact of sharp political critique in visual art.  Ironically, sensational videos and visuals presented as factual/ illusionary documents, providing little or no scope for sensitive but objective contemplation, tend to hog more attention than the poignancy of subtle evocation.

A majority of the population is deficient in visual art education; the huge lack of awareness about the potential of visual art has resulted in an inability to include it extensively within spaces of political, social, popular or even casual discourse. It is equally a matter of concern that a country that boasts of millennia of cultural diversity, with art traditions that have evolved over generations of personal and collective endeavour, is now facing a time when we haven't the political will or enthusiasm to even preserve objects and artifacts from our ancestral heritage, let alone carry the art forward. Institutions for conservation are few and museums often house more neglect than care, but for a few exceptions. The culture of visiting art galleries and museums is limited to a very tiny percentage of people, which is often inclusive of the community of artists.

The other point that occurs to my mind is that of art-making and the dialogue an artist has with oneself, in the process of formulating and using a personalised language. The core of one's politics- whether it stems from the personal or it extends to the larger social ambit- contributes to shaping language and expanding its tropes as philosophies evolve. It is an endless process of regeneration, of refinement and an effort to optimise articulation. The artist is consistently engaged in tweaking the language, just a little more at every stage, in the hope of presenting their ideas with greater clarity and resonance.

Patua painters and Kantha embroidery artists used the space of their art for critical commentaries of their contemporary social and political mechanisms. Subjects ranging from domestive violence to political scandals were woven into the narratives they painted and embroidered. And yet, we would find it hard today, to imagine visuals of their art go viral on social media as did the news of Pussy Riot's controversial performance of protest in a Russian church in 2012, and the subsequent arrest of its band members. Does this expose an overall desensitization towards the nuances of dissent? Or is it in the nature of performance to capture an audience more effectively? Or is it only when the establishment recognises dissent and chooses to censor creative expression that the rest of the world takes notice. 

I am compelled to think of an oblique but relevant analogy of transistor radios of yesteryears. Listening to any programme required a good deal of auditory sensitivity and motor skills in fine-tuning the bandwidth's reception to its precise frequency for achieving maximum clarity. It didn't end there though,  because the transmission would sometimes  fluctuate;  it required us to be constantly alert lest we miss a second of the broadcast... to noise.

No comments:

Post a Comment