Thursday, 13 September 2012

contemporary art and cultural clashes in kathmandu.

"Artist advised to paint works that are pleasing ...not satirical...socio political works can only be exhibited during gai jatra..?
Artist's paintings should be self explanatory? "a picture should speak a 1000 words".
Artists need to follow traditional parameters while painting religious iconography....modern interpretations will be considered blasphemous
The state can take action against artists if these guidelines are not observed"

Sangeeta Thapa on  Facebook quoting or paraphrasing the official 'police'  reaction .

Watching the Kathmandu gallery episode unfold on social media is a fascinating eye opener .  So much to learn  so  much to think about . so many spaces to open up. in the  minds of artists and even their local audiences. 

At the heart of the incident  I see  a dangerous disconnect between local audiences and the Modern Artists ensconced  in their white cube, sanitiising,  gallery spaces. Spaces that are about a different audience from a very different , disconnected world.  A very white and western world which is , at this very moment, in the midst  of its own actually bloody battle about  " free speech' in Libya and the Middle East .

All this, for me personally, has has a sorry sense of deja vu.  The same battles  were fought when Safdar Hashmi was murdered in India.  When  SAHMAT was formed  to fight  cultural wars  but ended up  fighting them in drawing rooms and sanitised/ santising gallery spaces.  The street where Safdar had fought his street theater battles was ignored  and SAHMAT actually created a rift between itself and his street theater  troupe.

Early SAHMAT rally. Lalit Kala Academy.  New Delhi.  A telling' dhakkaa' start moment. The pushers were the working class street wallas. 

Artists, ignore their society's public spaces at their own peril.  By leaving those spaces open to more politically astute and connected- to- the- street others,  they are losing the cultural wars and the cultural spaces that the battles are being, and will be, fought on. 

"The problem manish harijan is facing with his exhibition stems from the misinterpretation of his contemporary work...the ugly face of rightist fundamentalism has reared it's head....Nepal society is by large a tolerant and peaceful one...we need to preserve this please"

Sangeeta Thapa post on facebook 

Contemporary, according the Free Dicitionary  means   "Belonging to the same period of time". Within and not just outside a society, one might add .

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia comes a more art industry oriented definition

"Contemporary art is art produced at this present point in time or art produced since World War II. The definition of the word contemporary would support the first view, but museums of contemporary art commonly define their collections as consisting of art produced since World War II. Throughout the 20th century and into the 21st century, with the advent of  Modern and  Postmodern art forms, distinctions between what is generally regarded as the fine arts and the low arts have started to fade,[1] as contemporary high art continues to challenge these concepts by mixing with popular culture.[2]

The 'mixing', especially in this part of the world, is one sided  and it  is mostly an appropriation of the somehow lesser,  popular culture. A simple stealing of signs and symbols  to create and  sell  a different 'national' look to a bored and monotonous  Modern, Contemporary Art Market. 

There is a huge and hugely important debate that has to happen within the Art world .And it has to happen soon. Around the world, accusations of" blasphemy" are leading to blood flowing on the streets.  

In our increasingly connected  world, no space  is now, safe and sanitised . The  white walls of galleries and museums will be more visible  and more violently attacked  if cultural understanding  is not promoted and   if cultural bridges are not built . Between societies and, more importantly, within societies .

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