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Ideas on ideals

SHAILAJA TRIPATHI

What do Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela and Leo Tolstoy mean in today's world, ask a group of artists through their creative outbursts.


On account of being Gandhi's land and where he set up Sbarmati Ashram, Gujarat is a dry state, but ironically the same ashram withesses violent attacks. - ARCHANA HANDE



GANDHI ON CANVAS Works by artists K.P.Reji and Jagannath Panda on view at the exhibition.

‘Tolstoy Farm – Archive of Utopia', the large group show presented by Seven Art Gallery, spread over three levels at Lalit Kala Akademi, was triggered off by many reasons. The starting point was naturally the completion of 100 years of Tolstoy Farm, the venue in Transvaal in South Africa that became famous as the lab where Mahatma Gandhi began his first experiments with truth. The farm later became an inspiration for South African leader Nelson Mandela who also wrote about it.

Another provocation was the Jasmine revolution which started in Tunisia but soon took the entire Arab world in its grip. Egyptian presidential candidate Mohamed El Baradei too invoked Gandhi, when he said Mahatma Gandhi's civil disobedience movement helped him plan Egypt's political transformation, says Gayatri Sinha, well-known art-critic and curator of the exhibition.

The economic recession that engulfed the entire world, which is still reeling under its after affects, shattered the great global capitalist dream posing serious question marks over the validity of the growth and development model in practice. On the other hand, the development led people to look at the viability of the Gandhian model of development. The 17 artists, through paintings, mixed media art, photographs, videos and installations, examine the relevance of the thought propagated by people like Gandhi, Leo Tolstoy and Mandela.

But no, the artists don't eulogise any philosophy; as a neutral voice, they look at the leaders' lives in a metaphorical sense. Mumbai-based Archana Hande equates Gandhi with a rejected idol. Just as we don't know what to do with broken idols — it is considered inauspicious to keep a broken idol at home, nor can you throw it away — we don't know what to do with their ideologies.

30 letter boxes!

In a corner of the gallery are three installation pieces by the artist. One of them has 30 letter boxes lit with colourful lights and inviting the viewer to open them. What the viewer finds inside are the broken toys.


Again using three dioramas, Hande shows the figure of Gandhi against different backdrops, making the point that his ideologies apply to just one individual and that's the man himself. “On account of being Gandhi's land and where he set up Sabarmati ashram, Gujarat is a dry state, but ironically the same ashram witnesses violent attacks,” says Hande.

Not every artist has addressed the issue directly. Asim Waqif looks at swadesi and self-reliance, two concepts close to Gandhi's heart, as he uses the engine parts from Maruti Suzuki cars, Honda bike parts, and welds them together to form a word, ‘Wasted'. “It is a critical look at design too. Most of the design today is dominated by corporate interests and its profit value. The whole concept of repair has vanished and everything gets only replaced, as a result of which there is a huge mass of waste present in the market.” The architect and artist has also done a AV presentation on the rising pollution levels in the river at Badrinath. The artist interviews one person each from three different generations to gauge the transformation of the river. It has resulted from a bigger public art project that Asim is pursuing currently.

Mithu Sen deals with utopia in her interactive installation, ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star'. Go inside the small structure built in a corner to hear the nursery rhyme “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star” in the voice of a child. Sen creates an eerie experience for the visitor in the small room bearing the text of the poem on the walls and on one of her paintings. As the light goes off, the words written in radium powder glow. “As I deface my own painting, I create another work out of it. It could be utopian for you but for me it is a reality. The words evoke memories, hold out promise. Also, as I take out a potential work from the market, I am teasing the market forces,” explains Sen.

According to Sinha, it's important to ask these questions through art, which if asked otherwise become pedagogical.

(The show is on at LKA till May 19)

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