from tri van drum to baroda and back
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8/3/2019 From Tri Van Drum to Baroda and Back
FROM TRIVANDRUM TO BARODA AND BACK: A RE-READING
Shivaji K Panikkar
"the tragic is a category which remains a possibility wherever the attempt is made to live within and
transcend a society. (1)
"the gap between aspiration and achievement will be a permanent feature of human life, so that tragedywill be permanently relevant to the human experience. (2)
The (Art) Historian and Radical Movement:
Undoubtedly, the most critically engaged and contextually grounded of the writings on Indian RadicalPainters and Sculptors Association, including those published in Malayalam periodicals is the article byAshish Rajadhyaksha in Contemporary Art in Baroda.(3) Noting that by the mid-1980s the BarodaFaculty had achieved renown as Indias premier art institution, he points out that the art community inBaroda in the 80s was diverse. Though initially set-up by the pioneer art teachers N.S. Bendre andShankho Chowdhury on modernist lines followed by K.G. Subramanian who stressed on craftsmanly skill
development and art in relation to community had been in the helm of artistic pedagogy through the1960s and 70s; the art community in the 1980s had grown in the context of a changed artistic pedagogyand practice that stressed narrative intent and pictured locale led, among others, by GulammohammedSheikh. (4)
Through the 1980s the Faculty drew students from all over the country and from abroad. The institutionas an art teaching and art producing location also interacted on an ideological plane with the art and theart communities at Santiniketan, Bombay and Delhi, sharing common concerns and participation.Although a few students from Kerala had been present in the Baroda Fine Arts campus through 1960sand 70s, it is noteworthy that that the artists who attempted to transform the agenda of the institution inBaroda arrived from Kerala in the late 1970s and early 80s, a point that Rajadhyaksha also makes.(5) Fewamong them who had grouped themselves under the name Indian Radical Painters and SculptorsAssociation, and functioned between 1985-89. Short-lived, and tragic in certain sense, these artists in factdid mark-out a significant difference in perspective within the existing art making and viewer-shippractices.
Since then, particularly after the group split-up, there has been considerable doubt about its historicalrelevance. The reason for such uneasiness possibly lies in the fact that the ideological structure in whichthis movement was imagined was radically different from the kind of purely episodic movements like theProgressives, or the trend of narrative-figuration that emerged from Baroda in the 1980s. Some have hadreservations about calling their interventions in the art world a movement; and for some theirintervention appears to have been trivial, even a destructive or nihilistic aberration. I think it is incorrectto reach these conclusions, precisely because even now, the against-the-grains activities that the group
attempted to initiate still offer the possibilities of subverting the elite practices of artists and art-making inthe context of modern India, and has redefined its purpose, particularly with regard to art institutions.Seen within its widest application, the group embodied a move to radically question systemic art practices.I feel that we need to read the effort of the Radical Collective not in terms of its location in a sequence ofa periodized art history, but rather in the broader canvas of Indian history itself. And, if one wants tojudge in our time the value of such a kind of initiative, whatever our reading of its problematicformulations or its so called anarchist trajectory, it has given from the beginning a certain consistency toan engagement of the artist with the political realm, and a particular legitimacy to its political convictions.
Three Art Manifestoes:
From the mid-1960s to the late 1980s, the art scene in Baroda shifted swiftly - one need to only consider
the arguments put forward in the three important art manifestos/exhibition catalogue essays(6) thataccompanied three major art expositions/art events. The first document is the 1890 Manifesto written by
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J. Swaminathan in 1963, the second, the Place for People exhibition catalogue essay written by GeetaKapur in 1981, and the third is Questions and Dialogue Manifesto/exhibition catalogue essay of theIndian Radical Painters and Sculptors Association written by Anita Dube in 1987. These threedocuments however did not essentially originate from within the art institution at Baroda; but in morethan one way represented three distinct moments in Baroda as well as in Indias art history and
exemplified the shifts that under-grided the art developments of these location.It is important to recognize that the three documents were written in a heroic mode, as interventionalstrategies, and distinctly engaged with avant-garde intentions that represented the particular concernsrelevant to their respective historical times. Although the 1890 manifesto is located within the artdevelopments of post-independent Indian art scene in general, the latter two had specifically and largelyevolved within the context of the art scene in Baroda (although Place for People exhibition drew artistsfrom Bombay, Delhi and Calcutta). The Question and Dialogue exhibition importantly comprised ofartists hailing exclusively from Kerala. Despite the regional/local aspect(s) of these documents, what is ofmost significance is that they articulated aspirations about and an imagination of a national space.
The three manifestos are exemplary also in addressing the problematic of the implied collective aspiration
for social space. However, these art movements, with the exception of the Radical collective, were hardlyinvested in any original avant-garde agenda with regard to the production-dissemination of art, and largelyaddressed only aspects of style-language or thematic innovation, not indicating a direction towardsmaking art a vital practice within the socio-politico system.
From the early 1920s, the internationalist option in art making was sought as an alternative to, and as acritique of the Revivalist art movement. The trend saw its peak of enthusiasm and broadening offrontiers in the decade of 1950s in all the metropolises as well as in the newly established art school atBaroda. (7) One of the main issues that arose was the doubt about the validity and relevance of followingalien European modernist art styles.(8) It was so, since indigenous ideology raised questions aboutwestern orientation as being derivative, and provoked doubts about authenticity and questions of nationalcultural identity.
The manifesto of the group 1890 declares a frontal rejection of western values in art, both ofrealism/naturalism as well as the formalist-modern internationalism. It furthermore rejects Raja RaviVarma as well as Bengal Revivalism.(9) As a polemicist writer, Swaminathan set-out an indigenistideological position, voicing a political resistance from the premise of a third world nation against theimperialist affluent West. However, the alternative that was sought privileged certain autonomy for artistsand art and declared that art for us, is not born out of a preoccupation with the human condition. we do
not sing of man, nor are his messiahs. the function of art is not to interpret and annotate, comprehendand guide It further asserts that a work of art is neither representational nor abstract, figurative or
non-figurative. it is unique and significant unto itself, palpable in its reality and generating its own life.(10) Placing the work of art on an elevated space above and asserting that creative process has its own
volition and genesis, which does not conform to anticipation by man,(11) Swaminathan evokes the
transcendentalan ideological premise aptly illustrating more than anything else his own individualsolipsistic search. At best, 1890 exhibition lent a platform for the young Baroda artists who come under itto make an entry into the art scene.(12)
The art development in Baroda, however, through the late 1960s and 1970s displays a completelydifferent direction unlike the autonomy polemic and transcendental assertion of the 1890 manifesto. Itgrew predominantly preoccupied with figuration, history and representation of locale in particular. Suchtrends are manifest in journals such as Vrischik,(13) the exhibition catalogue New Contemporaries (1978)(14) and paintings of Bhupen Khakhar and Gulammohammed Sheikh. It is in the exhibition cataloguePlace for People that these new concerns were most powerfully articulated. Here, one is confronted withan argument that calls attention to a partisan position in relation to figurative narration in art and thepossibilities of searching for history within narrative traditions.
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The Place for People catalogue essay pointedly rejects the autonomy argument in general, keeps themodern western figuration in its heart and evokes legitimacy from the pre-modern Indian figurativetradition, and it is more than obvious that this avant-garde was a critical rejection of the transcendentalaesthetics proposed by the 1890 catalogue. It is also made evident that the designation of radicalism isdeployed against the Greenbergian formalist avant-garde and the term is defined as the most advanced
view of change along democratic lines, for to let people come back into the pictures and tell their storiesmust indeed merit the name of radicalism. (15) Further, radicalism has been equated with a kind ofsocial art having objective partisanship with the dispossessed subjects and confirming the possibility
of praxis. (16)
The most significant problem of the suggested praxis however lay in the manner in which criticalquestions of the social and political aspect of practice as such were overlooked; in fact, the concern herewas merely in the endorsement of syncretic languages and their narrative content.
It is precisely this aspect of the Place for People and of the figurative-narrative school that the Questionand Dialogue manifesto rejected; the Radical collective yearned for a praxis based on liberation from theexisting elite art production and viewing system. Stressing the demand for uncompromising
consciousness of nationhood through which an artist can speak to his people and at the same time standin the world arena shoulder to shoulder with the community of universal human and artistic truths, themanifesto categorically points out that Indian nationalism under the Congress leadership was fatally
attached to the limited perspective of gaining independence and preserving it; which fails to fully
undertake the process of de-colonisation and radical independent modernisation.(17) Pointing out thefascist tendencies of the majority and the hook up to the diabolic mechanisms of global capitalism, themanifesto locates aspects of modern art practice as reflecting these. Rejecting tendencies fromRevivalism as does the 1890 manifesto but also critiquing the art of the immediate postmodernist artproductions for the avoidance of any serious examination of politics of visual culture and content, theQuestion and Dialogue manifestos critical stand in conjunction with its nascent desire and search foralternative practices through art is an exceptional moment in modern Indian history.
The Radical Collective:
Through the 1950s till 1980s the progressive/modernist art scenario Kerala was determined by theextensions of the school specific discourses and styles of Madras-Cholamandal, and based itself onregionalism and identity questions that were resolved in terms of nativism. Popularized throughpublications in periodicals, K.C.S. Panikers paintings had been a virtual presence, so also the illustrationsfor fictions and poems in the periodicals by M.V. Devan, K.M. Vasudevan Namboodiri and A.S. Nayar.Particularly noteworthy are also the activities around Kerala Institute of Arts/Kerala Kala Peedhom inErnakulam, started in 1969, with M.V. Devan as Director, which taught short term evening classes andorganized art related activities. These initiatives indicate the sustained presence of art making and viewingon modernist lines in the region.
Completing his studies initially in Madras and later at Slade School, London, under Reg Butler, KanaiKunhiramans first open-air/public sculpture of 1969, in Malampuza, Kerala, titled Yakshi, with itsenormous scale, and more importantly, the challenge that it posed with regard to the moral-sexual valuesof society was quite a different viewing experience in Kerala that was conditioned by the mythicalnarratives of Raja Ravi Varma and by the all-too-decorative and craft-oriented Madras-Cholamandaloffshoots. The nude Yakshi gestured liberation through a violent sexual upsurge, and a few other worksin the similar direction that followed from the sculptor inadvertently smuggled in the much undervaluedpopular language, signaling a shift-over. Through the 1970s Kunhiraman did many public sculptures,and in the late 1976 was appointed as Head of the Sculpture Department at the newly formed College ofArt (the School of Art, until 1975) in Trivandrum. Important members of the Radical group, such as K.P.Krishnakumar, Alex Mathew and K.M. Madhusudhanan were students in the first batch.
The groups initial coming together was in the Trivandrum College. In the context of the violent studentstrike in 1977 that demanded adequate educational facilities and the necessary infrastructure, including
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teachers and studio facilities led to a systematic crackdown by the Achutha Menon government. Attemptsin politicising the students strike; in the sense, to be taken over by the leadership of CPI (M)-affiliatedStudents Federation of India, or various Naxalite groups were being discussed upon. Located within thecontext of highly agitated political climate of the post-Emergency times in Kerala,(18) gathering adirection towards making revolutionary art is elaborated upon in the write-up published during the
Calicut exhibition.(19) Briefly it reads thus: In a situation where the protest strikes and policeinterventions had become regular feature, alternative possibilities of learning art was sought. The lack ofguidance and the disruption of the regular teaching had left us in search of possibilities through reading,looking, thinking and interacting with each other. The discovery of great figures of the world art whohave meaningfully responded to their respective socio-political situations, like Goya, Picasso, the Mexicanmuralists, Daumier and Hogarth, gave scope for us to expand our visual sensibilities. It is on the basis ofthis exposure to world art, that our attitude against decadence in art and resistance to it began to evolve.
The protest strikes which began as a demand for adequate facilities thus led into a search for a newrevolutionary art movement in the contemporary Indian context. Posters were made in the context of theprotest strikes, and the 1980 poster exhibition at Ernakulam, according to the group was an attempt inthis direction while also directed towards questioning the hypocritical attitude and the retrograde visual
consciousness which Lalit Kala Akademi physically represented. It is mentioned in the 1989 Calicut writeup that a new direction of forming a movement was evolving as a result of the interactions with thepeople who came to see the exhibition.
In 1980s and the years that followed, of the initial batches of students who passed out from the College,many continued their post-graduate studies in Baroda and Santiniketan. K.P. Krishnakumar was inSantiniketan, Alex Mathew, Pushkin E.H, and K.M. Madhusudhan came to Baroda. K. Prabhakaran andAnoop B were in Baroda already, later joined the group. Subsequently, graduates from the later batches ofstudents from Trivandrum College, who came to study at Baroda, V.N. Jyothi Basu, T.K. Hareendran, K.Raghunathan and D. Alexander, were also inducted into the Collective. Rest of the group members, C.Pradeep, C.K. Rajan and K.R. Karunakaran stayed back in Kerala. Anita Dube, the only female memberand non-Malayali in the collective, and the one who was prominently a critical voice was pursuing a
postgraduate degree in Art Criticism from the Faculty of Fine Arts, Baroda. At that time (1983) some ofthe members who were to be part of the group; Krishnakumar, Alex Mathew and Madhusudhan wereworking at the newly formed Kanoria Centre of Art at Ahmedabad on fellowships. This they left shortly,along with others like Ashokan Poduval and N.N. Rimzon, protesting against the management. Dube hadalready identified and played a key role in articulating the ideological and collective quest of the then notso well defined group. The comradeship grew with the writing of the catalogue article for the exhibitiontitled Seven Young Sculptors organized by Kasauli Art Centre, New Delhi, during October-November1985 at New Delhi, which however had only Krishnakumar and Alex Mathew from among the yet to beformed group. This particular exhibition and the previously held young sculptors camp (October 1984) atKasauli Art Centre, and another art camp at Goa (May 1985) had been significant, since, the intenseinteraction and polemic debates had been gaining momentum towards the need for a more specifically
defined ideological vantage which grounded the need for a radical artists collective.
Krishnakumar had been the moving spirit in arriving at the decision of forming a collective and the years1986 and 1987 had been the most eventful for the formation of the group. Significant in the context isthe painting camp held in 1983 at Vettukadu villageliving and working among fisherfolks, organized bya private sector organization (Programme for Community Organization Centrea group of LiberationTheology activists) and attracting participation by the students of the Trivandrum College; Alexander,Hareendran, C.K. Rajan, Pradeep, Raghunathan (briefly) and Jyothi Basu. Transformed by theparticipants, the camp led to exhibitions at the University Students Centre, Trivandrum and later in
Belgium during 1984. Apart from that these younger painters were inducted into the group, moreimportantly the camp was to great extent inspirational for the group in planning their future activities inKerala.(20) Meanwhile, following the Seven Young Sculptors show, at the initiative of Krishnakumar, the
then still burgeoning and inconclusive group cancelled the group show that was offered by Art Heritage,New Delhi which was to be curated by R. Nandakumar, because many who were to be included in show
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felt that they were still searching for a possibility of a radical practice that could translate their ideology, amore urgent task than the showing of their works in a commercial gallery.
The formation of the group with a specific ideological viewpoint and definite group members took placein Baroda with the exhibition titled Questions and Dialogue at the Faculty of Fine Arts, during March1987. The exhibition and the accompanying manifesto, written by Anita Dube, and the posters whichwere put up in the campus gave rise to unease and debate at the open discussion during the show. Theaggressive self-conscious radical polemic of the group that came though in the booklet Questions andDialogue had questioned the insincere social commitment of the narrative-figurative artists, reactionaryrevivalist ideology and in general everything about mainstream art and politics in contemporary Indian art.
Another major declaration which was made public at this discussion was the decision of the group to shiftits arena of action from Baroda to Kerala. The group decided to function from Kerala as its centre ofaction because there could be a possibility of empathy, affiliation, support and space for gathering greaterpolitical edge. The next exhibition of the group was at Calicut during February 1989. In this, they alsonamed themselves as Indian Radical Painters and Sculptors Association. The write up published at thisoccasion dealt with the group's interpretation of modern Indian art history, retrogressive artistic values
propagated by the bourgeois, the need for a proletarian art movement and a short outline of the historyof the formation of the group. The Calicut show was also marked by lectures and discussions and wasviewed by a large number of people.
Soon after this the group put up a demonstration against the Timeless Art Exhibition and auction by theSotheby at Bombays Victoria Terminus platform, and brought out a pamphlet scathingly criticizing thecommercialization of art and artists. The sharply critical write-up titled Against Imperialist Exploitation ofArt, articulated a strong protest against the thirty-five artists who participated in the exhibition andcondemned the imperialists and their agents for victimizing the artists for the cause of big money. Toquote from the write-up, "The Times of India's sudden interest in Indian Art and Culture now shows thatthe Imperialists want to completely poison the people's mind and life through antihuman projects forartists. These, are antihuman because with big money they can buy artists and art critics and make them
their slaves. The thirty-five artists who are not afraid to sell themselves to the agents of Imperialism don'tknow that art is not the private property of the mind but the spirit of the whole country". Further,pointing out the imperialist programme to make India 'Timeless', which was also the "Colonialist strategyto see everything as, 'timeless', and now the Indian ruling classes see their country with the same eyes."Great art according to the group is produced when historical crisis pushes art into crucial moments inhistory. Through auctions, bourgeois capital controls and changes this history into a commodityaccording to its taste. Referring to the century old fight of the Indian people against the colonial masters;the group declared that those artists who deny this fact are "criminals and enemies of the people." (21)
The vehement anger of the group against the imperialist exploitation and vulgarization of art and artistsoccurred precisely at a time when a certain serious crisis had manifested within the group itself. Theconflict between the theoretical ideas and the demands made by the practical circumstances is exemplifiedwithin the group itself. The instance of the participation of Alex Mathew in the Timeless Art exhibitionwas symptomatic of the contradictions and was set within the crisis of the group in holding together. Thelatest in the activity of the groups was an exhibition and workshop during December 1989 at Trichur. Theconflicts and polemic debates within the group, which were not only regarding the major issues of radicalfunctioning, but also other emotionally disturbing events, which possibly grew greater and intense all of asudden which also appear to be one of the reasons for Krishnakumar's suicide.
Radical Art: K.P. Krishnakumar
The Radical movement did not have an agenda for a singular language/content for its artists. However, ifthere was a unifying factor, it was located within the varied expressionist-realist choices in figuration.Dube has defined this as personalized realism in another context.(22) The emotional content in eachindividual instance had a specific temper, which determined the particular interrelationship of the imagerywith (art) historical context. The choice of specific sources drawn from the world of art and life was
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determined broadly by the emotional and ideological premise and location; and this filter was made up ofaffirmative concern and faith in the human being.
Undoubtedly, it was Krishnakumar who was the most vibrant and the most active organizer of the group.Apart from the fact that his dynamic and acutely subversive personality brought the group memberstogether, his confrontational personae and the vanguard spirit, held out in artistic terms as well. Headdressed contemporary Indian art and ideology from the position of Radical political praxis, interrogatedthe political in practice and from the stand-point of marginality and problematized art making in a radicalmanner. His subversiveness can be located in terms of the deliberateness in attempting to destabilize theestablished conventions, the very unease and corruption of the sensibilities that his art creates. Overtsubversiveness is one of his characteristic features, and non-conformism coincides.
Krishnakumar gathers an artistic strategy through the genre of portraiture; at times lending expressionisticrevivals (portraits of revolutionary poet Vayalar, and the most powerful Indian sculptor of twentiethcentury Ramkiker Baij or by putting upside down the iconic historic persona; Rabindranath Tagore andVasco da Gamaa representation of the tragedy of the heroic colonizer and the cultural patriarch. Heworks through the category of tragedy making it double edged; of individualized historical persona on onehand while representing the view of colonized subjects, thus gesturing towards social tragedy. One of hisvery last sculptures; a diminutive, shrunken and tragic Boat Man obliquely gestures towards of anabsurdity of the posturing self; to me it gestures towards a historical auto-criticism that re-engagesthrough the deconstructed historic icons.
Krishnakumar questioned the notion of art making as object making through the playing out a crisis inExpressionism as such. His denial of Expressionism as a pure, unproblematic mode was significantly self-conscious as he performatively engaged in radical arbitrariness and unfinished-ness. While this is a generaltendency in his works, in The Car he doubly objectifies the commodity car and the desire for it. He onone hand makes the object of desire monstrous and on the other mocks the sacrosanct value of the
material marble as such by painting it with enamel colors. The toy car that is super imposed by two handsand painted in bright enamel colors (red and black) further exemplifies such a dialectic. The sculptureembodies an act of violation of the notions of the sacramental values associated with the material. A carin marble itself could be read as an attempt at subverting the prevailing market oriented trends of creatingsensuous and lyrical qualities with this material. Painting it with enamel colors further attempts at de-commodifying/de-objectifying the object; as Gilles Deleuze says "objects are sensory reality reduced tocurrency, wealth or money". (23) This subversive act, on the other end positively manifests as aninclination towards Constructivism, and the creative possibilities that its objectivity lends. In fact, heworked with the problem of having to make an art object and having to destroy it, thereby making boththe production and consumption of art a radical problematic.
The vigorously modeled figurative images of young men particularly, appear to be the images of the
artist's own self. Surging with strength and structural sturdity these sculptures are potent signifiers. Thetriumph of 'Eros' over the 'Thanatos' is metaphorically enacted. This is imprinted in the overall schema ofthe work, in the method of the working process itself. Sculptures such as Young Man Listening, or that ofVasco de Gama use unconventional materials like cloth stretched over wire armature, strengthened withresin in combination with plaster and fiberglass, which again meant a conscious deviation from thenotion of an organic relationship with material and the stylistic continuity as sacred values. (24)
Krishnakumar surely imagined a language; a languages of indeterminate ambivalence. It is throughprovocative images that he primarily worked through his commitments and concerns. Through defyingcategories as such, and through anarchy Krishnakumar violated the established conventions of sculpturemaking. By working through macho sexual assertions of masculinity in a unique way, he translated hispolitical concerns much in the manner delineated by Michel Foucault in another context: Sexuality is apart of our behavior. It is part of our world freedom It is our own creation, and much more than thediscovery of a secret side of our desire Sex is not a fatality; it is a possibility for creative life. (25) The
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performative aspect of Krishnakumars masculinity, I would like to argue is not phallocentric romanticism
towards itself, but is a provocative, strategic assertion against patriarchal authoritarianism.
A Point in Conclusion: A Need for Decentring
Often, elite discourses on heteromorphic art and art movements hold the power to employ a double
maneuver. Either it would use a most potential tool of appropriation of difference and subsume it intoother larger discourses, or through a process of disparagement would dismiss them as inconsequential.Indeed, in a conclusion indicative of such a scheme of the mainstream art history writing, Kapur suggeststhat the tragic history of the collective, particularly the suicide of Krishnakumars, signals the desperation
- political, existential and economic - in producing art in our times. (26) Ashish Rajadhyaksha feelsuncomfortable with the groups stand of effectively assigning to the nations nationalist bourgeoisie acolonial identity, which therefore provided no useful precedents to the practice, the Kerala Radicals
vanguardism necessarily crisscrossed with a by then backdated High Modern purpose (27) Thisposition is effectively echoed in Geeta Kapurs assessment of the collective.
Quoting Rajadhyaksha, Kapur poses the problem thus: the terms of both individual action andcollective struggle, and the invoking of the grand discourse had come to mean a certain very definitething locally. The idea of belonging now came inextricably to be linked to the image of exile While on
one hand this provided an apparently moral high ground from where to reject all other forms of identity,on the otherand more painfullyit also posed the problem of how to inhabit the condition of exile.(28) Rajadhyaksha extends the argument further to propose that it was the condition of exile in thefinal analysis may be viewed as the groupsmost significant contribution(29), while glossing over thetheoretical value of the Collectives re-imagining of the national modern in the context of art practice asthe savaging of the National Instead, he quickly refers to Vettukad workshop involving thecommunity of fishing-folk possibly as an example of alternative possibility of art practice.(30)
Although Rajadhyaksha does not centrally address the issue of the local vis--vis the national ormarginal/subaltern vis--vis mainstream in the context of Radical collective, Kapurs theorizing of the
dynamics of these categories does provoke further thinking. Referring to the premature death offilmmaker John Abraham and Krishnakumar, and through quoting Frederic Jameson she asserts thevalidity of the paradigm of national allegory in the context of the Third World. The condition of exile, theperception that the Collective rejected all other forms of identity from a somewhat simplistic moral highground that played itself out as their tragic history attributed by Kapur and Rjadhyaksha to the group arein fact results of looking from above, from the framework of elitist historiography. True that nihilism andcynicism was indeed legitimately a facet of Radical thought, and certainly, one cannot simply dismiss theirvoice that destabilized the elite mainstreamon the contrary, rather than accepting the aura of exile theyimagined art practice within community. They, in fact, rejected the elite identity, but not all otheridentities. Indeed, one can invoke tragedy in the context of the Radical movement only in that sense thatthe elite sphere of art and art institutions, symptomatic of the times, could hardly contain or support whatthey stood for.
There is no doubt that nations elite mainstream is a homogenizing machine, along with it, it holds asystem of exclusion, repression and suppression, or otherwise it tries to tame the seemingly untamableunder its hegemonic systemic discourses. Kapur marks out and claims a grand tradition; the very canonmaking relevant to modern Indian art within the aspirations of a secular nation, thus making it also self-evident and naturalized. A bit of decentring would be productive, particularly while understanding thehistorical aspirations of the Radical collective that emerges from the margins and for indeed it did aspirefor an embedded-ness within people at large. I will argue that even if confused or rudimentary, theRadicals in fact had a different view of history and a different vision about practicing as artists, which didnot fall in line within the scheme of the accepted norms of the national mainstream. Their imaginationsof institutions, opinions and yearning for a practice were profoundly different.
If the historian applies certain presupposed expectations upon what Radical artists were tried to undertakeas their mission, one would loose sight. For instance Rajadhyaksha while discussing the Questions and
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Dialogue exhibition notes that the show hardly presented unfamiliar art, especially in the painting, whichappeared to betray the shows manifesto statement attacking narration as succumbing to popular
rhetoric. (31) Notwithstanding the fact that the group in no way was yearning to devise any particularstyle-language-content formula, the authors shabby connotation of the category of Expressionism in noway was either understood as a negative category by the group, or was there any compulsion for them to
have experienced it as narrowly dawned upon them through Timothy Hyman.(32) The problem in allthese assertions is that the critic is trying to superimpose and judge through preconceived notions andexpectations derived of the canons based on national or international parameters and paradigms.
In fact what emerges from certain specific local dynamics can not be easily reduced to fit neatly into thenationally established canons, and yet, the need for a collusion of the local into the national is the need ofthe elite mainstream, and its assertion of authority.
* The article was written as part of a book project to be published at the time of the traveling artexhibition Double Enders curated by Krishnamachari Bose.
1.A. Macintyre, Against the Self Images of the Age, London, 1971, p.86.
2.A. Macintyre, Marcuse, London and New York, 1970, pp.36-37. The discussion with reference toTrotsky. Above quotations from Harold Entwistle, Antonio Gramsci, London, 1974, p.10.
3.See the chapter titled The Last Decade, Gulammohammed Sheikh (ed.), Contemporary Art in Baroda,Tulika, New Delhi, 1997, pp. 211-265. The book is exemplary as a case of writing art history of a specificlocale; its concern particularly centres on the development of art at the Faculty of Fine Arts of M.S.University of Baroda, in which the Radical collectives ideology and art in the context of theircontemporaries is discussed. Geeta Kapur has discussed the Radical collectives initiatives in varied
interrelated contexts such as national/local modernism, interventional strategies in thepostmodern/postcolonial/avant-garde, radical-nihilist politics and exile, radical interrogation of politicaland aesthetic issues in relation to K.P. Krishnakumars sculptures and in the context of the renewal of theidea of group projects since 1990s; see When Was Modernism, Tulika Books, New Delhi, 2000, pp. 292,318, 343, 394, 404-405. For an earlier descriptive documentation of the group see Shivaji K Panikkar,Indian Radical Painters and Sculptors Association: The Crisis of Political Art in Contemporary India, in
Creative Arts in Modern India, ed. Ratan Parimoo & Indramohan Sharma, Books & books, New Delhi,1995, pp 605-627.
4.Gulammohammed Sheikh, (ed.), Contemporary Art in Baroda, p. 241.
5.Ibid. p. 241.
6.Unlike a number of other groups of artists who came together to exhibit together since 1940s in the
Indian art scene, with the exception of very few other cases, these three documents show systematiceffort in articulating politico-cultural ideology that was the basis of the exhibitions.
7. For a detailed narrative see Nilima Sheikh, A Post-Independence Initiative in Art, in GulammohammedSheikh, op.cit. pp. 15 to 53.
8.The quest for a relevant art that could reflect the national identity was a nation wide occurrence seenmanifested in all most all the art centers in the 1960s and 70s.
9. To quote from the manifesto, from its early beginnings in the pastoral idealism of the Bengal School
and the vulgar naturalism of Raja Ravi Varma, down through the hybrid mannerisms resulting from theimposition of concepts evolved by successive movements in modern European art, modern Indian art
by and large has been inhibited by the self-defeating purposiveness of its attempts at establishing anidentity. n.p.
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12.The group among its twelve members included six Baroda based young and up-coming artists JeramPatel, Himmat Shah, Gulammohammed Sheikh, Jyoti Bhatt, Raghav Kaneria and Balakrishna Patel.
13.This art journal from Baroda was published between 1969 and 1973, co-edited by GM Sheikh and B.Khakhar.
14.The essay by Gulammohammed Sheikh definitively displays a distinct reconciliation with the west anda considered understanding, unlike the rejection of it in the 1890 Manifesto. To quote, Any discussion of
contemporary art would make it necessary to refer to movements of modern art in the West. Although itsimpact on certain phases of modern Indian art had been crucial, it was largely catalytic rather thandecisive.
15.Geeta Kapur, Place for People, Exhibition catalogue article, At Jahangir Art Gallery, Bombay, 9thNov. -15th Nov., 1981, and Rabindrabhavan, New Delhi, 21st3rd Dec. 1981.
16.Geeta Kapur, Contemporary Indian Art, An exhibition of the Festival of India, 1982, The RoyalAcademy of Arts, London. The author points out that political art in our times has few options outsidethe allegorical and further clarifies the point by saying that allegory allows quotations from disparate
traditions which provide a transcendent force which equals political options. She further discusses
Vivan Sundarams matching aesthetics and didactic impulse with romance and praxis and SudhirPatwardhans attempt at capturing the inter-subjectivity of the working-class in his painting. Theseattempts are attributed as the basic radical step which may lead to social transformation. p.8.
17.Anita Dube, Questions and Dialogue, Exhibition catalogue article, At Faculty of Fine Arts, Baroda,March, 1987.
18.Kerala in the late 1960s and early 70s saw the Naxalite actions inspired by Charu Mazumdar wherehis theoretical conclusions were literally put into practice, that virtually shook the State with terror.Among the youth the ideology of Marxist-Leninist-Maoist faction gained ground, which led to theunleashing a massive manhunt by the State. The troubled times of acute unemployment, factional feudswithin political parties, corruption in bureaucracy, loss of credibility of parliamentary political system,accumulation of black money was toped by the Emergency; frustration and disillusionment was much inthe air. Ridden with angst and alienation, literature, cinema and theatre were largely deemed inexistentialism. However, significant political directions were sought by a few; Pattathuvila Karunakaran,M. Sukumaran, Kadammanitta Ramakrishnan, Satchidanandan, V.K.N and others. Through littlemagazines, unrest and dissent; the counter culture began gaining greater grounds. During and after
emergency, the image of the artist as outsider-rebel did gain greater credibility; politically motivatedradical-cultural consciousness was influential particularly with regard to the student community, especiallythrough the cultural activism of organizations such as Samskarika Vedi. It is also noteworthy that manyLatin American and African writers were read widely. Fervor and passion of the period is thusunprecedented, which to my mind is important in understanding the Radical collectives aspirations.
19.The catalogue article in Malayalam titled Pratiloma Drishyabodhathinetire (Against Retrograde VisualConsciousness), Calicut, February 1989.
20.On their return in the following year to Trivandrum, Krishnakumar along with Alex Mathew and AnitaDube saw the paintings and were enthusiastic and inspired.
21.Against Imperialist Exploitation of Art, Indian Radical Painters and Sculptors Association, 10 March,1989.
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22.Anita Dube, Seven Young Sculptors, Exhibition Catalogue Article, At Rabindra Bhavan, New Delhi30th Oct.13th Nov. 1985), n.p.
23.Alphonso Lingis, Deleuze on a Deserted Island, in Hugh J. Silverman (ed.), Philosophy and Non-Philosophy since Merleau Ponty (Continental Philosophy 1). 1988, Routledge, New York and London.p.158.
24.Anita Dube, Seven Young Sculptors, 1985.
25.Altered States: Creativity Under the Influence, James Huges, the Ivy Press limited, 1999, p. 147.
26.Geeta Kapur, When Was Modernism, Tulika Books, New Delhi, 2000, p. 343.
27. Gulammohammed Sheikh (ed.), Contemporary Art in Baroda, Tulika, New Delhi, 1997, p. 258.Quoted by Geeta Kapur, Ibid, p. 343.
28.Gulammohammed Sheikh (ed.), Contemporary Art in Baroda, Tulika, New Delhi, 1997, p. 248.
29.Ashish Rajadhyaksha, Ibid. p.248.30.Ibid. p. 256.
31.Ibid. p. 256.
32.Ibid. pp. 253 and 256.