Three Manifestos from Modern Indian Art
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y beginnings in the pastoral idealism of the bengal school and ism of raja ravi verrna, down through the hybrid mannerisms resuli sition of concepts evolved by successive movements in mod European art on classical, miniature and folk styles to the flight into 'abstract: i the name of cosmopolitanism, tortured by memories of a glorious past born n of a sense of futility An the face of a dynamic present and the urge to catch up s 'bited by the self-defeating purposiveness of its attempts at establishing
tween representation and abstraction, between communication and expres: for, but the unfolding of personality. A work of art is neither representational nor abstract, figurative o r non-figurative. it is unique and sufficient unto itself, palpable in its reality and generating its own life. 4. The image proper in art describes itself inevitably through the creative act. It is neither the Uanslation of an experience, feeling, idea o r act nor the objective organisation of form in space. 5. T h e image proper defines its own space, deleneation, colour and composition. Any objective criteria of perspective, of harmony and dimension is unreal to it.u.,
relation to the work of art, which creates its own field of experience rience of copulation is not the same a s that of the offspring.
llusion that life can be ordained and made to flow from the image of. conform to anticipstion by m the form proper is gelleti~ally aticipated and not conceptuallY
.~Pbx? People foris not about the artists in this exhibition but it is written expressly for them,e imaginative concentration in their work.
ve about the human figure tm
% Indiin' dit. situation can now sustain a number of options which cut across t &tlonal.polarities of Indian and Western. Rather than tying ourselves in knots abo tke question of identity in these terms we should now he able to bring these new options of sensibility and ideology - into focus. ~ h e ' k u b j e c of the human image can provide th t mint for the polemic and I mean to use it, mapping traditional territory and hoping on th, ! way to overturn some of the pieties about Indian art.
TtreSuQsemacy o Nature: A False Start fIt is ironical enough that we should be inclined in India to label figurative artists as the %'este@ers' when the tradition is so positively partial to the human image -more so U factthan certain of the other oriental traditions (the Islamic and the Chinese, for example wkvdthstanding the influence of Indian Buddhism on the latter). It is true that the humas bnage iaIndjanart is placed within the vast continuum of Nature. But it is not subsumed by b e ,the human and natural worlds form a close-fitting gestalt and the imagery that consequence is over whelmingly anthropomorphic. The Indian imagination and fro mutations between the worlds of plants, animals and humans - as for ht qualify and say f attributing human hange. As no exclusive qualities are ings, as also forms. pturous aspect and quite specifically F eyes, breasts, thighs. feet).from forms in nature, while nature
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insofar a s it sustains an elaborate myth' N ' ~ A. IC System. Indian thought is imb ensuous. therefore empirical perception of th die~lY S ued with a given ence, basic to the mythic imagination, im . (the vev concept Pl'es that in the phenomenal world and that no transcendent the meaning Of the universe d@ icture), and this i s quite apart from th need be broughtinto the P 'lctthat th to Indian philosophy. In its own way, moreover even materialism as such is no alien human Presence obsesses the imagination a s much a s it d o e s the Egyptian, th Greek, and the Christian, F,, while inlndian philosophy human existence is placed within a @,,*h to cosmic f o r c e s , it is in t h e human form that the immanent of I.lfe, from vegetal of nature are maximised. h e evolution of t h e archaic Yaksha figure into the splendid iconic Presence of T the ~odhisattvaand t h e Buddha is not only an example of the morphology of form as it is usually considered, hut t h e effluence of the life-spirit. If it is argued that the yaksha and the Buddha a r e o t h e r than strictly human it should be said that this is nearly always soin lndian art. T h e o t h e r n e s s in nature o r man that sets up a series of confrontations in t h ~
Western imagination i s h e r e always incorporated into the human image.
Iconic Imagery, and ErosA in almost all ancient traditions the human image in lndian a* belongs to the hieratic sOrders. In tribal cultures such an image performs a totemic function until today. In the context of the g r e a t religions t h e hieratic image may become an icon proper, a mystical symbol. and when t h e secular world presses its claim on art expression it can take the form of ideal portraiture, T h e concept and image of Shiva have all these aspects except Perhaps the very last. ~f the bull-headed figure in the Indus valley seal is a prototype of Shiva Pashupati this is more o r less a totem form. The Maheshamudat E1ephanta'? he other hand, is the most magnificent of all icons a s also a symbol to 'Ontainthe e tradition cOsrmc so much as W a v a l of creation and destruction. One might add that Ivlaheshmur6 to eDeourage~ n exchange of virtues between the gods and Icing' ~lokiteshvara t ~ j m m , a a v&h I referred o r equally, t h e wonder full^ gracile imageO f tttedly the M O * way round to he A Be the images of thesuperlative king although this adm really develoPs the+&of ic aspect b@ the category of ideal portraiture which o& d n j a w e s which ha" "m f' the p,skrut y*lism: a s in. t h e portrait* of king6 in . . . a glimmer of iadivih~iity the team the sensuous g r a s p . ~me b~d"-~"?! IS t the body is e x e e f i e d h a t is remarkable is that even in hieratic art is realised in and cont~nuou~ the icon ms i s .%er Withheld. T h e way t h e idealit. Ofewd conto,,rs now into a af c l a d m2U beautifully in a &Ia b""@B::~emselves a 11 b y - r ~ r f a c e ,and the limbs arrang
prescribed conception formed by the touch of Eros. Now Eros, a life generating were a not only death but any effort to abstract spiritual meanings; thus however force, esoteric the iconography of Indian images, the best of them a r e fully inducted into the life-
in that it follows lhc word of the shastras. and yet it appears a s 8
this sense they overturn the hieratic injunctions while Yet maintaining their
Mythic NarrationBesides the iconic imagery a great deal of Indian art has to do with the narration of supernatural events. Because the major attribute of mythic subjects is their infinite versatility. the visual structure for mythic narration must be such a s to contain this fluid, dreamlike metamorphosis. T h e Ajanta murals, the subject-matter of which i s primarily drawn from the immanent life of the Bodhisattva achieve something like a magnificent conjuring feat: the imagery, conceived in the twilight region of fact and vision, builds up to a dense oneiric rhythm and a s the images press out from the rock-walls, filling the darkness of the vaults, one i s almost faint with the crush of the splendid phantoms.
As against this deep, swelling, nearly unstructured vision, consider the control'led surface tension in 'the rock-cut relief of the Mahishasuramardini at Mahabalipuram where the Goddess and the titan Mahisha a r e for once superbly matched. Beginning with the l i s s o w many-armed Goddess poised to shoot the arrow from an outstretched bow, lines of foice fan out in a series of arcs and it is this concentric flow of energies which i s here withstood bv Mahisha. Now, if a t the metaphysical level this i s only the apparent vortex oft i n e and action withits still centre, the Goddess, eternally intact: at the formal and possibly h i s t o r i d
any point in the interlocking pattern of the body contours ( who c a a s a y 4 k v L U the flow of energies may even b e reversed, and with that htews of as,:. . ,.
is seresi3iennt as aiso perfectly fym...
tales m Sanchi ?ndered in an eccentric =cause all manner of vlsual manipulations of figure-type and spatial relationships - are needed to accommodate entire stories into serial panels and medallions. These sculptures correspond specifP2ally to an early phase of Buddhism when it is closest to the people and infused with tkis hwnble intimacy but this narrative mode, a s such. survives throughqut the Indian art
tion. And the combination of function and whimsy, practiced a t the simple aentational level here, allours the quick transcendent element of p]ay implicit in folk to flourish alongside the grander manifestations of mythology.t this parallel tradition continues and comes right into our own times in the various
of folk and semi-urban art forms, as for example in the terracotta temples of Bengal reliefs of which have this lively hybrid quality of popular illustration. This is a quality very different from the more or less contemporary convention of Pat painting in the ;tern region. If pictorial narration takes an expressly functional form it is in these bardic 011s which pack in lofty and triv~almyths, and the entire universe in a shorthand of nial relations. There is a rough and tumble in the multitude of figures pressed up against shallow ground and the bodily expression, at once humorous and frenetic, corresponds doubt to contemporary popular theatrics. All these examples, alive in