Modern Indian art has always been very hybrid in its development. The term modernity, when questioned in the contemporary Indian context, is loaded with numerous problems. Often, breaking away from tradition indicated modernity whereas modernistic principles are operated on two premises, namely - formal language of work of art and changes in the value systems. The first principle in India was followed very diligently whereas the second principle remained a very problematic paradigm. India being a caste society and operating on its hegemonic agenda found it uncomfortable to change and follow the second principle. During colonial rule, the issue of Swaraj (self-rule) was often given prime importance. The notion of self-rule was opposed to the imperial power but it hardly had any agenda to bring about any systemic changes in the Indian society as this concept of self-rule meant rule of the feudal dominations and caste hierarchy. On the other hand, the concept of Swaraj (good governance) hardly existed in the minds of caste Hindus. Nationalism was initiated during the colonial rule and had a systemic Hinduistic agenda i.e. to regroup the society so as to oppose the British rule without affecting the nature and structure of Indian society. Thus, nationalism had a dominating component in the form of Brahmnic rules and principles where articulation of a self against any oppression and inequality, civic liberties etc. had no place because the power of dominance remained in the hands of the native imperialists. Against such a situation, many who had gone to study in art-schools under the colonial rule and after independence could hardly think beyond their caste formulations and therefore, romanticisation and exoticism was added to the pictorial expressions while painting the natives and their nature of existence.
However, nature paintings/themes of paintings could never become a critic of equality and other issues as artistic creativity knew no such criteria and was functional in the larger realm of Brahmnical values. The high modernism was translated more in the themes related to the mythologies rather than in the actual society. The under-current agenda in the newly emerged industrial society where gallery space was dominated by caste preferences had become order of the day. Therefore, there was no scope for anybody to invent and articulate any high modernism that is related to, and centered around, the issues of existing situations. The overt playfulness in the abstract rendering of forms, though having a pure visual function, was practiced more in terms of an interaction with international trends. Nevertheless, metaphysical attachments to the high abstraction as a strong theoretical defense, operated in the realm of the Brahmnical aesthetics. For example, the contribution of the Janiva (conscious) mind and Neniva (subconscious mind) as part of the Indriyadnyana is an important contribution by the Buddhist philosophers Asang and Vasubandhu but never became part of the pedagogy in art schools, as there is a danger in decontrolling the power in the knowledge system. Mahatma Phule therefore said, "The shudras became vulnerable for lack of knowledge that resulted in poverty." Phule was one of the first ones to talk about power of knowledge. Such interventions could never become the part of aesthetic judgments in the hegemony of Brahmnical system of thoughts. Thus, the gallery space in a new industrial society could only think for those who could adhere to this hegemonic agenda of the Bramhnical aesthetics. Ambedkar, while presenting critique of Imperial, Brahmanical and Marxian discourses, maintained that such discourses can never allow one to think differently as they never allow one to escape of the age-old thinking, ritual practices and traditions that are grounded in inequalities and caste-hegemony. With the rise of Phule-Ambedkar movement in India, not only nationalism but the whole system was challenged on the many counts and aesthetic formulations that are being operated in the realm of Brahmnical thought process. This is being challenged by volatile imageries that address the issues of caste and gender.
Often, gender issue gets reduced to aspects of class and sex discrimination. In the Indian society, gender is more of a caste-centric issue. No painter, so far, has managed to articulate and address these twin issues of caste and gender on the canvas paintings of the gallery space. Even otherwise, as and when the pedagogic conventions in the field of social sciences are challenged by the followers of Dr. Ambedkar, the academic community in the country had to co-opt the issues in their academic training programme.
Coming back to the aesthetic formulations, it may be observed that in the realm of popular culture, the traditional Brahmnical practices are legitimized by the modern scientific principles thus making it sacred and superior. Perception, even in the 'Gallery' space in India, is defined by the caste-hegemony and it strived to maintain the Puranic-mythical traditions by innovating different modes of pictorial codes. What is shocking is that no pictorial codes are invented to problematise the issues of caste and hierarchy. 'Dalit', as known today, are the downtrodden community and they remain indebted to Phule and Ambedkar in modern India. Their pain and suffering is considerably different from others. The so-called high modernistic principle never provided any space for their existence but Dr. Ambedkar managed to create a decisive space for such a social group by his sheer intellectual power. Some managed to challenge mainstream aesthetics but Savi challenged and problematic caste and gender through his powerful pictorial signifiers that were never ever previously represented pictorially. He challenged the mainstream aesthetic practices and singularly created a space for his own language of expression. The single most important factor that made it possible for him was Ambedkarism. This was an alternative ideology to caste, religious, and cultural hegemony.
In the history of Modern Indian Art, Savindra Sawarkar is the first Dalit painter to aesthetics the Dalit pictorial signifiers and is a poignant pioneer of projecting the Dalit pain and anguish in the visual culture by using various techniques, which are unique in the Indian context. Fundamentally, his pictorial expressions are a philosophical critique of the Brahmnical tradition of caste and Chaturvarna. He is the first Indian artist to visualize the Chaturvarna through pictorial signs as a critique of caste and inequality. His exhibition, to be held in the Lalit Kala Academy Gallery, explores the range of pictorial signifiers that are volatile, sensitive, and looks beyond the traditional Brahmnical domain.
Savi, as he is popularly known, had to face the mainstream modern Indian Art and struggled to evolve a space for Dalit art and imagery in the realm of the art gallery exhibiting space. But his grit and determination meant that successfully carved out a niche for Dalit art. He helped the genre rise and this led to its recognition throughout the world especially in the continents of Europe, North America and South America.
He is the first artist in independent India to address issues of unsociability and tradition of Devadasi through the medium of painting, having highly communicative figures narrating their own existence in the Brahmnical social order. Savi's ideas emerged through the legacy of social struggle of Mahatma Phuley and Dr. Ambedkar.
Savi explored the vile tradition of Devdasi as a subject of his pictorial expression. This is a very unique achievement in the contemporary art practices. The image of Devdasi is not addressed as a sexual object to be viewed by the spectators but as a human in the pathetic caste social hierarchy.
Savi has numerous solo shows to his credits held in India and abroad. He is the only Indian painter whose painting exhibition was held through out the year in 2005-6 at various cities and art-galleries in Germany by prestigious human right organization 'Bread for World'. In the Iowa State University of USA, an exclusive painting show of his paintings and graphics was organized titled 'Savi Sawarkar and the Annihilation of Caste' in 2006. He has participated in several national and international exhibitions including National Art Exhibition by Lalit Kala Academy, New Delhi in 1982, 1985, 2004, Eighth Triennial International Art Exhibition, New Delhi 1991, Exhibition of Indian Painters by Casa Borda, Taxco, Mexico 2002, Exhibition of Painting organized by Mittal Steel in Lazaro Cardenaz, Mexico, Asian Social Forum Hyderabad 2003, World Social Forum, Mumbai 2004, 100 Years of Indian Art by National Gallery of Modern Art, New Delhi 1994 and many more. His work is the guiding spirit for eradicating the unequal social order and he will continue to be an inspiration for the generations to come.