view EYE'S RECAST
My real source material stems from my own experience, unsung and yet to be documented, let alone understood. Hence I choose this medium. My pictorial idiom draws its energy from the anguish of untouchables, from the plight of Devdasi and her kin-people i.e. the Jogtins, Jogtas, Zhulvas, Potrajs. My idiom also draws upon the tribulations of minorities in Indian society. I stand firmly by social justice and a just attitude towards the first settlers of this land.
My thematic concern in plastic art is Non-Brahmnical Aesthetics, which has been interrogated in the literature of the down-trodden but is obscured in other privileged art forms. Thus in plastic art, the medium is different but the subject is the same. I wish to portray a social reality which is different from that of Varna system fabricated by Manu and Chanakya and sanctioned by the Vedas and Puranas. I consider the Mauryan period, and not the Gupta period, as the 'golden age' of Indian history. The Mauryan period has its own aesthetics and concept of beauty shaped by a social structure when untouchability was not yet rampant. Gupta period, on the other hand, was stifled by Brahmnical aesthetics.
There has been much din and bustle about class struggle among leftists and rightists, but few talk about caste struggle. There are important questions on this subject - who created the minorities? Was Partition fruitful? What have the upper castes done for untouchables and the Devdasis? Only that art which lends voice to the devoiced and speech to the muted needs to be inscribed in the collective mind.
For the last 15 years I have been working in the field of plastic arts. My personal experience as a downtrodden painter is that there are few takers among Brahmnical intelligentsia for my kind of art. I am creating my own visual grammar which will bring a new dimension to pictorial language. I love Buddhist art, philosophy and spirituality which, to me, is appealing and healing to both head and heart. In Buddha, I see a great teacher unsurpassed by any other. The images of Buddha erected in the slums bring healing, understanding and enlightenment to backward classes and castes. My perception of Buddha is not Buddha with closed eyes, in a seated posture. Instead, I see Buddha as open-eyed, moving from door-to-door, spreading wisdom and compassion and bringing enlightenment once again to everyone.
My language demands guts and gumption. That is why my subject sources and source materials are excavated from within my society's womb. My personal experience of Brahmin society also provides the matrix for my paintings.
Despite several years of cultural transformation, it has been very difficult to remove the casteist point of view, especially from Brahmin eyes. Dr. Ambedkar said that, to have self-respect, one must change one's religion because according to him, "Man is not for religion, religion is for man." He also said, "Mere physical freedom is of no use. Freedom of mind, is of prime importance." Conversion was the only path left to the deprived society to liberate themselves from social oppression over the centuries and create a castless society. The untouchables, both during Buddha's period and the modern period, have taken to Buddhism because it has a great capacity to dispel caste system from India. Buddhism is once again returning to its birthplace after Dr. Ambedkar embraced Buddhism. The untouchable mother is giving birth to Neo-Buddhists.
The social matrix which gives birth to the artist is very important. I have been influenced by the environmental aesthetics of the society to which I belong. For instance, wherever you find statues of Buddha and Dr. Ambedkar you shall realise that both statues depict the identity of the untouchable society and these statues underline the significance of these two great social reformers as teachers of the society. Their posture is often that of a walking man and, on the pedestal, one finds Ashoka-Chakra, which has a symbolic significance. This kind of environment has its own identity as well as an environment of aesthetics.
My art and ideas constitute a different collective Dalit-specific approach to religion in Indian society. It is tempting for me to launch a revolution against Brahmnical aesthetics. I paint common subjects: walking on the road in the dark, footprints on the road, untouchable embracing Buddhism, Devdasis in a red light area and the like.
I am trying to make sense of the angst of my community in the contemporary world of immense uncertainties and discredited hopes. My inner eye blazes as it sees the glowing foot steps of practitioners of art imbued with the unique Buddhist vision of Great Compassion – the foot steps of great Buddhist artists like Ashwaghosha, Sri Harsha, Issa, Seshu and philosophers like Nagarjuna, Shantideva, Vasubandhu, Vimalkirti, and Milarepa.