19 Jun

Trenton Art Fair Shooting and my Otherness

It saddens me to think that art lovers had to pay for their enthusiasm by being shot at with “22 injured, I dead” at the Art All Night Festival.  Today, Majority of the practicing artists are resigned to the fact that staying relevant is a challenge they need to cope with while expecting absolutely nothing by way of financial remuneration from the practice itself.  With this shoot out, it would appear as though their lives could be at stake, given that most of the art events are held in order to activate the depressed parts of the state.

Dilemma of Durga, oil on canvas

Dilemma of Durga, oil on canvas

Even though I have always practiced some form of art all my life it wasn’t until much later  that I embarked on a carrier path in the arts.  Hence, I retained some unfounded beliefs about artists being free spirited, friendly and embracing.  Starting out in New Jersey my first break came from Robyn Tremor the director at the Contemporary Art Center in Bedminster where I had my first solo show on Symbolism in Indian Mythology.  I remembered being shocked to learn a few days before the show commenced, that someone had punctured with a knife, one of my large oil paintings titled, “The Dilemma of Durga”.  The Center was just as shocked and had the piece restored.

I continued with my pursuit of the arts starting with the home state of NJ making absolutely no headway until my very first success at the Torpedo Art Factory, 2011 in the state of Virginia.  At the opening reception, the appreciation and attention that my work got was quite overwhelming!  Equally overwhelming was the level of work done by the rest of the participating artists.  For the first time I wondered why I never had success in my home state prior to this?!  Would it be relevant to mention that Robyn Tremor at Contemporary Art Center was originally from Brooklyn and not NJ?

Eventually I had my work exhibit in museums and galleries in many states and countries.  Boosted by relative success in other places, I tried once again in my home state of NJ.  This time I made it at a juried exhibit at New Jersey Artists Guild in Rahway and the Newark Museum.  In my enthusiasm to get to know the rest of the exhibiting artists at the AGNJ, I remember forgetting to take a photo of my own work in the gallery.  I took pictures of all the participating artists and found it fascinating to hear about their practice.  Despite the fact that much of the conversation was initiated by me, I was optimistic about finding my own tribe close to home!

On the Receiving End of my Otherness

Back to the shootout in Trenton at the art festival, as unfortunate as it is, makes me revisit the karma of the organizers of the festival.  It was there that I first encountered extreme racism when I was given a part of their gallery space to organize a show for SIPMA Contemporary.  Long story short, an old friend now a partner at a law firm in Manhattan intervened when the gallery would not respect the contract that was signed and threatened not to release works of participating artists in their intent to hurt the reputation of the organizers at SIPMA Contemporary.  And that’s not where it ends.  The year after in 2017, when we organized a show at the Printmaking Center of New Jersey, the Trenton Gallery got their artists to gang up and make spurious phone calls to NJPC spreading false and harmful rumor about SIPMA, and all because I was their primary contact, and my face was brown.  The deep divide among the people of NJ and other parts of the country, makes artists suffer and defeats the purpose of art itself.  My hope is that if there is a single purpose to this financially decrepit pursuit, that is art, it will be that of inclusion.


07 Jun

Natraaj, Tallur and the Cosmic Soup

L. N. Tallur's work at the Armory Art Fair 2014

L. N. Tallur’s work at the Armory Art Fair 2014




There has been much uproar of late about the exclusion of some of L.N. Tallur’s works from ‘India and the World: A History in Nine Stories’ an exhibition currently going on at the National Museum.  Much to the outrage of the arts community, the censorship by the Director General of the National Museum appeared to be on grounds that the depiction of Natraaj was in some way trivialized.

How Tallur and I once crossed paths

The ubiquitous image of Natraaj, the cosmic dance of Shiva

The ubiquitous image of Natraaj, the cosmic dance of Shiva

Quite possibly before 2014, when he first exhibited at Jack Shainmann in Chelsea, a short walk away from my work at the time.   Since I had obligations to fulfill that evening I stepped out at lunch to take a peek at the exhibit which was due to open that evening.  Having learnt that there were more of his works being shown at the other location of the gallery a few blocks down, I set out to see if I could make it to the new location before having to head back to work, just when I stumbled into an apparently sleep deprived Tallur who invited me to his opening in a soft spoken polite tone.  Even though I was unable to attend that evening, the works I saw stayed with me and upon encountering them once again at the 2014 armory, I had to do a selfie with it, well not quite, as I hadn’t as yet  mastered the skill of taking effective selfies, had to ask someone else.

Who is Natraaj

The image of Natraaj or Shiva engaged in the cosmic dance inside a ring of fire atop a dwarf who represents ignorance and epilepsy.  The image is that of tolerance above all else as it has a place for ignorance in the midst of the ultimate quest for creation and liberation.  As ubiquitous as the original image might be, it has always been open to interpretation as all symbology is.  My own take, Algorhythm and Cosmic Dance, veered from the original to a degree.

The idea of the show was jointly conceptualized by the former director of the British Museum, Neil MacGregor, and Sabyasachi Mukherjee, the director general of the CSMVS was to present the journey of Indian art and culture in a global context by presenting it with collections from the British Museum and other private collectors.  In Mr. Mukherjee’s opinion about Tallur’s excluded piece, “It may be a significant art work by the artist but in the context of history and culture, it is against the depiction of Nataraja.”

Instead of adding my own rant to the disappointment on Mr. Mukherjee’s decision on the matter, let me share Fritjof Capra’s observation on the outcome of organized expression of spirituality.  The exhibit being the “organized expression” in this case and our stumbling block clearly is the inability to process a symbol for what it is rather than judging it with bias of conditioning.

According to Capra, “Spirituality is a perception of reality in a special state of consciousness and the characteristics of this experience of belonging to a larger whole, connected with everything, are independent of historical and cultural context. But then, spiritual teachers who have this experience are eager to share with others – like the Buddha sitting under the Bodhi tree…

The organized expression of spirituality is religion, which always depends on cultural and historical context. Unfortunately, religion often ossifies and the teachings are expressed as dogma; experience is replaced by faith. You have to believe; you don’t have to experience. These religions, all over the world, also align themselves with politics and very often with right-wing politics.”

The national museum as indeed are all museums, a place of education, that preserves and pioneers a culture much like the cosmic dance of Shiva if you will?  The distortion of an inspiration in its organized presentation is almost inevitable.  The mark of a progressive institution lies in recognizing ways in which the distortion may be mitigated.  with that, I’d like to recall the words of Jiddu Krishnamurti:

“NONE OF THE agonies of suppression, nor the brutal discipline of conforming to a pattern has led to truth. To come upon truth the mind must be completely free, without a spot of distortion.”