The way back home: Will we ever be the India that was envisioned?

Through their work, five artists deliberate if we are the India that the founding fathers of our Constitution had envisioned. Read more.

Written by Vandana Kalra | Published:August 13, 2017 12:00 am
artists, independence day, independence day 2017, 70th independence day, india, india art work, constitution of india, preamble, independence art work, indian express, indian express news The eye sees objects in the manner in which the mind interprets it.

Reena Kallat Synapse, Single channel video projection, 2011

Studies say that the eye sees objects in the manner in which the mind interprets it and no two people see anything exactly alike. We create meaning through a mental bridge that the mind forms to complete  gaps.

My video Synapse is an ironic play on legibility, where we witness 14 individuals’ attempts at reading the letters on a Snellen chart at an ophthalmologist’s clinic. The traditional Snellen (eye chart), meant to measure visual acuity, in this case happens to have been replaced by a variation comprising the fragmented letters of the Preamble of the Indian Constitution, which commences with “We the people of India…” Each person tries to make sense of the alphabets before them with hesitations and uncertainties, interrupted recurrently with change of lenses and monotonous questions regarding clarity of vision. Their pauses seem less about the limitations of their vision, and, instead, appear to metaphorically demonstrate an ordinary citizen’s blurred view of the most inclusive document of the nation.

Some of these ideas have preoccupied me for years and I’ve made several works that refer to the Preamble of the Constitution of India to examine our role as citizens vis-a-vis the republic. Through this video I made in 2011, I reflect upon our own limitations in understanding our responsibilities that come along with the freedom promised through the Constitution and how we choose to interpret it. Nearly 70 years after the fundamental principles of the Constitution were first laid down, we are far from having achieved these values. Fulfilling these can, perhaps, only be made possible if we collectively strive towards attaining them rather than allowing ourselves to be divided as a people, by being fooled into believing that these would be provided for.

Samit Das, Bibliography in Progress, 2016

History depends on archaeology and its excavation, on myths and archives. For a long time now, I have been looking at history not just as an unchangeable culture or a particular person’s assumption/ studies, but as a documentation of the growth process of society through a contemporary approach. History should be open for everyone to understand and interpret.

It is the same with art. One cannot be contemporary if one denies history.  In the series ‘Bibliography in Progress’, I have looked at the Harappan civilization and I am working with images from the Constitution of India for another set. I attained a copy of the Illustrated Constitution published in 2000/2001, and am looking at the illustrations done by Nandalal Bose and his students. It is difficult to say if we are the India that our Constitution promised — there are various dimensions, and, something might be right according to one person and wrong according to other. All of these point to a multi-layered thought process intrinsic to a democracy.

Venkat Shyam, Freedom, acrylic on canvas, 2016

We have a long way to go before we become the India that was envisioned, where everyone is equal and enjoys liberty and justice. This particular work discusses gender equality and shows a woman walking hand-in-hand with a man. We speak of equality between men and women, but that is hardly a reality. A woman has to carry the burden of household responsibilities, despite whatever work she does outside her home. In this image, she has the globe inside her, representing the universe, but also a scorpion crawling on her, depicting her daily struggles.

LN Tallur, Eraser Pro, bronze, 2012

We are living in times when personal greed is overtaking the ideas that our society was built on. This erasure is, of course, incomplete, dependent as it is on the demands of that hour. For instance, we save things on the computer, but when we want to remove the data from the hard disk, maintaining privacy is not as simple as it may have seemed at first. The first thought is that when you “delete” the file, the data is gone. Not quite — it only removes the reference of the file from the file system table. The file remains on the disk and can be retrieved. Similarly, we are aware of the values and principles that we have inherited, but are choosing to ignore them.

Riyas Komu, Fourth World, terracotta installation, 2017

The Lion Capital from the Buddhist tradition is one of the best images any nation can have to represent its diversity, multiculturalism and secularism. It represents the four dimensions that India as a country has always upheld, and that is something I have always enjoyed in the symbolism.

We are getting a feeling that this symbolism is crumbling. The four dimensions represent the “unity in diversity” that our Constitution enshrines. Though we do not see the fourth dimension, its presence is there, always unified with the other three and that was the strength of this republic. Conceptually, when this unity breaks, when we are no longer able to rely on the unseen fourth dimension, that’s when the anxieties of the State, and political and administrative processes surface. We’re excluded from these, making it easier for power structures to erase cultural differences and instill ideas of homogenisation in its citizens.

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