Four artists choose a work of theirs which represents their idea of the nation.
Work title: Do Ghaz Zameen, 2014
Medium: Mixed media installation
I made an underground installation near the entrance of the Lalit Kala Akademi, Delhi. It was in the form of a mazaar with an underground grave of about 7×3 feet, and two feet deep. On an abstractly painted India flag I had (MF) Husain sahab’s portrait, spread on the ground. At each corner was his favourite motif of a lantern, lit with an electric bulb. The fiberglass cover on top was protected by wooden poles and a thin rope. Rose petals were kept for the visitors to sprinkle on the mazaar.
The idea germinated from the fact that the last Mughal emperor, Bahadur Shah Zafar, was sent on exile to Rangoon by the British, and his grave is there. Husainsahab’s grave is in London, where he was in exile too, longing, I’m sure, for the motherland. In 1984, during the anti-Sikh riots, when people were advising us to keep our passports ready, I would say to my mother ‘I would rather die here’. Patriotism and nationalism are about intense love for your country, with all its flavours and diversities, so that when you paint, its history, present and myths are already flowing in your blood, and you do not need to prove it to others, as minorities sometimes have to.
Work Title: Snare of Memory, 1952
Medium: Pencil on paper (1982)
I belong to a generation that lived through Partition, and this work represents that struggle and desire to break free, forget the painful memories and look forward to a better future for the nation and us. We never anticipated Partition, but when it happened, it was extremely traumatic. When I see the hooliganism that is taking place now I feel angry, disappointed — this is not why there was so much suffering. My family made huge sacrifices for the nation. My foster brother, Onkar, joined Bhagat Singh in his fight for independence, my father, Avtar Narain Gujral, was a Gandhian, my brother, Inder, served the nation. I remember there was a time my father, brother, mother and sisters were all in jail because they were fighting against the British for independence.
Some years ago, when I was visiting Lahore, I had to be hospitalised. I realised that the hospital was located at the same place where there was once a jail. This work is symbolic of all those emotions, of then and now, how the people of my generation, perhaps, feel.
Work Title: On International Workers’ Day, Gandhi From Kochi, 2015
Medium: Oil on canvas
This is a series of paintings, part of an installation, conceived to archive the present through a revisit of the Mahatma and his ideals. The photograph I have used as reference here was taken in 1931, when Gandhi was 62 years old. This work is an attempt to propose a creative interface and critical engagement with many current arguments in the air today, such as inclusiveness, secularism, freedom, diversity, right to protest and fearlessness to dissent.
In the painting, the love and respect Mahatma cherished among people is charged with red through his body. Here, the Mahatma, an enigmatic grin displaying the gaps in his teeth, resurrects the argument for peace as a Satyagrahi.
Personally, I don’t believe that patriotism can be questioned or tested by any one, especially political parties; it is sad and dangerous to see the government using the idea of patriotism to go on a witch-hunt, and as a governance posture.
I believe in the history of the land, the genius of its people and its diversity. The violent ways of responding to issues, the disregard for human rights and the “strategic silence” and selective response of the leadership are separating us from human substance. It is suicidal for a diverse nation like India as it will disrupt our very existence as a fraternity.
Work title: Souvenir Maker: Designed in America, Conceptualised in India, Made in China, Sponsored by Korea, Yes we are conditioned to think under flags. 2005 (China version) 2009 (Indian version)
Medium: Barbed-wire-making machine, gold-coated barbed wire, national anthems of 40 countries, glass jars with gold-coated barbed wire.
In 1863, after an intense legal dispute on patent with many people, Joseph Glidden was finally declared to be the inventor of a barbed-wire-making machine, which was a major invention in dividing a land to own and protect it.
In my work, I converted this machine into a “souvenir-making machine.” One can produce and gift it to someone on the spot. My attempt was to change the whole purpose of the machine by using it to build friendship. I applied for a patent, but I am yet to get a response.
This work also had national anthems of 40 countries. Everyone enjoys them, but no one recognises which countries these anthems represent until their own national anthem starts to play. It’s evident that we are very influenced by the idea of a nation.