Gauri Gill & Rajesh Vangad | Fields of Sight

A collaboration between photographer Gauri Gill and Warli artist Rajesh Vangad, which takes you on a journey away from the urban complexities present in Mumbai, creating a dialogue between two people from different walks of life. This hybrid creation is solely done in a monochromatic palette, and is an amalgamation between photography and indigenous Warli painting. In 2013, Gill was invited to an Adivasi district in Maharashtra – Dahanu where she was to create works for a primary school. During her stay there, she was welcomed by Rajesh Vangad who let her reside at his place, and later on took her to various locations which had significance in terms of folklore and political activity.

As the duo moved from location to location, capturing different landscapes which speak volumes, Gill decided to place Vangad as the protagonist in each picture, trying to capture the sentiment of each location. However, the images were not simply of the Warli painter placed against the backdrop of a landscape, assuming a passive role. Instead, the images incorporated Vangad’s Warli inscriptions on top of each photograph, positioning the painter in a much more active space.

As a viewer, there are several elements which one must pay attention to. For instance, the monochromatic tones used in the photograph mimic the manner in which Warli paintings are traditionally done – white pigment used on a reddish-brown background.Furthermore, this monochromatic theme can be viewed as a way of acknowledging the art form.

If we also closely look at the painting-photographs, we see that the protagonist’s gaze never matches the viewer’s. To me, this mismatch of the gaze symbolises a sense of loss, desolation and alienation. In each of the images in the series, the painter seems to be positioned in a certain manner in the landscape, where he seems to be in engaged in deep thought, speculating over a series of events which had taken place in each respective landscape.There seems to be a sense of nostalgia which can be sensed through the body language of the artist present in the frame, reminiscing about a certain “there and then” as contrasted with a “here and now”. Perhaps, this sense of melancholy stems from the socio-political conditions which are inseparable from the environment.

The Adivasi village has been through series of political turmoil. During the 70s, the village was intruded by gangs and political parties, leaving the locals displaced, frightened and terrorised. Apart from the raids conducted by the mobs, the village has witnessed forest fires, landslides and other such natural calamities that could leave the protagonist who is also the member of the village in a grieved state.

As the technique of Warli paintings depict themes of harvest, fishsing, fertility, festivals, earthquakes, tsunamis and other events which impact the lives of the community members, the inscription of such themes in the pictorial frame brings a sense of life into the pictures. As a result, the pictures seem to have a narrative of their own, speaking volumes of a particular scene.

Thus, it is important to note that we must not just look at tribal art in isolation, and locate it in another time frame and render it as stagnant and static. We should acknowledge the art form as we acknowledge any other. This indigenous art form has navigated its way from inscriptions on manure coated walls to canvases. For instance, noted Warli artist — Jivya Soma Mashe, has showcased her work alongside artist Richard Long in Europe.

Saviya Lopez| Menstrual Art?

Messages Image(722031428)

The year 2015 has witnessed an extraordinary focus on the menstruation of women in social media. For instance, the photo-sharing website/app – Instagram got itself tangled in a controversy of events when it decided to remove photographs of artist and poet – Rupi Kaur, who had posted images of herself lying on a bed with a period stain. This ‘censorship’ of menstruation photos has resulted in a wider process of encouraging the taboo around the word ‘period’. However, after the artist challenged the removal of the image, it was restored back on the website.

In this day and age, there is a dire need for people to transform from a more passive to an active audience. Furthermore, there is a need to demystify the aura around menstruation, and recognise the agony which is faced by women from around the globe. Artist Saviya Lopez, who is currently exhibiting her work at the Clark House initiative, a Mumbai based gallery, has targeted this mystification around the politics of menstruation. Her work, which is being displayed as a part of a larger exhibition titled ‘River with a Thousand Holes’, addresses the link between the status of women and the degradation of the environment.

In the image above, one sees that the bloodied words speak out against the discrepancy between what is real and what is being represented in the advertiser’s practice of showcasing blue instead of red on sanitary napkins. As the artist beautifully captures the parallels of dual realities of menstruation, the exhibition has strong political overtones of ecofeminism. Eco feminist epistemology forms a link between ecology and feminism. Furthermore, the approach shows how women and nature have a strong commonality, thus are united through their shared history of oppression by a patriarchal society.

However, the issues surrounding menstruation lead me to question : how should one fight for women’s rights if the category of ‘women’ is not homogenous? Unlike previous ideologies, which for the longest period of time have looked at women as a uniform category, today’s feminist ideologies go beyond homogeneity and move towards heterogeneity. There has  been a significant shift in feminist movements, which has paved the way to give enough room to acknowledge each individual’s subjective bodily experiences. Women are certainly different from men, but even more from one another. Thus, an upper caste Brahminical woman will certainly have different notions and perceptions regarding menstruation compared to a lower caste Dalit woman.

As the topic of menstruation seeps into the work of women artists, women have started to be even more vocal about confronting their subordinate status in society. Art, as I feel, is being used as a medium to convey strong ideas that have deliberately been silenced by androcentricity. After looking at a work of art, one tends to converse or write about it in order to share one’s thoughts with a wider audience…..resulting in a large encompassing process of social change, big or small.

 

Valuing the Devalued Tangible Cultural Heritage.

“Bombay has the second largest number of art decor buildings after Miami. However, unlike Miami where an entire precinct was restored, making it an international tourist attraction, here we do little to preserve our heritage.” 

-Sharada Dwivedi, veteran historian and researcher.

Mumbai, as we all know, is a land of plurality due to an amalgamation of many cultures. Each culture needs a platform to showcase its elements of tradition, belief, value and knowledge systems, which ultimately gave rise to the notion of cultural heritage. United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) has described heritage as, “The entire corpus of material signs – either artistic or symbolic – handed on by the past to each culture and, therefore, to the whole of humankind. As a constituent part of the affirmation and enrichment of cultural identities, as a legacy belonging to all humankind, the cultural heritage gives each particular place its recognizable features and is the storehouse of human experience.” (Draft Medium Term Plan 1990-1995, UNESCO, 25 C/4, 1989, p.57) However, due to unpleasant defacement practices showcased by citizens of Mumbai, the city’s epitomized glorious cultural heritage is nearing its end.

However, the on – going processes of urbanization and modernization has lead humankind to reach a stage of ‘anomie’. With reference to French sociologist, Emile Durkheim, one can say that humans have become more and more individualistic as opposed to their primitive counterparts whose societies were closely knit, where sharing was the norm. This progression towards individuality has made humans confused about their role, further confused about why the past should matter.

In Indian context, citizens too find themselves in this ‘state of anomie’ in relation to cultural heritage. The majority of citizens of the country have deluded themselves into assuming that there are no strict laws which are propagated towards the preservation of these monuments, therefore making citizens believe that it is acceptable to project any sort of defacement to the heritage monuments. What intensifies the situation is that even though there are laws present to prevent defacement crimes, they still seem to offer minimal form of protection.

The most primitive works of art have been items such as totem poles, engraving on caves, painting on slabs and fertility dolls. As these end up being heritage sites in today’s times, what makes them unique is the presence of ‘aura’ around it. Critical theorist Walter Benjamin (2003) in his book ‘The Work of Art in the Age of Its Technological Reproducibility’, has closely examined the concept of aura and termed it as authentic. However, it must be noted that what gives rise to this authenticity is the amount of rituals that go into the making of a heritage site.

There is a cultish characteristic associated with a heritage site, this includes; emotion, vision and religious significance which is strictly observed by the artist during the making of the site. According to Benjamin Walter (2003), The artwork’s use value was located in its central position within ritual and religious tradition. Hence, the aura illuminated from the monument is the after math of the work of art being uniquely woven into time and space. 

However, today the world experiences a ‘loss of aura’. This phenomena stems from the fact that people are unaware of the holiness attached to the monuments and hence end up destroying historical sites instead of preserving them. This not only results in the destruction of the aesthetic experience of the monument but also ends up disorienting the intimacy present between the maker and the site. This intimate bond is the onetime-ness of the experience. What is meant by this is that, the moment where the object meets the maker that very situation cannot be replicated or reproduced, therefore must be preserved through various conservation projects.

As the issue of authenticity is a fragile topic, Abdul Rehman (2011), a renowned professor of architecture remarks “In any conservation project there may be three areas where one has to be very careful to look into the different aspects of authenticity. These aspects are to maintain, to preserve, and to safeguard authenticity.” If these three aspects are taken into consideration, only then can the claim of preserving and conserving of a heritage site  be authentic. Sadly, in the city of Mumbai, many do not seem to understand the loss of aura and authenticity around heritage sites, consequently resulting in these sites to be threatened by uninviting acts of tobacco spitting, graffiti, urinating, throwing of food and plastic bottles or infrastructure projects.

Co-founder of Infosys, N. R. Narayana Murthy has effectively highlighted the crux of the situation in one of his speeches given at Indian Institute of Management. He has stated that Indians have a certain loyalty towards their family. However, this loyalty is only reflected in the family sphere and not in the community sphere. Murthy (2003), “In the West – the US, Canada, Europe, Australia, New Zealand – individuals understand that they have to be responsible towards their community.” Furthermore, he states that the primary difference between Indians and the West is that, the Westerners have a much better societal orientation. They care that they have for their society is much more than the Indians have for theirs. Furthermore, this links to enhancing the quality of life of Indians.

Apart from a dire need of social change, it is advisable that more security personnel should be appointed at heritage sites to preserve them, along with that it is necessary that the security personnel are made aware of the historical background of heritage structures so that they have a strong will to protect heritage sites. Another issue to be focused on is that of creating orderly environments with respect to heritage sites, as that would encourage adherence to social convention and overall conservatism, whereas disorderly environments would encourage people to seek novelty and unconventional routes (Stenger, 2013).

Furthermore, with the implementation of smart designs and concept of placemaking, pathways could be construed with biodegradable and non-biodegradable dustbins at every 3-4 metres so that visitors have no where else to throw waste. Also, indigenous people people who have been living around areas of heritage sites must be asked for their opinions regarding preservation and conservation of heritage structures, as they have existing ancestral knowledge regarding techniques of maintaining the integrity of heritage sites.

Thus, India being so diverse, so vast in terms of geography and cultures, if citizens actively seek to preserve what little is left of the past, what will enhanced will be quality of life along with the nation’s aesthetic beauty linking people together as human beings.

The Complexity of The Monogamous Norm

Humans are dynamic beings, upon whom static norms have been imposed. One such norm is that of monogamy. There have been several debates between evolutionists about humans innately being polygamous or monogamous. Majority of the world functions on the law of monogamy amongst individuals. They claim it ensures ‘order’ in society. By stating this, do these people look at religions like Islam or other communities which rest on polygamous law in a negative way?

Monogamy in simple words is described by “The practice of marrying or state of being married to one person at a time” (Merriam-Webster). Societies have presupposed that humans are innately monogamous, hence they must be placed in an environment where monogamous laws are practiced. However there is absolutely no reason to believe that individuals are monogamous. Instead, historical evidence has revealed that “Ours is arguably the most sexual species on Earth.” as said by author Christopher Ryan. That being said, the argument towards a monogamous lifestyle takes a different turn all together.

Early societies which were characterised by primitiveness were highly polygamous. It was normal to breastfeed the babies of other members of the society, at that stage of evolution, sharing was the norm. There was no sense of individuality or identity developed, as the notion of property was not so strong. As societies progressed, the understanding of property started becoming essential to humans, it became crucial to figure out where the boundaries of ones property was differentiated from that of their rivals or other members of society. The only was this could be done was, through limiting the relationships of women and men that is.. through the law of monogamy.

Many have questioned the transition from polygamous behaviour to social monogamous behaviour in humans. This could be because; in primitive societies females found the need for security of their babies from other males who would kill if they found out that the offsprings were not theirs, in order to promote the multiplicity of their respective genes. This is a form of social behaviour evolved through evolution.

Claude Levis Staruss, the founder of the school of structuralism, stated that humans think in terms of binaries, that is in terms of two. An example of this would be marking people as inferior and superior, pure and impure or male and female. There was only room for extremes or opposites never for the space for the in between or the ‘grey area’. The idea of polygamy thus became unfamiliar to man and the idea of monogamy prevailed.

If we look at the lifestyle of our closest animal relatives, we can say that among primates around 80% have been listed as polygamous. So when we say this, we clearly imply that monogamy is not natural for humans. In fact, what is natural is polygamy and it is       a task for humans to play a monogamous role. Many evolutionists such as Daniel Kruger, have used the term “mildly polygynous” to describe the innate human nature and have opposed humans as being naturally monogamous. Others such as sociologist, Pepper Schwartz has said, ”I don’t think we are a monogamous animal. A really monogamous animal is a goose – which never mates again even if its mate is killed.”

People who have been in relationships over countless years and endless amounts of time, often feel frustrated in being in another’s company. The couple’s therapy counsellor is constantly giving umpteen ways to ‘fix things’, yet relationships remain stagnant. Why is that so? Conceptualising more than one partner is treated as a sin in many religions and other social institutions. The vision that these institutions have is that, it takes two individuals of the opposite sex to maintain stability of the family and splits equal responsibilities towards the development of offsprings. This binary understanding is known as social monogamy or living in pairs for the well being of children.

So when a pair is living under the same roof, sharing salaries and resources to support a family, the probability of the pair being socially monogamous is high. However it is important to note that while the relationship is shared, there are occasional signs of adultery, nevertheless the pair is still very much together. This type of behaviour must NOT be confused with sexually monogamous behaviour where there is only one sexual partner throughout ones life. Many people think of marriage as sexually monogamous, however it is a socially monogamous relationship. Hence the idea of a nuclear family is propagated through institutions because they aim towards social monogamy.

So what is the final take on monogamy? What can be said is that, monogamy is a constructed term which is looked at as an investment and only practiced to achieve a certain ‘balance’ in society. However, the question of humans being naturally monogamous people remains in the minds of many. For all the people out there with such a thought process, the question to ask is, if we are innately monogamous, shouldn’t following monogamy becoming easier? or for that matter why is adultery  still on the rise in many parts of the world? 

The Harsh Consequences of The Politics of Social Inclusion and Exclusion

Each social institution has its own methods of creating boundaries within its structure. There are concrete and blur boundaries made in order to distinguish between the cultural spaces of individuals in a society. These boundaries, contribute to the social inclusion and exclusion mechanisms by which people are labelled to be as inferior or superior. What is deemed as ‘normal’ plays a great role in cementing the foundations and boundaries of a society. Anyone who deviates from the so called ‘normal’ is said to be looked at as a maladaptive element in the society and hence is marginalised. However, it is important to note that the definition as to what constitutes as normal is subjective for each community.

Social inclusion as well as exclusion, play a a vital role in terms of marking social positions of individuals in society. Both these concepts are intertwined with power relations, which cater to the issue of social advantage. The individuals who have access to resources are given a more ‘inclusive status’ which is characterised by a privileged status, where as an ‘exclusive status’ can be seen in those who are alienated and de-attached. Exclusion in the Indian context can be understood by those individuals who fall into the category of Dalits, tribals or adivasis and other minorities who are alienated from their most basic rights.

As per the 2011 census in India, scheduled tribes constitute to 8.6% of the total population. Since this number is relatively small, the classification of tribes as inferior is not uncommon amongst many minds in India. Tribals in many parts of the country are assumed to be irrational and incapable of making their own decisions, which is why they have been marginalised not only from many societies in India, but by the nation as a whole.

The issue of governance of tribals in India has been a fragile one and it is crucial to understand both sides of the story. Shri Brajeshwar Prasad, member in the Constituent assembly had strong opinions about the governance of tribal areas. He said that they should be centrally administered and not in control of the state, as during 1947 there was still a blur boundary as to which areas constitute as India. This view further argues that the trib- als through the ‘civilising mission’ should be integrated into the nation as a whole. This argument has lead to the thought of tribals being a ‘local tradition’ which needs to be absorbed in a larger tradition, being that of the country.

There is a confusion as to what constitutes as ‘Indian culture.’  As Hinduism is a religion which is majority in number, many characterise practices of Hinduism as what should be ‘Indian culture’. Hence, tribals who live in isolation are ‘sanskritised’ into Hinduism and are given the status of a lower caste. This a a way of integrating them into so- ciety, into a bigger more ‘recognised’ culture. Hence, the face value of tribals can be seen as inclusive, but looking deeper into the situation they still have an excluded status.

Another school of thought is that of the liberals, who state that the tribals should be be seen as an autonomous unit and be given self governing rights in order to ensure their welfare. This view claimed, that the tribals should be free from processes of globalisation and impacts of dominant cultures that disorient the tribals from their own culture.

Years of hard work towards the preserving of resources such as cultivable land, and forests which are owned by the tribals are looted by the ‘developed people’ who make profit off these means of production. 90% of all coal and around 50% of other minerals are found in the tribal lands. The tribals, being naive and illiterate are fooled by the poli- cies and framework of the so called ‘promised’ agendas of the government resulting in further alienation of tribals from their own land. These so called developmental activities leave the tribals landless and displaced with minimum survival needs.

The government has certain ideologies and goals in mind for the country, one is to increase the GDP growth of the country and move towards a more civilised India. There is nothing wrong in having such agendas, but what is wrong is the means by which they achieve them. The government relentlessly feels that after taking over the resources from the tribals, it would grant the tribals separate land to live on and give them means of livelihood. However, this does not always follow due to the scams and corruption activities involved. Even if they are given employment opportunities and societies to stay in, they are still at a great loss as they are placed in unfamiliar societies having less skill to fit the conditions of modern society. This leads them to be excluded from not only form the economic, social and political sphere but also in the areas of education, citizenship and respect.

Rebellious movements such as the Maoist movements come into play here. The members of the movement brainwash the tribals and use examples of how the tribals have been excluded from mainstream society and from the eyes of the government. They emphasise on how a blind eye is turned towards them, compelling the tribals to join these movements. The tribals feel that there is a certain class of people showing sympathy to- wards them and hence join them. This further intensifies the struggle of being excluded for the tribals.

Till date, tribals are still victims of developmental processes. Unless proper attention is given to the plight of the tribals, bringing about a change in their situation is tough to accomplish. The main issue to be targeted is the implementation of the laws. There are many protective laws made in order to protect the tribals. But the question still remains, how far does law enforcement go? Nevertheless, tribals should be educated and made aware of the laws made for them, it is only then they can stand up for their rights.

Can The Dreams of Secular Education Ever Be Achieved By Indian Society?

As citizens of India, we are citizens of a secular nation. “Secularisation is the process whereby religious institutions and practices become peripheral or almost invisible in a society in which they were perceived to be central and pivotal” (Copley, 2005:7) However, in the case of India the definition of secularisation takes a different turn. India rests on the principle of “dharma nirpekshta” which means indifference to religion to be observed by the State. As Gandhi said, it was vital for India to have respect and tolerance for all the religions in India and that was crucial to govern on bases of common citizen interest, permitting free expression of religious practices.  Having understood this, it is a precondition for a secular nation to promote secular education. Unfortunately, the Indian state is far from promoting secular education.

Education is a social institution which plays a pivotal role in shaping the future of India, through the youth, who are the agents of social change. Education goes beyond the domain of classroom learning and can be inculcated through experience, debates and different modes of conversation. What holds importance in education, is the power relations and the quality of content involved.

Karl Marx, has spoken about the ‘superstucture’ in society that comprises of the people who hold immense power and are capable of moulding nearly all social institutions, the most important being education. In India the educational system is controlled either by the government or by elites. What goes into what we call ‘book knowledge’ is governed by the ideologies of what the people in power follow.

Andre Beteille claims that the Indian education system has suffered from the ‘bad advocacy’ of academics. Hence the educational system becomes defective and encourages the people to think in terms of groups and communities and promoting feelings of ethnocentricism or having the view of being superior against another culture. This practice further encourages feelings of communalism and alienation amongst the citizens of India.

Today in many schools, especially in the rural areas (in the urban as well) of India one can find the textbooks being dominated by pictures of Hindu gods and goddesses and slokas from Hindu scriptures. There is barely any other representation of other religions of the country.  The aim of education is to foster critical thinking and broaden the vision of individuals, this is not being done with the current practices being followed by the educational system of India. Instead the schools are encouraging conservative thinking which is inclined towards going back to barbaric stages of evolution rather than civilised. This also leads to a vicious cycle where the teacher who was once a learner, was placed in an environment which encouraged sectarian thinking, propagates the same ideologies to his or her students. Hence the claims of ‘educated’ people promoting sectarian ideologies does not come across as much of a shock in todays day and age.

Many textbooks till date still promote casteism. There is difference between understanding the ideology of caste and promoting the ideology of caste. Many teachers purposely label the Dalits who belonged to the lower strata of caste, in a more negative light. Their status in many books is linked to that of a crow whose lifestyle thrives on living in garbage. How is it possible to cultivate broad thinking when the malleable minds of young children are getting brainwashed to believe in a particular way? Many have questioned this stand.

India has innumerable tribal population living in its interiors. They constitute 8.61% of the total population of the country, figures go upto 104.28 million and cover about 15% of the country’s area. (2011 Census). Very conveniently textbook authors has ben ignorant about this fact and have labelled them as a part of Hindu tradition. Many tribals have different Gods, rituals, ceremonies and many do not have the concept of caste, but this goes unnoticed. Their tradition has been labelled as an inferior ‘local’ tradition compared to the ‘great’ dominant tradition of Hindus. Hence their have been claims that the tribals have been “sanskiritsed” into the folds of the great Brahminical tradition. The unfortunate part is that the tribes due to their isolated lifestyle are completely unaware of the exploitation done by the people in power.

Education not only revolves around text but is also achieved through various discourses. The religious discourse of Hindutva, has in recent times intensified the struggle to achieve secular education. This ideology glorifies Hinduism and one of the principles which it adheres to is that of “pitra bhumi”, meaning an individual’s forefathers must be born in India for him or her to call it ones land. According to them, Muslims and Christians have their lineage originated from else where and hence are ‘foreign elements’ to India. Thus being ‘foreign’ is given the status of an outcast encouraging feelings of communalism. This ideology is being promoted in various rural areas of India where there are high levels of illiteracy, leading to the moulding of the minds of the villagers.

As every nation envisions itself as being successful, India is no exception. If a modern India has to be built, the government has to have a broader outlook with aims of encouraging healthy thinking and achieving a society which is not based on caste. The panel for framing the syllabus in schools all over the country should themselves have an open mind and not just get elected on the basis of religion. Critical thinking is the key to achieve progress, existing societal structures and epistemological claims to knowledge theories should be questioned by the citizens themselves. With these fundamental changes, India as a country will no longer be far from achieving progress in terms of secular education.