We Indians have a strange, ambivalent attitude to art. Our goddesses are voluptuous, occasionally blood-thirsty, often decked in a lot bling, sometimes even naked. Our gods are multi-hued, sometimes sensuously dancing or in some cases even transgender. Even our wedding mantras ask us, in the immortal words of Woody Allen, to be constantly fruitful and multiply.
But we, on the other hand, mostly tend to be prudes, demanding that our women dress conservatively, our epics be interpreted in one narrow-dimensional way, and that MF Hussain’s portrayal of Hindu goddesses is sacrilege of the highest kind (conveniently forgetting that till very recently, clothing was entirely optional on most, if not all of Hindu iconography). Art students like Chandra Mohan even get arrested for allegedly hurting religious sentiments by the wicked use of his paint brush.
Anyway, this post is not an educated, well-informed and heart-felt rant on Indian hypocrisy when it comes to art, for the simple reason that I am neither well-informed or educated enough in artistic matters to be qualified to rant.
And ranting, in any case, is so Blogosphere circa 2003.
So instead, this post is a conversation between the Aasthaana Director of the Mylapore Moosee Dee Louwre (hereinafter referred to as Dir) and Post-Doctoral Scholar on the Violation of Indian Culture in Western Art (hereinafter referred to as Doc). The museum, founded in 2010, specializes in showcasing both Indian and Western Art in a unique way.
The two men are discussing a new plan to showcase some Western art that the institution has purchased from museums in Europe.
Doc: Director-vaazh (for the uninitiated, vaazh is a very formal word for macchi), do you remember Shakespeare’s famous quote on art,
Dir: Ah yes. “I think thou art an ass”
Doc: No, not that one. I am referring to the one about Art holding a mirror up to Nature.
Dir: Oh. That one. ok. What about it?
Doc: Art can hold a mirror to real life in the West, but in India, we must only use a small, completely unusable mirror like the ones women give each other during Sumangali Praarthanais. (For the uninitiated, Su Pra is where women clamour ‘I want to die before my husband’ ardently and give each other small, unusable mirrors for some reason)
Dir: So what you are saying is that we must censor Western art?
Doc: No no. Censor is a bad word, and the public does not like it. It is also a movie made by Dev Anand, and the public most certainly does not like that. So Like Mr Thomas Bowdlerized Shakespeare, we must Bajrangize the Leonardos, Michelangelos and Botticellis.
Dir: Hmm. What exactly do you have in mind?
Doc: Take Venus De Milo for instance.
Dir: Isn’t that The Birth of Venus?
Doc: How do you know that?
Doc: Anyway, Milo or Birth, it is still karmam karmam. Botticelli couldn’t afford her a Rs 300 saree from Pothys or what? If not Pothys, at least he could have draped her in a Kerala style white saree. Those don’t even cost Rs 200. And hmm. that actually gives me an idea. Say, do you remember Ravi Varma’s
Dir: Wait. Is that even Ravi Varma’s? It looks too corny to be his.
Doc: What do you mean? I did a Google Image search for Ravi Varma and this was on the front page of the results. So it has got to be his.
Dir: Oh. Ok. I must be mistaken. Pray continue.
Doc: So here is my recommendation. Get our museum artist interns to borrow one extra saree from above Chechi’s wardrobe and restore some honour and dignity to Venus.
Dir: Hmm. Sounds proper to me. What else?
Doc: What about our dear friend Leonardo from Vinci? Did you know that his model, Lady Gioconda, was married?
Dir: Yes, I did. To some Florentine merchant, Fransesco Del Giocondo, I believe
Doc: What sort of married woman lets her hair virinjufied like some 1970s rock star and wears no pottu (bindi) or (shiva shiva) thaali?
Dir: What to do? Those decadent 16th century European values, chee chee.
Doc: Eggjactly. Don’t you think she really needs to look lakshanamistic like this?
Dir: Yes yes. That’s the way…
Doc: Aha aha.
Dir: I like it.
Doc: Aha aha. Now we move on. That karmampudiccha Frenchman, who has a name that sounds like a car?
Dir: You mean Renoir?
Doc: Yes. That one. His painting La Promenade
Dir: What about it?
Doc: What will happen to our Indian culture if we display such blatant groundnut putting scenes in our good museum? Already our Romeos and Juliets are infesting Marina Beach and irresponsible bloggers such as this jobless bloke are aiding them. We must take a strict stand on this, I say.
Dir: What do you have in mind?
Doc: A policeman.
Dir: Er. You have a policeman in mind?
Doc: Yes. No couple in the city of Chennai must be allowed to roam around unchaperoned by our good men in Khaki.
Dir: Aaha. What would the museum do without you? You ability to constantly render yeoman’s service is astounding. What do we do about this one?
Doc: Aah. The troublesome one-headed creator. No problems. Michelangelo’s other creation provides us inputs to turn this guy into Brahma.
Dir: Doc, I think we are all set now. Let us go grab some Keera Vadais from Karpagaambaal Mess.