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Thursday, July 28, 2011

The Other Story : Rasheed Araeen

Amol Kadam

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This is a unique story. It is a story that has never been told .But because it only existed in fragments,each asserting its own autonomous existence .... context of collective history. A story of those men and women who defied their 'otherness'.
My own struggle as an avant-garde artist (in the west)......without this struggle it would not have been possible.....recognize the importance of this story. It is not the only story."to tell other stories than the official sequential or ideological ones produced by institutions of power".

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My aims are exploratory rather than critical. The exploration must take into consideration the change that has taken place in the world since the last war,in particular the mass emigration of people from the Africa,Asia and the Caribbean to the West......challenged the old social structures of the colonizer and the colonized.
Decolonization across the world,with its specific articulation in the metropolis.

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It would be a mistake to emphasize only the socio-political determinants of the mass emigration.....understand the actual aims of individual artists who left their countries to fulfill artistic ambitions abroad.
We should recognize the peculiarity of these ambitions.........not merely by success in the market..........but by the artist's entry into the history of art.
This will allow the work to be seriously discussed and recognized for its historical significance. Dominant ideology of imperial civilization....racial or cultural differences of the colonized constitutes the 'Otherness'.Other is a part of history as long as it stays outside master narrative.

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Would it be possible to inscribe.......within the master narrative of modern art history?
Unresolvable contradiction. A slap in the face of Hegelian metaphysics.
History of art still being written according to Hegelian historical framework. Arbitrary removal of other cultures which are not western art.

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Hegel looks at Indian art and inferiorizes it comparing with Greek art. Hegel removes India from any dynamic history .......helps establish supremacy of Western culture.
"The Hindo race has proved itself unable to comprehend either persons or events as a part of
continuous history...."

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Art historian John Ruskin,......,did not hesitate to use strong words to belittle other cultures.'The difficulty to distinguish between noble grotesque of these great nations,and the barbarous grotesque of mere savages,as seen in the work of the Hindoo and other Indian nations.....'
As a comparison to Greek art he quotes 'An Indian bull,colossal,elaborately carved.....a type of bad art of all the Earth. We will not ask date as it may rest in the external obscurity of evil art,everywhere and forever. And in comparison to Greek art he quotes 'here is a bit of Dedalus' work,enlarged from a coin not bigger than a shilling......'

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What do we make of it? Diatribe? Diatribe may be a strong word,but can we consider this an objective view.? What is the basis of this 'objectivity'?
Other than the power of his speech not so much from an intellectual argument but from his consciousness of belonging to the privileged class of British Empire?
Is this objectivity a camouflage to hide the imperial fantasies.

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John Ruskin not alone in his view. Views not expressed openly. Assumptions and attitudes exist which considers other cultures/people outside modern history.
Attitudes pervasive and intransigent,that the presence of 'others' in modern world seen with suspicion. The question of modernity outdated and gives way to postmodernism.

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A World History Of Art winner of Mitchell Prize in 1982...represent for the first time all culture in the world equally.
This pluralism ends,in this book,by the end of nineteenth. African/Oceanic culture taken up again only in connection with modernism,development of styles in particular cubism. After this everything non-European disappears. West shines alone,the whole world reflected in its image.

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This book praised by Kenneth Clark:'Much the best complete history of art....put together'.
It discusses the arts of Asia,Africa,the Americas and the Pacific Islands as well as Europe chronologically .It falls into the established pattern that obscures achievement of other cultures......on the assumption that other people belong to historically receding cultures. Again a recollection Of Hegelian principles,that assumes that the ultimate narrative is the narrative of Western civilization from which others must be excluded.

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Art history is peculiar in its function as a master narrative,not only is it fundamental in the recognition and legitimation of art ....only discourse which protects its Western territory so rigidly that we find hardly any exception to its Euro-centric rules.

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We are confronted here by a discourse which is complex and ambivalent.....when the mask of objectivity is lifted,what is revealed is not only a phoney rationalization but a structure that is mythical.
Mythic structure hides the contradictions of imperial society .Its ambivalence ,expressed particularly in its fascination for the others traditions. Reaffirmation of the centrality of Western/white artist in the paradigm of modernism.

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If art history is an ideological presentation of Western civilization...............logical to produce a narrative which conforms to its assumptions,functions and ambitions.
It would be more fruitful to interrogate the nature of its narrative to reveal underlying myth.
'Myth,as Roland Barthes famously defined it,....nothing more than depoliticized speech consistent with the classical definition of ideology.
Mythic speech is a set of beliefs,attitudes,utterances,texts and artefacts that are themselves constitutive of social reality.

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The smooth working of the myth had entailed the smooth working of the colonial system by which the imperial metropolis was successfully separated and insulated from thee people of the colonies. But when the chickens began to come home to roost the outer shell of the myth began to crack.
The myth began to crack after the great war. There was grimness in Britain after the prolonged war. The colonies were lost, opposition in power and half-baked ideas of socialism floated around.

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Europe after the War was in ruins,facing the anguish of unprecedented human death and suffering.
Europe had to rebuild its cities,no roads paved in gold. The beginning of the demystification of imperial greatness on which the whole colonial apparatus had been built.

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The colonial administration used both the stick and the carrot.
The emergence of the middle class,schools of western education all this to cater to rebuilding the empire. Appearance of a modern consciousness fundamental to anti-colonial struggles. Many artists of the previously colonized nations were also engaged in anti-colonial struggles of their countries.
The situation not the same everywhere.
There were places where there were no schools and traditional activities were not allowed. with change there was the emergence of self-taught artists.

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The artist also had the double task of dealing with the prevailing situation:on the one hand with traditional structures(tribal/feudal)..........on the other ,with art institutions that were supposedly modern but were in fact extremely conservative.
Formation of radical progressive groups to bring together talented painters, whose common meeting grounds was that their work stood in stark contrast with the imported and orientalized academicism.

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In India the debate about what is progressive and what is still not resolved.
Progress was not about rejection of tradition but re-vitalization in terms of 'modern progress'.Rabindranath Tagore calls it a sign of immaturity to produce something that can be labelled as Indian art.

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Throughout history artists have travelled from one country to another in search of patronage,quite often ending up in a dominant culture.
Picasso,Brancusi,Mondrian arrived in Paris,which was very much part off this tradition.
Independence form the colonizers removed both physical and psychological constraints.Thereby allowing artists to travel to places where they could find recognition.The paradox here is not of chasing the old colonial masters,but lack of modern institutions in their own countries.

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However,it would be incorrect to conceive the British society as a monolithic power concerned only with its oppresive imperial functions.
There existed a liberal intelligentsia who were ambivalent towards the 'natives'.Section of British people openly showed sympathy for independence movements.

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It should be understood that England has been marginal in terms of twentieth-century modern movements,since all the important movements before the War took place on the Continent.
London was never an art centre like Paris.This conciousness of marginality and hope of London developing into an international cultural centre that lead to a section of Brtish society to welcome artists from abroad.

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The artists faced many difficulties in the beginning,no different from those faced by an artist in a new place or country.
These problems might have been compounded because of Britain's imperialistic past within which racism has been rampart.However it would be a mistake to evoke racist bigotry to understand the position of Afro-Asian artists in Britain.

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However,one is amazed by the kind of support and response which Afro-Asian artists recieved during their successful period.
Many successful artists emerged during this period.the success of F.N.Souza and Avinash Chandra was phenomenal and made some of the British artists envious.Hardly a critic who did not write about them.

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However,despite all their success they remained the Other,in the sense that their Otherness was constantly evoked as a part of discussion of their work.
There were critics who tried to deal with the problematics of the Otherness,critically and sympathetically not to exclude them from the discourse of modern art but to raise the issue of other cultural traditions in relation to modernism.

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Such questions posed are posed by Cuban Wifredo Lam,and the Mexican Rutino Tamayo...And they raised with even greater acuteness by the paintings and drawings of Indian Avinash Chandra......Indian to the same degree and the same way as the art of Picasso and Miro is vividly Spanish.
Through Chandra modern art has recieved an Indian injection just as Nehru made an Indian impact on world ideas.

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W.G Archer was not the only person who was aware of the problem,and in spite of the success of some of these artists,many people knew that there was something not quite right.
Norbert Lynton had this to say:"a few years ago there appeared a book........purporting to present international art scene of our time,ranged geographically from Poland to Yugoslavia westwards to United States and simply omitted everything east of Belgrade and west of Seattle.'
To ignore contribution of the oriental to modern art is an act of ingratitude.This is seen as defensive act against development which would tend to diminish the glory of sections of western achievement.
Lynton's concern was not specifically oriental art but about Iqbal Geoffrey,who was from Pakistan and a successful artist in Britain.

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The success of these artists were short-lived so much that by the end of the 60s nobody knew or even wanted to talk about them.
English and white artists dominated the art scene from the 60s and became a part of the history of that period.What of the Afro-Asian artists?

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The rise and fall of an artist is not an uncommon phenomenon.
Sucess of an artist is a complex phenomenon.Success in the market is not the only criterion but the acceptance and institutional support is necessary in the consolidation of the artist's position and place in history.if the Afro-Asian artists did not recieve the support of the institutions,then why?

Of course,Souza Chandra...did leave London in second half of the 60s to live in New York,they left only because they were no longer doing well in England.
They were lured by the glamour of New York.And living abroad should not make any difference as David Hockney has lived most of his life in California.Malcom Morley ,who spent little time in Britain during his career was given the turner prize.The explanation must be that they were English.

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Why were things so different for the Afro-Asian artists?
This new situation in Britain after the War is due to the shift towards America in the 60s.This became detrimental to the status of these artists.

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Given the fact that Britain had lost the Empire andf its economic power,its new alliance with an emerging imperial power is understandable.
London became an important art centre ,which by the early 60s had direct and close connections with New York,the Mecca of the art world.Without this alliance the emergence of new art in Britain in the 60s is unthinkable.At the same time there emerged a new class of critics,historians and art administrators,whose confidence was formed and enhanced by this change.

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It is difficult to suggest any direct connection between the situation in Britain and America's use of art in Cold War politics,or any collusion beetween the two in relation to what happened to Afro-Asian artists.
The objective of the post-war American cultural imperialism was not just anti-communism but also assertion of its own cultural hegemony over the world.The enntual dissapearance of Afro-Asian art from the British art scene was not fotuitous,nor can it be explained simply as a result of the emergence of new racism, epitomised by Enoch Powelldemanding the return of new commonwealth people to the countries of their origin.Its no coincidence British art became completely white by the end of the 60s.Subsequently no national or international survey of post – war art in Britain has mentioned or included non-European artists.
But things are changing again,maily as a result of the anti-racist struggle in Britain,and now it is officially recognized that Britain is a multiracial society.

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