People's Democracy

(Weekly Organ of the Communist Party of India (Marxist)


No. 46

November 18, 2007

Artistes Observe Bolshevik Revolution Anniversary


Suneet Chopra


THE 90th anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917 was observed at the Visual Art Gallery in Delhi, with an exhibition of the works by some 26 artistes, including Arpana Caur, Neeraj Goswami, Komala Vardan, Shamshad Husain, Subroto and Nupur Kundu, Nand Kishore, Avijit Roy, Dattatraya Apte, Anoop and Ritu Kamath, Asurvedh, Biplabi Samaddar, Dharmendra Rathore, Laxman Aelay, Laxma Goud, Jayant Gajera, T. Vaikundam, L.N. Rana, N S Rana, Prabir Bepari, Prokash Karmakar, Rohit Sharma, Santosh Verma, Vinod Sharma and Vinodvrat.


The reason I had in mind when curating the exhibition was that the impact of the Russian Revolution and the setting up of the Soviet state was something without which the independence of India and other colonies was unthinkable. For, empires that came into being before the Soviet state simply replaced one oppressor state with another. The Arabs fought the Turks for their independence, but Lebanon and Syria were parcelled out to France and Iraq and Jordan to Britain. Palestine, put under British ‘protection’, suffered a fate worse than death. Even after the World War II, the USA demanded Korea as a “mandated territory” while the Korean people had defeated Japanese colonialism on their own! Stalin vetoed this demand at both the Tehran and Potsdam conferences, but it did not prevent the USA from invading the country and keeping it divided all these decades. The Korean war, those in Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos, and the Chinese and Cuban revolutions too might have a very different history without the existence of a workers’ state committed to national liberation.


Indeed, despite the setbacks in Chile, Bolivia, Ethiopia, Afghanistan and East Europe, we have seen a decrepit monarchy falling in Nepal, Hong Kong freed from British colonial rule and reunited with the People’s Republic of China, South Africa liberated from apartheid, Rhodesia freed of a gangster-like white supremacist rule and becoming Zimbabwe, which is a target of British machinations even today. Namibia and Angola too were liberated from imperialist clutches even after the end of the Soviet state. The process of liberation from the talons of imperialism continues unabated in state after state of Latin America today, reminding us that the call of the USSR to unleash struggles for national liberation is still relevant. And it is that relevance the artistes set out to mark and celebrate.


Just as the exhibition marking the 40th anniversary of Che Guevara’s martyrdom became an instrument of struggle against imperialist machinations, with a call to free the five Cubans held prisoner in the USA for tracking down the supported terrorists in that country, this exhibition became a forum to call for the release of artiste Salima Hashmi, elder daughter of the late revolutionary poet Faiz Ahmed Faiz. (She was recently) arrested by the military regime of Pakistan. While the USA publicly protests against the restoration of army rule in that country, it was part of the US strategy to impose pliable governments in states of South Asia, just as they have foisted the army on Bangladesh claiming that politicians there were “corrupt”. Could anything have been more corrupt than the US invasion of Iraq on false pretences, only to plunder the oil resources of the Iraqi people? It is evident that people must be vigilant against the machinations of imperialism in South Asia.


The significance of the exhibition lay in the fact that our contemporary art is firmly rooted in the global anti-imperialist movement that emerged in the post-World War I climate of national liberation and developed even faster in the period after the defeat of fascism in 1945 and India becoming independent in 1947. This art still recognises that powerful blend of folk, narrative and modernist expressions as its mainstay. In this exhibition paintings were paintings and sculptures were sculptures. There was no attempt to escape into forms of ‘virtual’ expression of the mechanical sort, nor at wallowing in Kitsch. This allows the viewer to peruse through expressions of real and concrete feelings in time-tested aesthetic languages. And in this process one can see the influence of artistes like Dhanraj Bhagat, KCS Panicker, Sailoz Mookherjea, M F Husain, Sunil Das, Pablo Picasso, Paul Klee, Jackson Pollock and even of our ubiquitous Nandi sculptures, not to speak of the scroll painting and wall-writing traditions of our peasantry and tribal people now being increasingly marginalised in a world dominated by real estate sharks and speculators. And more than that, they show a powerful yearning to carry forward the message of peace, progress and love to challenge the domination and plunder that imperialism is characterised by. But their techniques, predilections and treatments are new and original.


Being clean and unambiguous works of art, the venue provided a hospitable space for a poetry recital by Vishnu Nagar, Mangalesh Dabral and a poem I had specially written for the catalogue. Vishnu Nagar read out the poems Gai Ki Tarah (Like A Cow), Ve Jo Jeevan Ko Phirse Jeene Layaq Banate Hain (Those Who Make Life Worth Living Again) and Main Aur Kuch Nahin Kar Sakta Tha (I Could Not Do Anything Else) from his collection Hasne Ki Tarah Rona (Weeping like Laughing). Mangalesh Dabral chose to recite Kremlin Katha (Kremlin Tales) and Kremlin Sanghralaya (Kremlin Museum) from his book Awaz Bhi Ek Jagah Hai (The Voice Is Also A Place) and Taqat Ki Duniya (A World of Power) from his forthcoming volume Mujhe Dikha Ek Manushya (I Saw A Man). This poetry recital took place at a venue that some 200 writers, artistes and art lovers had dedicated to the jailed Pakistani artiste Salima Hashmi and other democratic protestors now in jail. This showed one that whole of life reflects itself in our artistic expressions and that nothing can be ignored or brushed aside without doing damage to the direction and wealth of genuine creative aspirations.