Where do Mahatma Gandhi's beliefs stand in today's world, Vishal Dar's series of prints, videos and installations seems to ask.
There is something about the image of Mahatma Gandhi which lends itself so often and easily to artistic expression. Of course, the ideals that he endorsed are significant but treated with equal importance, in most cases, is his picture, that now forms part of our pop iconography. The father of the nation is yet again at the centre of an art exhibition “BROWNation” but its creator, Vishal Dar, an architect-turned-new media artist, stresses that the endeavour plays out not around Gandhi's imagery as much as it does around his beliefs and ideas.
The artist places Gandhian ideology at the core and probes the current state of affairs in that context. Farmer and jawan suicides, corruption, Kashmir conflict and intra-national identity are the key issues the artist delves into employing the sensibilities of a new media artist, that is by using gizmos, toys, video works, digital and electronic elements.
The approach that he takes is that of a citizen artist and not an artist who is searching for his identity in South Asia, a region which is home to brown skinned people. “Because as a citizen artist, I am allowed to ask questions which are political in nature, I can raise shared concerns. And also I wanted to experience an emotional connect with people,” states the Delhi-based artist. To bring in that connect, Dar has consciously tried to pick his material, be it photographs of Gandhi, stamps, currency notes, rock salt, heater rods, tin sheets from the public domain, something that he says, ordinary people deal so very often with, thus facilitating the connectivity.
Going back to the essential feature of the show that is Gandhi's legacy and not his image, Vishal talks about the work “Mera Jeevan Hi Mera Sandesh Hai”. On the hand stretched khadi canvas — bought from Khadi Gram Udyog — is embroidered Gandhi's immortal line “My life is my message” in real gold zari by Muslim karigars. The canvas is adorned with a five rupee note garland made with nearly 2000 notes overtly referring to Mayawati's mala-saga. “I look at Gandhi as a practitioner and not a preacher. He said ‘I am making my cloth because it empowers me'. Look where his ideas have gone. There is machine made khadi and a garland of notes. Where is our reverence today? It has gone skewed into a very material zone,” explains Dar. With ‘C for cutter', a one minute 17 second video animation, Dar poses an unsettling question to the State as to what is Gandhi's picture doing on a currency note? “His ideology had little to do with currency. He talked about self-empowerment. Isn't it some kind of identity crisis we are going through,” the young artist asks.
A Rs. 500 note bearing Gandhi's picture is shown. After a few seconds, his skull opens up, an eye pops out scanning a portion of the note. The word ‘fake' appears and reappears which is then hit by a pistol signifying not the assassination of the leader but his ideas. The video is accompanied by three digital prints that utilise the actual size of 500 notes and are titled Bura Mat Dekho, Bura Mat Bolo and Bura Mat Socho, each depicting Gandhi in various postures of distress and concern.
The popular adage of ‘Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan' coined by Lal Bahadur Shastri is mocked at in the wake of rampant farmer suicides. In these animated video works titled ‘Suicide Chronicles', you see a farmer working in fields with his sickle and a jawan guarding with the gun. But within a few seconds, both of them get beheaded by their own tools. “When Vajpayee became the Prime Minister, he added ‘Jai Vigyan' to ‘Jai Jawan and Jai Kisan' but it doesn't fit into that space. Look at how leaders have changed tracks,” explains Dar.
The show is on at Gallery Espace, New Friends Colony till October 23.