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Artistic concerns

Jatin Das has his hands full — a fan exhibition, memoirs and a book of poems

AN UNUSUAL exhibition of hand fans (Pankha) from different parts of the world is now being held in New Delhi at the Crafts Museum till June 6. Believe it or not this collection of about 5000 fans belongs to one man - artist Jatin Das. Collected over 24 years, with the largest collection from the Indian sub-continent, this is the first time that the fans are being showcased. This is just one of Jatin Das' collections which spans antiquities, handlooms and handicrafts which is to be housed in a museum in Bhubaneswar. He has quite a bit on his hands - the museum, a book on fans to be published by Mapin Publishers shortly, his memoirs, a book of poems waiting to see the light of the day... In Hyderabad for a lecture Das spent some time talking about his fan exhibition, his upcoming museum at Bhubaneswar and other issues. How did his interest in fans begin? "Out of stupidity and madness. A friend of mine gifted me a fan about 24 years ago. And when I was fanning a friend, I said `Let me stir the still air'. And I got the title for a book on pankha. The title is To Stir the Still Air. There are some anecdotes from various people." Is it a coffee table book? "It will be a tea-table book," he laughs. Moving on seriously he says, "hand fans are a dying craft. They are fragile objects. I have picked them up from various places and paid anything from Rs. 2 to Rs. 50,000 to purchase these from village markets, antique shops and so on. I have 32 large trunks full of them."

"This exhibition will travel to Kolkatta, Hyderabad (logistics are being worked out), Ahmedabad, Kerala, London , Zurich and Singapore ."

Das is trying to see his vision of setting up a Museum of Art which will house traditional and contemporary art (complete range of visual and plastic arts) in Bhubaneswar fructify. "I have taken up something, which I feel as an artist I should not have done so. Because of my boy's scout attitude and my being a pravasi Oriya, I thought I should do something in Orissa. But now I am caught in the web. Having taken it up I want to see it through. The government has given me an acre of free land and I am donating my entire collection of antiquities, handicrafts, library, painting and so on. Many of my friends are also donating. But I need money to build. Balakrishna V. Doshi, the famous architect, is designing it". Das is emphatic about following a holistic approach in the arts. "Centres should be set up according to a vision. All our cultural centres should be multifarious. The visual and plastic arts should be put together. Another concern of mine is that folk, tribal, classical and contemporary should sit together. All these are like separate rivers, which are flowing, and they are not connected. We need holistic and proper education rooted to our country and culture right from the start."

On the issue of fakes (in the light of the recent controversy over Anjolie Ela Menon's fakes) Das says "It's happening all over the country and in Europe. The British Museum held an exhibition a few years ago called the Fakes in the Collection of the British Museum. In spite of all their scrutiny, they had bought fakes they realised and held an exhibition". Is there a concerted effort among artists to tackle this? "Artists are not together at all. If we have an institution, a registered society then we can take it up. But individually it is difficult to do so. Certain paintings are easy to copy. A discerning audience will know the difference between an original and fake. Even to make a good fake you have to be a good artist. In Rajasthan there are hundreds of miniatures, which are being faked and sold to many parts of the world. "

Do artists get real creative freedom? Many a time a painting evokes controversy? M.F. Husain had a problem with his film Meenaxi - A Tale of 3 Cities. "We don't have a civil society. When there is a music concert people make noise. They don't have a sense of aesthetics. When somebody is speaking or singing nobody should make noise. When you say freedom of expression, freedom is a relative thing. There is no absolute freedom. Likewise absolute form is formless. Our society has become judgmental, not connected to art and culture. In a homogenous society every person is a rasika. Appreciation is important. If you appreciate good music you need not know which raga it is. Husain's film is interesting work. Always there are surprises from Husain. Not everything can be made for the masses. There has to be a rasika. Can everybody understand nuclear Physics?"

Das is busy advocating concern for conservation and the environment and city planning. He has a few ideas on the construction of satellite cities with metro-like amenities and rejuvenation of villages. "Everything needs visionary planning," he sums up.


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