Art & Voices Matter: STIR original series on issues of communities at the margins

A series of interviews that put a spotlight on global art practices that focus on issues at the margins of the broader society.

by Dilpreet BhullarPublished on : Apr 26, 2021

“There is, it would seem, in the dimensional scale of the world a kind of delicate meeting place between imagination and knowledge, a point, arrived at by diminishing large things and enlarging small ones that is intrinsically artistic.” - Speak, Memory, Vladimir Nabokov

In the tug of war between artistic imagination and empirical knowledge, the purpose of human existence is put on a scale to measure the significance of larger good of life. Invariably, relegating the imperative need for creative practice to the dispensable periphery. Antithetical to the overpowering worldview to decisive pragmaticism, it is the imagination of the artist that magnifies the matter that is pushed to be of minuscule importance. If we accept that art is a reflection of life, then the art, artists and cultural practitioners over the centuries have represented a world beyond the sole aim of appealing to flattery. Inherent to the visual lexicon is the idea to metamorphose the inner mind to the perceptible external reality that enables and touches both the creator and audience. To give a few instances of the same, Guernica by Pablo Picasso talks about the loss of human life in the face of the Second World War. Dorothea Lange's iconic photograph Migrant Mother portrays the plight of a mother during the Great Depression.  

Art may not hold the centre of the universe, one that steers the giant wheels of political or economic ships…yet its symbolic value has incessantly threatened the mantle of superiority. The participatory nature of art, attentive to the politics of power, disturbs the towers of universal assumptions. Pertinent to the key tools of analysis, its description and interpretation, is the exercise to critique the centre. The two-pronged critical approach of cultural inquiry is a denial of ‘othering’ the marginal life to keep the doors open to multiplicity. 

The many purposes of artistic imagination include the power to evoke a response from a viewer that has remained consistent and even an unrefuted crucial intent underpinning the act of creating art. Taking this as the point of departure, the artist and practitioners in the series Art & Voices Matter embrace the heterogeneity that requires courage in the face of all odds. The aspiration to represent a share of reality that is present, yet a step away from recognition is necessitated by the urge to cause a ‘stir’ in the world fraught by binaries.

Over the past several years, the arts as a discipline has created reverberations that are felt in the present, lest not to have the mistakes of the past peddle through the future. The discrimination based on race and gender, abuses of political supremacy, as well as economic disparity and uneven impact of environmental issues lay bare the fragility of social structures. If the health of a society is determined by the presence of diversity sans affirmative norms, then the solidarity towards the others involves action and engagement. The creative minds, under consideration, suture the wounds caused by the ‘oblique’ lying between center/periphery, I/we, major/minor, outside/inside, us/other… to name just a few.

The artists and practitioners in the series Art & Voices Matter have arrived at a ‘point’, to which Nabokov refers, that facilitates amplification of the matter otherwise rendered ‘small’ by the ‘large’. The practitioners build their work on the idea that art has the capacity to resonate, beyond the exclusive state-approved citizen, with disenfranchised too. Moving against the tide that sweeps the order of things under the force of homogeneity, the artistic imagination strives to create space for conversation and dialogues in the hope of sewing the lines of harmony amongst different voices.  

1. Art & Voices Matter: Artistic suppression…myth or fact?

A trained printmaker, Sangita Maity’s Forest without the Sky is a critique of the devastation wrought by hyper-capitalist rubber plantation | STIRworld
Sangita Maity, Forest without the Sky, Woodcut print, 24 x 13.5 inches, edition 1 of 4, 2020 Image: Courtesy of Shrine Empire Gallery, Sangita Maity

Artistic suppression is an inherently oppressive set of consciously or incidentally performed actions that function under the guise of rejection. Suppression occurs when ‘hosting’ agencies actively alter the trajectory of artistic production by suggesting what can and cannot pass as works of art; or how an artist should or should not posture themselves so as to gain public attention, failing which the end result is some form of career suicide. Suppression involves the subtle and not-so-subtle ways in which artists are denied legitimacy through variating manners of gatekeeping. They could be publicly dismissed as crazy, unstable, menacing, or there are simply no takers for their work because it allegedly doesn’t appeal to broad-enough sensibilities. The fault is always portrayed as not belonging to the institution. The artist is often forced to internalise their shortcomings and is made to feel responsible for their exclusion. Any attempt made to critique the system is usually met with instant gaslighting. You are often led to believe that you are simply ‘imagining’ your non-belonging, even as the exclusion directly affects your livelihood and endangers your ability to sustain your practice.

Art & Voices Matter
Co-curated by Rahul Kumar and Dilpreet Bhullar, Art & Voices Matter is a STIR original series of interviews with global creative practitioners who bring to the core the issues of communities that may be seen at the periphery.

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