‘We are still stuck and tethered to that world depicted by Syed Abdul Malick! Just a visit to the Government College of Art and Craft of Assam in Guwahati, which is as old as our country’s Independence, is a pointer to this fact’
Over the years things have changed, almost drastically. From the landscape to the style of living to all our socio-cultural perceptions, change seems to be the major keyword in the last few decades. However, certain things have not changed at all. Facile and merely cosmetic, like those architectural structures on G.S. Road in Guwahati where glossy cladding tries to hide the ordinary designs beneath, the changes being more of a superficial nature.
Those of us interested in Assamese literature have perhaps read the well-known writer of yore Syed Abdul Malick, in particular his well-crafted story about the fate of a painter in our society. Written in the sixties, the story lucidly depicted the marginal status of a painter and his poverty stricken state in our society where art means a domain of the romantic day-dreamers or eccentrics of a high order with a jhola-kurta-pajama getup!
Many things have changed but the prevailing notions about art and artists have so far remained the same to those people for whom art means a banana made of clay or a picture of two hills with a rising sun in between and a river with a sailing boat. That is why even today not only the common mass but also some highly qualified people in this part of the country have no idea of what a graduate and post-graduate course in art history and aesthetics or art criticism offer. These courses, apart from imparting knowledge on the artistic heritage and traditions or art historical developments, also take account of all the contemporary theories right from the aesthetics (Bharatmuni to Vasari) to the literary/cultural studies such as structuralism, post-structuralism, deconstruction, Marxism, post-modernism, feminism, queer theory, post colonialism and techno-cultural formulation is a matter of surprise for many. The boundary lines among the social sciences, visual arts and cultural studies have become fuzzy at the contemporary time and a great interconnectivity leading to an inter-disciplinary approach has become the ideal model for holistic understanding of our culture or civilisation and society as a whole is yet to find its holding here. To study society is to study culture, about its values, meaning and representations, its formations or deformations and relations to economics and politics and its mediations and negotiations in and through various creative and cultural expressions like literature, cinema, mass media, visual arts and the performing arts. Visual arts, in particular post-modern art, since the seventies has undergone changes in terms of language, thematics and idiomatic contexts.
Contemporary arts have come out of the four walls of art galleries intermingling with other modes of cultural productions to give it a new innovative experimental look. They are no longer the pretty pictures of voluptuous nudes or undulating landscapes but hardcore socio-political modes of interventions at large.
But because of a lack of awareness about all these transformation and changes, we are still stuck and tethered to that world depicted by Syed Abdul Malick! Just a visit to the Government College of Art and Craft of Assam in Guwahati, which is as old as our countryís Independence, is a pointer to this fact. Dearth of all basic amenities and infrastructural facilities like water and cooking stuff at hostel, lack of up-to-date syllabus like in art institutions in the country and without the most necessary UGC affiliation (because of its callous clubbing in the department of culture rather than the department of education like other art colleges in India), the students of the college are suffering.
Yet crammed in small dingy rooms with broken walls and leaking roofs they try to hide the cracks of the wall painting with their fine surrealist symbolic works, their dreams of becoming Picasso or M.F. Hussain. But they are not sure if their dreams will be fulfilled as once they complete their studies they are not too sure if they will be able to pursue their dreams of higher studies. Everyone cannot afford to go to JNU Delhi, MSU Baroda or Kala Bhavan, Santiniketan. There is no fine arts faculty in any university in the state or the northeastern region except Assam University with a limited number of seats and Nehu with a one-year diploma course only.
If anything of late has deeply engaged the people from all walks of life in this part with unprecedented emotional fervour it is perhaps the speculation about how to keep alive the memory and legacy of Dr Bhupen Hazarika.
When this cultural doyen, legend, ballad singer, composer, lyricist, literature, journalist, Dadasaheb Phalke Award winning filmmaker and Paul Robeson of the Northeast passed away on November 5 last year, people felt a deep void like never before. The face of Assam and voice of Northeast to the outside world, this multifaceted persona was considered the voice of progressivism and social welfare of all the subaltern people. There was hardly any tribe or ethnic group in Assam or the Northeast about whom he did not compose a song.
His political consciousness and leftist-socialist disposition with acute social reflexivity (as seen in songs like Manuhe manuhor babe, bor bor manuhor dola, bistirno parore ashongkhyo axongkhyo jonore etc) complemented his romantic lyricism and poetic eroticism so finely expressed in abstractionist songs like Bimurto mur mor nishat i nixati. The rendition reminds any sensitive listener of the blue period paintings of Picasso. Known for his art with humanism, the maestro was also an avid art connoisseur who composed songs like Mur mor jibon ghorir pratito pal jen gali gali sesh xekh hole inspired by Daliís surrealist paintings like Persistence of Memory. (Parallel could also be drawn with Gustav Courbetís famous painting and Bhupen Hazarikaís Xill bhaguta.) His versatility and the interdisciplinary nature of artistic capacities were evident. What better tribute can there be to keep his memory and legacy alive for ages but to establish a higher centre of learning in his name comprising all the allied arts and cultural studies with a world class curriculum and up-to-date interdisciplinary model?
A hub of culture and creative expression similar to the newly established Ambedkar University of Delhi with the most rare, unique and innovative concept of a post-graduate school with major streams of artistic practice such as visual arts, literary arts, performance arts and cinematic arts where subjects like creative writing and translation studies are given great emphasis.
Let this proposed school provide space for an intense learning experience by incorporating elements from various disciplines such as art making, history, philosophy, sociology, political science, anthropology, critical theory, literary studies, media studies, psychology, art history and criticism and cultural studies. Let the major focus be on an art pedagogy looking at art and its relation to the community, to critically engage with art and culture in terms of its contemporary relevance, interpretation, socio-political changes and transgression, subversive of conventional discourses. For Bhupenda was a ganasilpi ganaxilpi, an artiste with deep relation to the community and its aspirations. The proposed school can house multiple wings named after great creative minds. Let the entire landscaping be done by contemporary landscape designers with a botanical garden preserving all the indigenous flora and the flowering trees.