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Musings with Global Art

If, being endowed with art is an opportune in life, an ability to be in continuous dialogue with surrounding art, and by virtue of this, ascending the learning curve, can be nothing short of a privilege that life offers. How wonderful then, is the process for an artist to absorb, grow and evolve in a simulation of energy by acquaintance and exposure to works of art across the globe. It is this enriching atmosphere that best inspires and challenges creativity – so centric to the production of art!

Seminar Series Talk
A series of seminars on literature and art that I had the fortuity to attend for the past week left me in this thought process. First of these self-interrogating exercises was a presentation of translations of Tamil Litterateur Dilip Kumar’s works. It was rendered by Prof Martha Selby, from the Department of Asian Studies at the University of Texas, to an audience, most of whom were Englishmen discussing the work’s intrinsic value. Ironically, Tamil, a language that I take pride in claiming as my mother tongue flew expansively across the room and of course past me, as I sat a mute spectator! And there were many other facts that contributed to muteness too – Prof Selby’s extensive research on the language to the extent that she could comfortably place Tamil words between her talk and that such deep discussions happen in conferences in this part of the world were highly reflexive for an Indian. To top it is the larger gesture of inducing the right import of the language and its essence into the translation which renders it of immense value. Though the Tamil work mirrored layers of orthodoxy, superstition and relationship complexities, so intrinsic to Tamil culture, the translation brought different perspectives of understanding among its audience. Indian writing is analyzed at best, only with its emotional influences.

Talking of influences, where the positive of them can surely accord better directions, access to such influences play a vital role. It is here that I find accessibility to education so advantageous in the west. It only took a simple addition to an email list for me to be a part of some wonderful influences that push towards deliberation of art practice and production in the very core. One such, was a collective presentation of her works by dancer and choreographer Allison Orr.

Allison Orr at work. Courtesy: Forklift Danceworks
Her work is predominantly spread as a reach out to the grass roots working class and sections of the society where dance might not have had a meaning before! Her art, simply put is a community development initiative for dance, in a nut shell. The UT Fine Arts Library roped in Orr as their inaugural speaker where she presented video excerpts of her productions with Trash workers (the famous ‘Trash Project’), Women baseball teams, sub-station employees and traffic cops. Intercepting the presentation with experiences and anecdotes, she brought alive the entire making of her productions which involved transforming large grounds into virtual work places and installing the required machinery be it trash vehicles or electricity units. And if that is not magnum enough, the project is a synergism of committed artistes right from pitching to the concerned authorities, sanctioning a project and its requirements and managing work schedules to finally convert 'working bodies' into Motion.

Just an acquaintance into Orr’s work spells generously into its character, by which dance is carried most graciously into the deeper layers of society, in a way that not only engages but influences a common man in the conduct of his own work. At this point, I felt a sense of de ja vu and alarm bells ringing, leading to realize that Natyasastra begins with enumerating the purpose of creation of Natya Veda, one among which is to uplift the aesthetic senses of the common man! Strange are ways of arts and its spread.Further, her work also loudly calls attention in completing the full circle of guiding the uninititated, instilling dance into their bodies and taking dance to the audience, rather wait and crib for their non-existence. A work symbolizing influence.

Power Up project. Courtesy: Forklift Danceworks

There are some other influences, which go even further to embrace the receiver with renewed motivation and reveling spirit. These ought to be lives and works of special beings who by their very aura, bring a difference to art practice and community on the whole. An actor, tracing a career steeped in exemplary training in theatre, and a musician who sings, plays the piano and composes, all with equal élan, Eisa Davis is an influence, which will lay firmly and heavily on me for times to come. She was a visiting artiste of the African and African Diaspora studies and much to the wonder (probably) of the organizers of why I was so keen on signing up to her talks and workshops, I did and good I did!

Eisa Davis. Courtesy Eisa Davis Website

Starting the series with a musical presentation, though she addressed issues and voices of Black art, it was her very identity that merged with the art to make art reign supreme that strung the chord for me. Working in an atmosphere which always challenged existing and conceived humane differences, that she conceptualized and produced art of extraordinary magical and aesthetic resonance is the genius that Ms. Davis is made of. To top it, the genius is absorbed in innate humility, which made it all the more inspiring to learn from her. But for this persona, I would have not stood thankfully at the receiving end of an extremely interesting acting workshop, where she assimilated the artiste in each participant to share her expertise. Through a process which brought out the best from the handful of participants, she was more than happy to work and guide this student canvas in her simple yet vibrant approach. In a two hour session, which most justifiably extended further, what Ms. Davis did was to share generously not with the slightest tinge of her stature or her huge list of achievements sprinkling over! Overwhelming!

Eisa Davis.Courtesy Eisa Davis Website

Most appropriately then, her next session of a discussion started with this question posed to her. ‘Do you think there is a risk in openness and generosity?’ to which she would reply ‘We should not feed the monster in us but rather grow beyond’. In a highly emotional session that followed, amongst talk of discrimination and Black arts, what for me, the take away most importantly was, how her childhood that nurtured art also helped her seek art in the face of responsibility and legacy in a way of her own. Travelling back to those chapters of life which urged to create a unique identity amongst racist differences and self-censorship in art, she narrated how she stood where she was, true to herself and her art… inspiring mere mortals like me..
At times where artistic pursuit becomes a casual undertaking, guess it is time to sit back, hold on and get influenced, only to reassure yourself of the very importance of ‘art’.