Friday, 20 June 2014

Art Literacy in Kashmir

Art Works and Art Criticism of Wasim Mushtaq Wani
Most of us are unfortunately blind to the world of art, and it means virtually blind to an aspect of experience. It means we don’t live or enjoy life, or understand expressions of divine life fully. Our education is faulty. We don’t teach or cultivate the faculty for art in ourselves. Granted almost universal alienation implying our inability to devote ourselves to what we have been compelled to do and thus failure to make things beautifully (that is the real definition of art) we could at least try to understand what beauty of art world lies before us or survives in certain forms today in the work of contemporary artists.  Seeing the works of great art is such an important part of education and if we fail to provide to our children it means our fees spent on education is not well spent. We produce colour blind, form blind children. Ask any student around to name 5 great artists and their works and you will be greeted, generally speaking, with silence. Like some dose of philosophy, art should be medium to teach and integral part of everyone’s education. When will our educationists and policy makers try to address this issue?  How tragic that here ordinarily a student completes education and neither knows history, nor art, nor literature nor philosophy nor love of books nor passion for life long education. Nothing humanizes better than introduction to or orientation to art, literature and philosophy.  The fact that relatively unknown, marginalized and neglected is the College of Fine Arts in Kashmir (very few know where it is) is  a sad comment on bureaucratic apathy. Modern Kashmiris are largely uneducated or uncultured according to the standards accepted in theory by almost all educationists.
Wasim Mushtaq is amongst the most well read young scholars of art. He is not only an artist who deserves to be better known especially for inspiring new generation but also an art critic. His credentials as an art critic can best be assessed by reading his work on modern Kashmiri art. He echoes great stylists in postmodern world in his dense scholarly and captivating pieces of art criticism. There are very few scholars in Kashmir whom you can access on art history and philosophy, on the latest works of Derrida and Focault, on Pamuk and Eco and a host of postmodern writers.  Wasim is difficult to appreciate because he is engaging with the tradition that is difficult for average person. He is difficult because the mess to which he responds and in which he locates himself is an issue that defies simple clear articulation. Evoking and invoking certain modern/postmodern thinkers from Freud and Lacan to Zizek, Derrida and Baudrillard, amongst many others, he expresses fragility of identity, failure of communication, impossibility or travesty of justice, failure of ideologies or violence in certain metanarratives. He invites many interpretations and questions meaning closure.  Wasim gives voice to a Question and summons all of us for a response that can be one of horror, cynicism and occasionally hope and insight that flows from “tragic wisdom.”  
Wasim has received some attention at national level in various exhibitions but few know him back home. Where is the culture for art today in our land?
Wasim is conscious of his own artistic tradition though I would always find him insufficiently interested in its great Masters – he is more comfortable with or cognizant of modern or postmodern theory than masters of traditional theory from Abhinavgupta to  Ananad Coomaraswamy and Titus Burckhardt. He is not quite critical of the dominant art trends that see no problem is elitism, in making virtue of difficulty, in failing to speak to man in the street and taking note of such traditional theses as “Everyman is an Artists” “ Art is making things well” ( and not another autonomus language game accessible to specialists and needs to be exhibited or can be for sale).  
Having said this, I must conclude on the note that Wasim is one of the few artists and art scholars and  art critics whom newer generation could get inspiration from. The writer in Wasim fuses with the painter in him to give us not only food for thought but sometimes also delight to soul that comes from vision and making sense of the mess. I wish I were better qualified in modern art theory and history to better understand the complex world that Wasim presents in his works. I do, however, see how he ingeniously plays on his name or its initial letter W to capture the elusive and disintegrating postmodern self or identity, how he appropriates Marx and Derrida in the same breath, how he digs into the unconscious of postmodern psyche ( though the spirit is sometimes a casualty as he gets steeped into Freudian-Lacanian and Zizekian canon that finds no signifiers of the Noumenal World), how he invokes Taoist logic of polarities where binaries of white and black are transcended, and do appreciate his attempt at impossible “synthesis” of desperate things or experiences that defy comprehension in his engagement with collage. In “Artist as Beggar” he mourns the modern world and alienation of artist in it. How innovative and creative he is can be gleaned from numerous permutations of words, lines and colours to express something new. The fact that collage is much used by him shows postmodern artist attempting to mirror heterogenity rather than impose some order from without.
 I hope Wasim lets the Word – the wordless word and “absent” but nevertheless vivifying Transcendence – speak that announces itself through every traditional art work  that the post-Nietzschean world and its artists find only in impoverished fragmentary images. However one point that Wasim may be driving home is that of immersion in the ugly world of (post)modern art is the dark night of the soul, the descent into hell, the purgatory or baptism by fire. Wasim’s work, as a species of postmodern art,  invites us to silence at the heart of being, to Void that gazes us at the end of every quest, to ironical vision that seems corrosive at times as he presents brutalities and contradictions but purifiying or uplifting in its own way.  In terms of sensibility and command over the form in his chosen medium and rendezvous with suffering and solitude, he reminds me of  Agha Shahid  Ali whom he appropriates here and there.  One can find echoes of both Sufi poets and postmodern artists in him. If he fails to communicate properly that may be either because of our inability to care about art education or his that strange predicament of modern artist who is, as Beckett put it, an artist of failure.

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