Art News & Views

Hard Talk

Delhi based artist Veer Munshi was in his lively and ebullient self during his show in Calcutta titled 'Sharpnel'.  Pleasantly surprised with the momentous strides that had taken place in the Calcutta art-circuit, he chatted with the younger and diminutive George Martin on various issues revolving around the city that Martin-by dint of his student days spent here had a closer liaison with. Paroma Maiti happened to be a witness to this riveting conversation peppered with mischievous wit and candour.

Veer Munshi - I've come to Calcutta to show (my work), but you have studied here. For me, the liking for Calcutta comes from the fact that I regard it is as the cultural capital of India. I wanted to study in Santiniketan, but ended up in Baroda! I've always felt that over here, there is a different sensibility towards art. Price doesn't dictate art, art dictates the price. I really like the culture of 'addabazi' that goes on here…so laidback, so relaxed…
George Martin -I came to Calcutta way back in the 90's. And even before I was here, I was more or less familiar with the city and its Bengali culture, through its literature which I read in translated versions. So I decided to come here to study art. Plus, I found Calcutta very similar to Kerala…
VM -In terms with the flourish of Communism…? (There's a twinkle in his eyes!)
GM -Yes, that too…
VM -What is the difference in terms of culture, politics, sensibilities, intellectual and art practice or mannerism between Calcutta and Kerala or say, Bangalore or Baroda?
GM -I guess the sense of pride in 'our things', 'our achievements' is less pronounced in Kerala or elsewhere, than in Calcutta (both laugh!)
VM -I feel that in Bengal-atleast back until the 90's-there was a deep attachment for all things traditional; to the idea of parampara. While in Baroda, it was more open and experimental. The idea, it seemed was to go beyond the guru, and not just to look up to him. In Calcutta, it was more like, following the guru. Did you feel this way too?
GM -Yeah I did, because while in Trivandrum we had that freedom; and in many senses, Bengal seemed to be a little more dominating. I felt suffocated in many ways.
VM -But you also learnt many skills here, because the curriculum here happens to be skill-oriented. You also must have met the Radical Group at that time?
GM -Yes, of course, I learnt a lot, and you're right, I met many from the Radical Group.
VM -I really admire the respect in Bengal for all things cultural. Do you think that is there in Kerala as well?
GM - Honestly, not as much, even though that is there of course.
VM -Is that why you married a Bengali girl, so that you would get more respect? (asks with an impish twinkle!)
GM -(Laughs, as does his wife who was present at the conversation) -No, that is just a coincidence!
VM -Tell me, had you not moved out of Calcutta, would you and your work be any different?
GM -Yes maybe, each city has its own particular flavour; you also have to constantly shift spatially. But would you say that it is infact imperative to leave a particular place to enrich one's experiences?
VM -Yes, movement does enrich the experience. It also helps you look at things, people, experiences form a distance.
What one thing would you say, you didn't like about Calcutta?
GM -Its slow pace, I think…
VM -You come to the city quite often, more often than me atleast. Have things changed? How do you feel the Calcutta art-scene has changed?
GM -I really wouldn't know. Yes, it is slowly opening up to newer modes…
Really intrigued at this point, I couldn't help but intercept the conversation at this moment!
Paroma Maiti -I was just wondering if at all the buzz about what is new happening in Calcutta does reach out to the rest of India? I ask this because we should sit up and seriously take note of the poor level of communication. Do you get to know about the different forms of experimental art that is happening in the city even as we speak?
GM - Actually yes. We have friends who do let us know when they have solo/group shows of themselves or of their galleries, but in terms of reaching out to a larger circuit, I think, its (communication) still lagging behind…
PM -But then that is really unfortunate, because, people are using newer mediums and devices in their art-forms more than ever before…
VM - The use of new media or video for instance, should not come about because their use is, so to say, “in vogue”. The subject must determine the choice of medium.
PM -Do you think that it is the responsibility of the artist to create the demand for a particular medium/media?
GM -I don't know if that is possible. But when a student is spending 7/8 years of his life being trained in the classical tradition, and is also getting exposed to newer mediums, where does he get the platform to practice it?
VM -But I also feel that there are important changes happening here with Residencies and all. Honestly, I was a little apprehensive about putting up my show here, because it uses a lot of new-media; my work also required 2-point projection. But I was given everything I demanded. This proves that people crave for good shows.
GM -I agree…I think Calcutta has arrived - it has only taken some time!
PM -So do you think, in Bengal, there is a tendency to cling on to the past more than any other part of India?
VM -Yes…the sense of a “glorious past in every Indian, but Bengal believes that most!(Laughs) But on a serious note, one has to break those barriers.
GM - In Calcutta, people are moving out like people in other cities. It leads to stagnation here…
VM -That's true…there is a criss-cross of different cultures in other vibrant metropolitan centres of India. Over there, you have to work constantly to release your energies…But yes, the Calcutta art scene is optimistic indeed …


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