Monday, July 05, 2010

The Colombian Experience

The travel bug has bit again, albeit in a more quasi academic way this time: Colombia & Ecuador. So while it has been a while that I have returned to the city of dreams, the memories of a continent conveniently forgotten by us, are fresh in my mind. The "lesser" America, however, is a place which will make you feel that you are a part of a different world. Everything from people in the streets wishing you Buneos Diaz (Good morning) to underground salt cathedrals to bonding with a Pakistani restaurant owner in the tourist district of Quito, Ecuador, just for the most diverse experiences it has to offer, South America, without doubt has proved to be my best trip ever. However, sweet as these experiences might be, the trip has also changed the way I look at people, cultures and most importantly nations.

For a country often famous for the likes of Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Fernando Botero and Shakira, there exists another narrative. A narrative which has often been relegated to the shadows, or which often presented in a manner to obscure even the semblance of truth. So while one may know Colombia for its infamous drug trade or famous coffee, there are far important things happening in the fabric of the nation, which is there for everyone to see. For a country ravaged by war for over 40 years, where 5 companies control 92% of the assets, it may seem the story of every Latin american country. Unfortunately, the script is pretty much the same, just the names change. So while we wonder what has gone wrong with a nation which produced greats like Marquez, I would quote Marquez himself. In this short and powerful piece addressed to America, he sums up what has gone wrong for this beautiful continent. So while the west may dismiss the art of Fernando Botero as frivolous and pathetic, it is only making an intensely powerful statement, about the unwavering resolve & the absolute truth of the voice of the people and its own guilt ridden conscience . The above rambling could go on and on, but I leave you with this pic, my pick of the trip.

I clicked this one, just as I was stepping out of Museo Botero (the museum which houses the works of Fernando Botero). I had just had a discussion with one of the museum employees, a student of anthropology, which made me realize what a contrived world we live in. The photo to me is a grim reminder of how the history of nations is often not defined by the decisions it takes, but more often by the decisions it does not take. Why, do we, younger and smaller nations, willingly let someone else take our destiny in their hands. The girl walking past the sign, to me, are the people like us, who allow this to happen. For as this graffiti correctly points out, the people of the country do not wish their country to become yet another imperialistic conquest, a nation whose existence depends completely on another, whose legitimacy has been questioned time and again, whose image in the eyes of the world ranges from a homeland for Jews to a rouge nation. However, whatever be the image, this has not been actively constructed by its people, on whose sweat and blood the country survives. And that to me is the biggest tragedy. A nation, whose voices and screams have been muffled out of existence, for whom only an anonymous display of their ideology is possible, a demand which screams out to be met, a journey which was cancelled before it began, a dream nipped in the bud, a blow stuck down deep into the roots, a conquest of mind space and a victory of insanity. Its an "illegal" social activity which questions the legitimacy of the fabric which we live in and in turn redefine the same. It is that voice which is free from the bondage of journalism, of conforming to the norm. One look at the streets of Colombia, and there is Graffiti all around, every square inch of public space has been used as a canvas, for larger canvasses are never available to them. Only in the streets one can find the true spirit of Colombia, for the people there are still alive, unlike us ( & yes I mean Indians) who comfortably live our cushy lives, without giving too much of a thought to where are we heading as a society and as a nation. We are not very different from them, have similar kinds of issues in our own backyard, but yet I have more hope for the Colombian nation than my own, because they are a nation of living people, who still have the pride, courage and self respect to raise their heads and say what they feel, for them I have hope that they may usher in a better future. The stereotype of Colombia as a violent country is rooted in reality. However, changing the stereotype is not about changing the image, its about changing the reality, so that a more beautiful and equitable image evolves.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Art, Nation and Memory

What do you think an artist is? An imbecile who has only eyes if he is a painter, or ears if he is a musician or a lyre in every chamber of his heart if he is a poet, or even, if he is a boxer, just his muscles? Far, far from it: at the same time, he is also a political being, constantly aware of the heartbreaking, passionate, or delightful things that happen in the world, shaping himself completely in their image. How could it be possible to feel no interest in other people, and with a cool indifference to detach yourself from the very life which they bring to you so abundantly? No, painting is not done to decorate apartments. It is an instrument of war.

- Picasso in an interview with Simone Tery, March 24, 1945

“An artist cannot fail; it is a success to be one.” Art is a form of personal expression, which goes beyond having a purpose, for no artist is a success or a failure, as he creates to speak the only way he can: by creating more art. However, sometimes art takes such a form that it has the ability to encompass the complexities of life and the travails of humanity, where the brush strokes are made, keeping in mind the conscience of a nation. When nations go through turbulent times, it’s often art that brings out the spirit and the struggle of the people. It is then used simultaneously as a weapon and as a support system, to inflict and heal wounds at the same time. There is an undying quality about art which allows it to be timeless, and for the discerning reader, it offers a multitude of reflections. It’s a harbinger of learning’s for the future, and memories of the past are evoked.

The past and the future together create the present, for it is impossible for the present to exist without the cognizance of the past or a vision for the future. It is only natural that nations rely on their past and history to define and identify themselves. It gives them the legitimacy to carry on with their ideas and present it to the future generations to come. However, how does a nation confront its past when it has been a victim of the mistakes of its own people? Is it prudent to forget such a past, glossing over it and covering up the mistakes done by its people? Or should the nation be constantly reminded of the wrong road once taken, to ensure that the same path is never trodden again. This is where precisely art comes in, as it does not allow people to forget, the follies of God’s greatest creation.

When nations are under conflict, along with war and the loss of their identity, many things have been confiscated from the people: not only their homes and their possessions but also their memory. It’s an invisible loss which one fails to see in the state of misery and obvious losses. However, it is a loss which is far more important, for it exists in the realm of the mind, a territory often considered difficult to access. Moreover, war by its nature is made to be a human condition which encourages amnesia, which leads us to a situation where we erase one memory and construct a new one – we are forever in a state of enforced amnesia and enforced remembrance.

But most importantly, the arts intend to explore the critical questions: What is history and what is memory, what is personal and what is collective memory? Collective memory arises out of the consciousness of the personal memory of people. However, collective memory can be erased and rewritten, constructed and reconstructed, confiscated and confiscated and deemed politically correct or incorrect. The constant struggle for the territory of collective memory is the reason behind the political and power struggle. So while the world mourns the losses the nation incurred, one must not forget that the misfortune of others is free and does not hurt. We may sympathize and pity, but it will be forever hard for us to comprehend the actual truth, to truly understand and comprehend the losses of the people. Collective memory is one such loss, which being multifaceted and complex could be grasped only by the people who have been victims. It could be safely said that while the nation intends to construct a new collective memory, through its art, a reconfestication of the lost collective memory is warranted.