It is not just the stunning asparas of Ajanta, or intricacy of a Nataraj. Visual images made possible by nineteenth century printing transformed India’s art then as it now assaults our eyes from billboards, calendars, and posters or from stickers, magazines, posters, and television.
Large scale distribution of Indian imagery in its modern form came via the printing presses of Germany and Britain as Hindu mythological figures found there way in the subcontinent. Aided by new materials and techniques including litholography, oleography, photography, Colonial art emphasized realism, and its use of perspective helped make idealized traditional figures and divinities more tactile and sensual.
Look at a bill board and it is easy to see how imagery is shaping the Indian population´s identity. Images shape how we see gender, sexuality, ethnicity, religion and power Images are changing peoples personal and social values.
We should not rush back to the good old days. This is nothing new.
Inspired by the Enlightenment, the British seemed driven by a fear of dirt, with skin scrubbed white clean with an almost chromophobic view of Indian senuality and colour. Meanwhile, artists like Ravi Varma (1846 – 1906) revived a sense ‘classical’ Hindu mythology by distributing romanticized images
This allowed (perhaps spoiled?) the diverse expressions to become more homogenised, and universally grasped by a people negotiating the new and old, sacred and profane, erotic and political.
I am reminded of the Bharat Mata, the pure image of India, so Romanticized I imagine her draped in flowing Grecian robes. Or Aurobindu Ghost calling on Kali to fight for Independence.
Technology also opened the fun of Satya Dheer Singhs’ exbuberant hybrid flying tigers in acrobatic freehand fusion. I remember his Joy of Life exhibit at Mumbai’s Jehangir Art Gallery for all its fun. The contrasts inspire a bright mix and match, much as Singh mixes Hindu and Muslim motifs just as transformative as the Sufis alchemical black light and the bright almost unnaturally bright hues made possible by new chemistry. I wondered what the late scholar Coonaswamy would make of it.
Change can also be more subtle yet deeply pervasive. Brown paper and white paint transformed painting as a fertility act for the Avashini or Warli artist, to an expression of life within the fields, that has now allowed even a man, Jivya Same Mache to take up a role once know only to women, and bring its language in a modern form.
This transformation seems deeply personal. A space for the artist to understand himself as part and apart from his community.
Individuality is a concept modernity takes for granted. Jivya, reminds us in his art of the wholeness of unity with an that awareness difference makes the whole.
Perhaps he can remind our disjointed modern world to remember to see our self as different from others but we are part of larger unified reality.