Art and Protest

 “Art is a medium to communicate with the sublime within and in others.”  – Saubiya Chasmawala


Art is a form of communication. An artist communicates if she is passionate about her ideas and preoccupation. The artist spends a great deal of time before she decides to communicate. An artist has to be inspired before they choose to communicate. Many times the artist is in a state of conflict and when they overcome this conflict they are able to create Art.

How do I know all this ? An intellectually stimulating affair in the city of banyan trees.

I was in Vadodara for three years. It was during then that I had my first interaction with the discipline of fine arts. In the college of Fine Arts, MS University I saw numerous exhibitions, performances, and documentaries. But the most memorable  were the interactive sessions with the students there.

Just like each year, summer of 2013 was very busy for the final year students of the fine arts school of Vadodara as they had their final exhibition of their academic term. During that summer, I was helping Saubiya Chasmawala with her final display. We would discuss ideas and run around the city looking for different materials. One of the most memorable trips was when went to a scrap yard. Saubiya fell in love instantly with a giant wheel like structure made of steel, maybe it was a manhole cover, it weighed over 100 kgs.

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As they days progressed I saw her try new techniques and discard them. It was then I understood that an artist is quite often in protest with herself. I remember how she would let go an idea. She was working on an 18 feet by 4 feet plank to display the impressions of found object on handmade paper, just  two or three days before the final display. I got carried away while helping her, I thought it was my final display as well and I didn’t approve of her discarding the plank!

How easy it is to get attached to a gesture, habit, relationship over a period of time? This leads to the sense of ownership and jealousy. And an artist has to overcome this attachment on a daily basis.

Saubiya is from Alavi Bohra Muslim community, based in Vadodara. Over the years her form of protest changed and by the means of protesting she won her rights which otherwise she would have lost like many other females in her community. She has always been a hard working student. This balances her bold steps to maintain individuality in her home and beyond.For instance, she would have a hard time going out for cycling at 8 PM as her parents, like many parents, thought it was unnecessary. But when her excellent academic record she would have some leverage. Here is an extract from here MA dissertation,

“My religious upbringing made it difficult for me to adopt the ways of modern thought and found myself in situations where my ways held no importance the way it did among my family. There was always a tension of choosing from the two ways that were completely opposite and, therefore, struggled to search for my place amidst the various philosophies, ideas and belief structures that I was exposed to.”

The protest is the only weapon against the ones who are in power.  A protest aims to unite the masses and overthrow the ones are exploiting. The right to protest is the soul of democracy. Hence, it’s very important how a protest is conducted. The power of imagination does help when you are communication to many people at once; hence, art and protest make a very good team. Every act of suppression is followed by protests, it’s only then changes take place.

Patriarchy  has curbed the rights of women all across the world. Hence, it becomes very important as a feminist to protest the most ‘fundamental’ ideas. For instance, when feminist demonstrate that only women have the right over their body thru protests. Once such campaign is free the nipple campaign, many countries have laws which can get a woman arrested for showing her upper body. The campaign doesn’t promote women to bare breasts, but it draws attention to the fact that women’s upper body is sexualized in society, addressing the hypocrisies and inconsistency when it comes to nudity. Social networking sites like Instagram and Facebook have “Keep your clothes on policy” this rule seems only to apply to images that contain women’s nipples as they are promptly removed by Instagram unless the areola itself is covered. Contrastingly, photos featuring topless men are generally not subject to this regulation. Lina Esco has led this campaign actively and it’s a global phenomenon, she made a comedy-drama film titled Free the Nipple (2013). The film draws attention to how American culture celebrates violence and represses sexuality. It was almost impossible to release the movie and thus the campaign came to existence.

The place where protest is least allowed or possible is the place where it needs the most. Poorly regulated censorship has curbed creativity and hasn’t allowed artists the freely express or experiment with ideas. The end result is that inequality thrives. Another such incident in 2015 was when the Center banned screening of a documentary on Muzaffarnagar communal riots at your place.
I was in Chennai during this time and activists were screening the movie at Spaces, Besant Nagar. The screening was stopped by the Chennai Police. The activists held a protest near Spaces and informed everyone about the new venue. Till the moment we reached Max Muller Bhavan I was only thinking why did the government try to ban the screening. But after watching the movie I wondered why didn’t the government stop the director while shooting for his documentary  because that would have been more effective from the government’s point of view.
Who knows maybe they did.
Protesting often exposes the truth. These protests are a result of a democratic education system and we must maintain it.

The incident in the incident was a safe encounter,no one was hurt.

But in 2007, a final year student was not allowed to display his painting by Sang Parivar and Methodist Church in Vadodara. Things got nasty. The student was arrested and later released, after protest from students, faculty and fellow artist. But the violence created and fear which was fuel amongst the students changed the functioning of the entire MS University. I make this statement because I have studied there. Many teachers resigned for the school of fine arts after the incident as a protest. While other departments have decided to stay away from such controversies and play safe, the  Fine Arts school doesn’t really have the luxury because intellect freedom and artist freedom can’t curb. They have recovered from it well and it gives the aspiring artist to experiment freely and fearlessly.
In the Arts and Culture Elective at Asian College of Journalism, Sadanand Menon once said, changing the interpretation of the language of actions leads to social changes. They way people discuss art becomes a litmus test for us to see if our society is changing or not. If we keep hold of one set of beliefs, deal with situations with same perspectives then we are not changing. I would like to conclude with saying that Protest in Art is like water; it has no substitute.


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