Of donkeys & demons

In Memory

Of donkeys & demons


The sea is my master, my muse and my medium. The sea has inspired a number of my installations and the seashore has often become my canvas. It was a co-incidence that the terror attack on Mumbai emerged from the ocean. So, it was not surprising that I made use of the seashore to create installations as my response to the events of 26/11.

My socio-political concerns find a voice in my works. The terror attack on Mumbai apart from evoking anger also made me contemplate on issues connected with Indo-Pak relationship, religious fanaticism and rise of terrorism. 26/11 has left a deep wound on the psyche of the nation and especially for those who lost their dear ones. Since the attack originated in Pakistani soil, it has generated resentment against that nation. Many questions raise their heads from all the destruction left behind. Is our county really safe? Is Indian policy towards Kashmir really right? Can the two nations not work together in improving the lot of their large poverty-ridden population instead of spending millions on war machinery? If Germany and France can forget the trauma of World War II and be friends, why not India and Pakistan?

What are the causes of communal riots? Has Hindu fanaticism contributed to preventing reforms in Islam? What are the effects of rightwing politics in India on communal harmony? Are our so-called secular parties really secular?

A lot of blood has flown at the altars of religious fanaticism during and after the trauma of Partition. We need to re-examine the issue as individuals and as a nation so that the plural fabric of the country is re-affirmed. ‘Of Donkeys, Demons and Diabolical Death’ is an artistic, psychological and socio-political enquiry into the terror attacks on Mumbai.

The terrorists, most of them in their 20s came to Mumbai in an ochre-coloured inflatable dinghy in order to enact the dance of death. That dinghy was the vehicle of terror. On the Internet, I saw the picture of the original dinghy, now in the custody of Mumbai police. I decided to create an object based on this dinghy with the hoof of the Satan and moving red lights in her belly. An icon of terror attacks on Mumbai!

Terrorists are not Muslims or Hindus. They are a blot on the religion that they claim to profess. Terrorism is their only religion. They are not just robots but robots with donkey heads! Brainwashed and programmed by the satanic forces. I made 10 donkey masks in fiberglass and some replicas of AK-47s. I worked with Affsar Hussain and his team of actors from Kala Academy, Goa. We enacted a choreographed dance of death on Morjim beach. Most of my installation pictures are the product of that brilliant performance by the talented actors.  

I poured some red pigment in a puddle of water at Goa Velha beach. I was studying the effects and clicking pictures when out of nowhere an enormous fighter buffalo appeared on the scene. It was a sheer co-incidence. He-buffalo is the vehicle of Yama, the God of death. The animal posed for me majestically in my puddle of red paint. That was my next installation.

I am not particularly a religious person and I dislike rituals, especially when they are performed without understanding the context. When my father passed away three years ago, reluctantly I agreed to perform the 12th day ritual. We had a few priests in our garden chanting mantras around the holy fire and making me transfer my makeshift holy thread a hundred times from right shoulder to the left.

What interested me tremendously was a huge ball of rice the priest created with expertise of an artist.  He told me that it was my father’s soul, his ‘pind’. He covered the soul with red and yellow powders interspersed with black sesame seeds. I was stunned by the beauty of it. Instead of paying attention to the instructions of the priests, I was clicking pictures of my father’s soul. The rice ball was then left in the garden for crows to come and taste it. When the crows eat the rice, the soul is supposed to be liberated. The crows help the soul achieve moksha.

Amrita Shergil’s painting of five young Brahmins is one of my favourite works. I decided to recreate the painting with actors and then place rice balls on a banana leaf in front of them signifying the Hindu ritual for the dead.

I created a large red ball, the same shape as my father’s ‘pind’ for the souls of all those who perished in the terror attack.  I placed crows on the top of this ball. This was my homage to those who lost their lives on 26/11.

This is the era of telecommunication and terrorism. Never in the history of mankind was communication so advanced and accessible and terrorism so organised. Terrorists use electronic telecommunication equipments to achieve their goals.  Paradoxically, terrorism can be considered as a product of non-communication. I have used electronic circuit boards, representing telecommunication for my paintings and objects. The donkey head also appears in my works.

This exhibition is also my appeal to the sensitivity and sensibility of people to discard communalism. I hope and believe that the sea which brought in terrorists will also bring to the shores the pearls of human sensitivity and sensibility. Gods and demons once churned the sea using a serpent as a rope to precipitate Amrit, the elixir of immortality. All communities in India need to help churn out the amrit of communal harmony from the ocean of their hearts.

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