Testimony to subtle divides

Testimony to subtle divides

Testimony to subtle divides

Times New Roman & Countrymen
Vishwajyoti Ghosh Blaft,
2009, Rs 295

An attempt to sell his car took Vishwajyoti Ghosh to the Classifieds section of his newspaper — a simple turn of page that was to inspire an exhibition and the accompanying book of 25 picture postcards, glibly titled Times New Roman & Countrymen. It was the eccentric syntax of the format that drew him to this world initially but eventually the bewildering range of content took him in. Some of the ads that most caught his fancy have been reproduced with film and educational posters and Raja Ravi Varma’s forms, as art in the book. 

Ads for predictable and unpredictable middle class preoccupations like tuitions, immigration, pest-control, Yoga, astrology, counselling, job offers, money making techniques, maids, sex, sexual problems, selling music and even disowning a wayward son weave themselves into a collage of familiar images arranged with shades of grey and black humour, and underpinned by consistent irony — welcome elements in any grade, especially since they went missing from most of our contemporary writing and got mangled in television and cinema.

The idea is to be able to laugh at ourselves as a society, except that the people, who are likely to pick up this book, are not the ones who advertise regularly in the classifieds or consult them. This amused glance at a section of society we live differently from is testimony to subtler divides in the idea of India-divides other than the great economic divergence or the rural-urban bifurcation. Although maybe these divisions are more superficial than we imagine — a larger part of us subscribe to the same preoccupations, only expressed differently. Parental supervision in key matters, caste barriers and sexual repression, for instance, are not confined in their sway.

The real news then might just be on these pages we don’t read — a mosaic from the contributions of a wide cross-section that turns into a contemporary portrait of a society, even if two-dimensional. Similarly the popular art, in supporting role, has a pleasing recall value having impressed itself early on in our lives. A representation like this has the ability to unlock whatever psychoanalytical or sociological meaning these images might possess.

The essential form of this art works by transforming un-selfconscious ‘bad taste’ to deliberately constructed kitsch in its higher avatar as acceptable post-modern art and India’s recent big import. Kitsch in fact has adeptly replaced poverty in the department since India got itself an image makeover in the decade past; even if Brand India continues to feed off our curiosity value in the West. That the same Kitsch is also readily consumed by us, might be a sign of the aforementioned divide or an acknowledgement of the West as an unquestionable authority on what is ‘cool’.

Kundera, likened Kitsch to totalitarianism, by identifying it as something that gives all answers in advance and precludes any questions. One of its most disturbing qualities, besides the sheer deprivation of complexity, nuance and individuality, is its ability to sanitise realities that might have had other stories to tell. Some rebellious impulse in Art History or the other must have sparked the process of its legitimisation as a formidable presence in the face of fine arts today, leaving one hoping that subversion is cyclical in this regard. But if the form does not irk you, or you are not done with its idiosyncratic novelty yet, Ghosh’s canvas is appealing, stimulating and entertaining.