On a power trip

This is a brave attempt to contextualise the nature of Karnataka's public visual culture.
Last Updated 23 May 2020, 20:15 IST

Ravikumar Kashi’s ‘Flexing Muscles’ is a treatise that attempts to contextualise the altering nature of ‘public visuals’ during the last five or six decades, though there are references to earlier visual schemes and patterns. This short study intends to examine the various implications of those ‘visuals’ — manifesting in the form of huge cut-outs of diverse ‘public figures’, colourful flexes with coded messages and striking images, banners carrying all kinds of combinations of statements and symbols — that for several decades have marked almost all ‘public spaces’ of Karnataka.

The short text is written in English and carries a Kannada translation. This in itself is an important democratic cultural statement for it allows the text to move beyond a certain class of readers confined strictly to metropolitan centres. Kashi’s analyses of the public visual culture of Karnataka emerges from an understanding of, and concern for, a genuine democratic society, which has been facing great threats during recent times. Kashi’s work takes a look at the invasion of a violent and intolerant temper that marks all our so-called ‘cultural spaces’.

He looks at the aggression and brutality of our times through the posturing of diverse political, religious and social groups, each of which does its very best to ‘flex’ its muscles on flexes....the literal and metaphorical meaning of ‘flex’ is crucial to Kashi’s analyses.

Historical dimension

There is a crucial historical dimension to the several transitions that the visual culture of Karnataka Kashi refers to in his text has undergone. As he rightly observes, the major shift came with the reorganisation of States in India on linguistic basis. The question of cultural identity became central to each and every state and Karnataka did attempt to create its specific cultural identity, through a state anthem, a flag and a distinct history of the language.

Poets, artists, cultural historians and social activists contributed in diverse ways to form a broad-based Kannada identity. Kashi argues that this was a spontaneous historical development, which, in the initial years, did not carry a sense of threat.

The phase of liberalisation and the huge explosion that Bangalore experienced in the world of ‘corporate technology’ did give Kannada activists quite some scope to foreground their anxieties and insecurities, but the impersonal nature of the corporate world hasn’t really allowed them to convert all their concerns into a major movement of protest.

The greatest threat to social and public life, as Kashi observes, comes from the nationalistic arguments of linguistic, religious and political groups unleashing all kinds of terrors on our social imagination and public life. He meticulously studies all the major agitations that Karnataka has witnessed during the last four decades and also focuses attention on the many vigilante groups that have taken birth during these decades. The author displays a thorough understanding of the different phases of the emergence of a violent nationalistic identity in Karnataka.

The many visual images that are spread all over the book and their critique clearly show how well versed he is with these developments.

(Published 23 May 2020, 19:55 IST)

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