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Art has always been linked with politics, says art historian Kavita Singh

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By Nishtha

Dr Kavita Singh, an art historian and a professor at the School of Arts and Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University recently delivered a lecture on the topic, ‘The Museum is National: National Museum in South Asia’ at the National Museum, New Delhi. Speaking at the event, Dr Singh said that with the help of institutions like the National Museum one is able to trace the history of any nation through their art.

She shared anecdotes on how India, Pakistan and Bangladesh founded National Museums in their respective territories after independence, adding that ‘heritage’ is only a part of past that we desire – a concept that has been picked by museums across the world.

In conversation with NewsGram, Dr Singh shared her views on how art is interlinked with politics and why museums have handpicked parts of their cultural heritage to showcase in their premises. Excerpts from the interview:

Nishtha: You mentioned throughout your lecture that while museums serve as a reminder of vast cultural past and heritage, the collections including the artefacts have been carefully selected for display. What is the reason behind such selection?

Dr Kavita Singh: While constructing a National Museum, you want to display a strand of your cultural past which is valuable and in some way will unite the people of the country. For that, you make certain selections. One tries to avoid certain parts of the past which might stir up unwanted emotions. So you pick your way through the past. For instance, there are enough evidences to prove that India has a long tradition of patriarchy. However, we do not want to be perceived in that light anymore. So we focus on collections that portray women in powerful light to show that we have a lineage of strong women. One will always look for those strands from the artistic heritage that are of value to them.

N: Several interesting incidents during the construction of National Museums in India, Pakistan and Bangladesh found mention in your lecture. Could you share some with our readers?

KS: Well, when the National Museum was being set up in Delhi, the authorities were having a tough time in convincing people to donate sculptures, manuscripts, paintings or any other article of historic value. All efforts were in vain. But, one day Maharaja of Kapurthala wrote to the authorities saying that he would donate all the manuscripts in his possession. When the officers reached the spot they realized that the Punjab Provincial Government was already present there. It was the property of the government, and not the Maharaja’s to give away. The manuscripts never made their way to the museum.

N: The Indian Council of Historical Research (ICHR) was recently reconstituted and office bearers who were related with the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) were appointed. Do you think such a move implies that art and politics are interlinked?

KS: Art has always been linked with some form of politics or other. You may or may not recognize it. There might be concepts that you might be hearing from your childhood so you don’t consider them political statements. If you delve into the history, politics was connected right from the colonial government. For example, if you were living in Madras (now Chennai) under the British colonial period, there would have been a different sort of politics around art. The art politics was different in every region. More than the Bhartiya Janta Party (BJP) at the centre, the RSS has certain ideas about what art, culture and identity is. We certainly expect a lot of intervention in this issue soon.

Jawaharlal Nehru and Dr. Grace M. Morley standing under the Mandapa in Wood Carving Gallery of the National Museum

N: The political wind especially around the independence shaped the Indian history and established our cultural identities. In the last three decades, we have seen significant political events with international relations with different countries improving. Do you think these changes are strong enough to create an impact on our heritage and culture?

KS: There have been moments where certain cultural relations became an important part of our diplomacy. In the 1980s, the festivals of India created an impressive impact and culture became an important part of our diplomacy since it raised the country’s profile internationally. But there has not been a major phase like that since then. Off late, we take up partnerships that are suggested by other countries. We simply agree to become partners. The festivals were an unusual thing where India stepped up to take an initiative.

N: Do you think India is making sufficient efforts to promote art, culture and heritage at a national and international level?

KS: We have a long way to go and there is no question about it. We have such incredible sources whether it is tremendous skills of our craftsman, monuments and manuscripts across the country – in places we can’t even imagine! Forget about museums, there are many collections in known and unknown temples and monasteries that we have no idea about. We need concrete and serious efforts.

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Diesel Exhaust Converted Into Ink by Indian Innovators To Battle Air Pollution

Supervised by young engineers, workers at the start-up company Chakr Innovation in New Delhi cut and weld sheets of metal to make devices that will capture black plumes of smoke from diesel generators and convert it into ink.

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representational image. VOA

Supervised by young engineers, workers at the start-up company Chakr Innovation in New Delhi cut and weld sheets of metal to make devices that will capture black plumes of smoke from diesel generators and convert it into ink.

In a cabin, young engineers pore over drawings and hunch over computers as they explore more applications of the technology that they hope will aid progress in cleaning up the Indian capital’s toxic air – among the world’s dirtiest.

While the millions of cars that ply Delhi’s streets are usually blamed for the city’s deadly air pollution, another big culprit is the massive diesel generators used by industries and buildings to light up homes and offices during outages when power from the grid switches off – a frequent occurrence in summer. Installed in backyards and basements, they stay away from the public eye.

“Although vehicular emissions are the show stoppers, they are the ones which get the media attention, the silent polluters are the diesel generators,” says Arpit Dhupar, one of the three engineers who co-founded the start up.

The idea that this polluting smoke needs attention struck Dhupar three years ago as he sipped a glass of sugarcane juice at a roadside vendor and saw a wall blackened with the fumes of a diesel generator he was using.

It jolted him into joining with two others who co-founded the start-up to find a solution. Dhupar had experienced first hand the deadly impact of this pollution as he developed respiratory problems growing up in Delhi.

An Indian girls holds a banner during a protest against air pollution in New Delhi, India, Nov. 6, 2016.
An Indian girls holds a banner during a protest against air pollution in New Delhi, India, Nov. 6, 2016.

A new business

As the city’s dirty air becomes a serious health hazard for many citizens, it has turned into both a calling and a business opportunity for entrepreneurs looking at ways to improve air quality.

According to estimates, vehicles contribute 22 percent of the deadly PM 2.5 emissions in Delhi, while the share of diesel generators is about 15 percent. These emissions settle deep into the lungs, causing a host of respiratory problems.

After over two years of research and development, Chakr has begun selling devices to tap the diesel exhaust. They have been installed in 50 places, include public sector and private companies.

The technology involves cooling the exhaust in a “heat exchanger” where the tiny soot particles come together. These are then funneled into another chamber that captures 70 to 90 percent of the particulate matter. The carbon is isolated and converted into ink.

Among their first clients was one of the city’s top law firms, Jyoti Sagar Associates, which is housed in a building in Delhi’s business hub Gurgaon.

Making a contribution to minimizing the carbon footprint is a subject that is close to Sagar’s heart – his 32-year-old daughter has long suffered from the harmful effects of Delhi’s toxic air.

Motorists drive surrounded by smog, in New Delhi, India, Nov. 8, 2017.
Motorists drive surrounded by smog, in New Delhi, India, Nov. 8, 2017.

“This appealed to us straightaway, the technology is very impactful but is beautifully simple,” says Sagar. Since it could be retrofitted, it did not disrupt the day-to-day activities at the buzzing office. “Let’s be responsible. Let’s at least not leave behind a larger footprint of carbon. And if we can afford to control it, why not, it’s good for all,” he says.

At Chakr Innovation, cups, diaries and paper bags printed with the ink made from the exhaust serve as constant reminders of the amount of carbon emissions that would have escaped into the atmosphere.

There has been a lot of focus on improving Delhi’s air by reducing vehicular pollution and making more stringent norms for manufacturers, but the same has not happened for diesel generators. Although there are efforts to penalize businesses that dirty the atmosphere, this often prompts them to find ways to get around the norms.

Also Read: Exposure to Traffic-Related Pollution Poses Threat of Asthma in Kids

Tushar Mathur who joined the start up after working for ten years in the corporate sector feels converting smoke into ink is a viable solution. “Here is a technology which is completely sustainable, a win-win between businesses and environment,” says Mathur. (VOA)