Tuesday January 23, 2018
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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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All You Need to Know About the Sport of Jallikattu

Jallikattu is certainly a dangerous sports, which poses a risk of life for the participants.

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banned bull taming sport of Tamil Nadu
Jallikattu sport of Tamil Nadu, Wikimedia

By Ruchika Verma

  • Jallikattu is a traditional Tamil sport
  • The sport involves bulls and humans, the latter trying to control the former
  • The sport was banned in 2014, which created a lots of controversy

Jallikattu or Sallikkattu, also known as ‘eru thazhuvuthal’ and ‘manju virattu’ traditionally, was in news last year, around this time due to the ban imposed on it by the Supreme Court. The ban was much hyped and gathered a plethora of media’s attention.

Jallikattu ban was much hyped. Wikimedia Commons
Jallikattu ban was much hyped. Wikimedia Commons

Jallikattu ban has also garnered lots of political attention due to the involvement of Tamil Nadu and Central governments. The issue is much hyed due to the political context involved in it too.

What exactly is Jallikattu ? 

Jallikattu is a traditional sport and spectacle in which bulls of the Pulikulam or Kangayam breeds are released into a crowd of people, and multiple human participants attempt to control the bulls while they try to escape.

Jallikattu is seen as animal cruelty by many activists. Flickr
Jallikattu is seen as animal cruelty by many activists. Flickr

Jallikattu is practised in the Indian state of Tamil Nadu as a part of Pongal celebrations. The districts, Madurai, Thanjavur, and Salem are the most famous for conducting Jallikattu. The game dates back to Tamil classical period, which went back to 400 BC. Ancient Tamil Sangam literature described the practice as ‘Yeru thazhuvuthal’ which literally means “bull embracing.” With time the sport has become synonymous with valour and bravery.

Also Read : Tamil Nadu legalises Jallikattu with a New Law

What happens in Jallikattu and how?

The bulls participating in the game are all lined up behind a narrow gate and released one by one into the arena. The participants have to either control the bull by holding its hump or clutch away a flag attached to the horns. Owners of the bulls often announce prizes for the man who gets the hold of their bull.

The objective of the game is not to kill or overpower the bull, but to hold onto their hump for a certain amount of time or distance.

The participants are only allowed to hold onto the hump of the Bull. www.in.com
The participants are only allowed to hold onto the hump of the Bull. www.in.com

There are three variants to the game. First, when the  bulls are released from an enclosed area. Second, when the bull is directly released into open ground. And third, when bull is tied to a rope as the only restriction, and a team of 7-9 members has to untie the prize from the bull’s horns in 30 minutes of time period.

The gate through which bulls enter the arena are called vadi vasai. The bulls charge at the men standing most near to the gate. One of the rules also say that a participant is only allowed to hold bull’s hump and no other body part. The other rules varies from region to region.

Also Read : Animal rights organisations challenge new law on Jallikattu

Jallikattu Ban and Controversy

Jallikattu is certainly a dangerous sports, which poses a risk of life for the participants.

In 2014, The Supreme Court banned the sport, endorsing the activists’ concerns according to which, Jallikattu is not only cruelty towards the animal, but also poses a threat to humans. According to the data provided, between 2010 and 2014, 17 people were killed and approximately 1000 were injured during Jallikatu.

The Jallikattu ban was protests by many Tamilians.
The Jallikattu ban was protests by many Tamilians.

However, the ban invited a lots of protests. Many Tamil communities called this ban a violation of their culture and tradition.

In 2017, many lawyers plead to remove the ban which was rejected by the court. After requests and arguments of Tamil communities, central government reversed the ban, however, after Supreme Court stuck the order down, the ban was imposed again. However, the government of Tamil Nadu sanctioned the sport and brought it back into the practice.