Case for the designer deity
Times of India - 9 Jan 2009, 0010 hrs IST, Bachi Karkaria
'Art for aarti's sake' has become an unhappy mantra. Earlier this week, yet another gallery came under attack because someone's religious sensibilities were offended; the 'offendee' predictably launched a counter-offensive with the help of yet another 'rent-an-indignation' group. The ire brigade directed its fire at an untitled oil-and-acrylic-painting by Delhi-based artist Nitai Das, who had waited six years for his maiden exhibition at Mumbai's premier Jehangir Art Gallery. An art collector, Varsha Thakkar, had taken serious objection to what she perceived as a 'nude Shiva', and which Das insisted was not any specific deity, but an ''anthropomorphic image of God''.
The lady was in no mood to swallow this 'poison', and by the next afternoon had managed to awaken a little-known group called Hindu Janajagruti Samiti. In an enraged tandava, eight of its 'activists' stormed the gallery, and tore down not only the 'blasphemous' painting, but four other secular nude works as well. Mumbai's police force, already stretched to guard vital installations against another terrorist attack in addition to its routine pressure of defending VIP egos, had to muster forces to protect one more 'sensitive' site, the art gallery.
So now, rather than regurgitate the oft-repeated arguments on art versus public morality/ religious sentiments/ any other allergen discovered or dormant, here's an entirely new proposal. Let us institute a national Committee for Legally Attired Deities (CLAD). Its task would be to formulate guidelines on the correct garments with which to dress artistic representations of not just the Hindu pantheon, but prophets of other faiths as well. A couple of years ago, an Australian sculptor was forced to de-name his four-metre high nude male titled 'Zarathustra' after a worldwide Net offensive from shocked believers.
The need for a body such as CLAD is imperative. The naked aggression has got so out of hand that artists are likely to stop dabbling altogether in the highly fraught form of depicting gods in the altogether. Far from being the solution, this development will raise a worse problem. Swarms of hitherto-unheard-of activists will descend on every art launch, like freeloaders on the tofu tartlets, and force the closure of the exhibition should any deity be painted in clothes which offend the pride of that particular state. Remember, religious chauvinism pales in comparison with its regional cousin.
Galleries could turn into a colour of riot if, say, the Shiv Sena objects to all portrayals of Parvati not in the Maharashtrian nav-vari sari. Hopefully, even the most zealous Sainik will not insist that Lord Shiva appear only in the Thackeray patriarch's sartorially challenged uniform. Our CLAD must uphold the principles of national integration, though artistic integrity can be safely ignored.
If God created man in his own image, isn't it also time to return the favour, and depict divinities in the designer infinity now at our command? If it takes its brief seriously, CLAD could become an acceptable arbiter of Mount Kailash couture. You realise, of course, that, even with global warming, the temperatures up there are inimical to the nudity these airy-fairy artists keep thrusting on its sacred inhabitants.
Why, even the profane gallerati might welcome the CLAD initiative. In these meltdown times, 'liquidity crunch' is not a new technique devised by some new enfant terrible hot off the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. Now that the disposable income, which bankrolls patronage has begun drying up, artists too have become risk averse. They can no longer afford to have years of work being tarred in emboldened brush-strokes, or periodically end up with egg tempura on their own face.
It is an entirely different matter that the real target should not be artistic gods, nude or fully clothed, but real-life idols with clay feet doing their Guccipudi over our politics, our economy and the new keeper of our consciousness, the electronic media.
The lady's perceiving 'nudity' in the painting was unfortunate, if the artist did not mean it.
The entire Hindu community worships Lord Siva in temples in the form of a huge penis resting in a vagina, purportedly Parvati's. As such, his depiction as anything other than as a penis is itself blasphemous.
That gods can never be nude is very stupid. Surely, they too have to take baths and have sex, in the nude.
Whoever objected to Siva in the nude has acted extremely blasphemously. No real devotee of Siva and worshiper of the Ling can pardon such blasphemy.