‘The Taj’ in Delhi via France

(first published in Jan 2009 for Art Concerns e-Mag)

The Mumbai attacks have taken up every possible space around us and understandably so. Our TV space, cyber space, mind space, dinner-table space and SMS space. Every public person worth his or her salt is out with an opinion on 26/11. Musicians are out with special songs written for those who fell to the terrorists’ bullets. Writers are out with passionate write-ups on their thoughts and anguish. But what’s wrong with the art fraternity? Does it take so long to react? Why is it that there’s just one ageing master who stands up to say something about Mumbai, using what he knows best – his paint brush. ‘Rape of India’ may not be the best work done by M.F. Husain but he manages to reach out to the people of India, who are in mourning for the tragedy and who live through it everyday. What’s more, he’s manages to do this sitting miles away from India, in London.
Of course, he was also in the news for promising to do another set of paintings to replace his three works that were destroyed in the Taj attack. But ‘Rape of India’ that was done for Serpentine Gallery in London was different. It was special. So why must the rest of our lot of respected, famous, sensitive, young, energetic artists be tight lipped? Why do we fail to catch the pulse of the nation at such a critical juncture? How nice it would be to have an unscheduled show where paintings, installations, sketches, videos are all exhibited as a voice from the art world. What puts artists in such a distant orbit? Over cautiousness? Plunging markets? Lack of time? Surely, musicians and writers are just as busy and market-affected as artists are… yet they did come out in support and solidarity for the Mumbai attack victims.
We are yet to see a complete art show dedicated to what happened in Mumbai. On a personal note, I am proud to have made my own small contribution. I helped to get a ‘wall’ for a group of French graffiti artists who wanted to do something for the Mumbai martyrs. Dezer, Migwel and Keflione are from France and were in Mumbai the day the 60-hour siege began. They remember being huddled in their guesthouse, glued to their TV, while Mumbai was up in flames. Their schedule in Mumbai was shelved as result and when they came to Delhi, they were determined to dedicate a wall to the Mumbai attack. But in Delhi they couldn’t find a wall. I met them for a story and they shared with me their problem. Touched as I was by their concern I sent a flurry of SMSes to possible ‘wall-owners’ who’d be happy to get their walls sprayed with graffiti art.
Thank God for Mukesh Panika (of the Religare Arts Initiative), who jumped at the offer and swung open his glass doors to the French trio. The artists were more than thrilled at the opportunity… the outside façade of ‘Arts.i’ (aka Religare art gallery) is indeed any graffiti artists dream come true. But it wasn’t as easy as it sounds. The artists had to wait for an extra consignment of spray paint that was to come from France. They had to delay their departure by three days to finish the wall. Mukesh had to make other arrangements in the gallery to incorporate the graffiti into the theme of his current show, ‘Nature of the City’. And I had to shoot them for three continuous days to capture their art in progress as inch by square inch of the wall transformed brilliantly. It was all worth the trouble!
Finally after three days of work and hours of planning, the Taj was brimming with hope and good cheer in pastel shades of blue. The names of the martyrs were written in yellow over a thick font of orange letters that said ‘India’. And pink fists towered above these letters urging not just Mumbaikars but us Delhiites too to carry forward the spirit of India that goes on and on and on.


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