This Sunday I knew I was going to Brooklyn… interesting things happening there. The Botanical Garden is celebrating Sakura Matsui (Cherry Blossom Festival) with traditional Japanese taiko drumming and martial arts, Japanese classical dances, an all-female marching band, anime rock from Tokyo and a samurai sword play… while the Brooklyn Museum is showing a number of very interesting artists including Ai WeiWei from China. The decision was made for me when the day dawned all chilly and windy… definitely a day to stay indoors. So the museum it was.
Brooklyn Museum is New York City’s second largest museum and has an extensive collection of antiquities from all over the world. The Egyptian, African, Oceanic, and South East Asian collections are so large that only a part of them can be displayed at any time. That too, with an area of 560,000 square feet!
In addition to the historical artefacts in the various galleries, the museum also displays works of contemporary artists. Currently on view are controversial Chinese artist Ai Weiwei, artist and author Judy Chicago and street artist Swoon. Other prominent exhibitions currently on are Witness: Art and Civil Rights in the Sixties, and Connecting Cultures. Fortunately, the museum allows photography in most of the areas, sans the flash of course. So that was a delightful Sunday indeed!
When looking at Ai Weiweiis art, the first thing that impressed me is the creative ways in which he has used art as an expression of his activism. The person speaking loudest from behind each of the exhibits at the show is the activist, not the artist. And that is essentially the power of his art.
Just take a look at this… six iron boxes the size of small rooms. You can step on a stool and look inside through a small square of glass. What you see inside is Weiwei while he was imprisoned by the Chinese government in 2011. These dioramas named ‘S.A.C.R.E.D’ show him sleeping, eating, showering, undergoing interrogation and sitting on the toilet, all under the watchful eyes of guards.
A strong criticism of the Chinese government’s handling of the 2008 earthquake in Sichuan is presented in the exhibit ‘Straight’ which displays tons of long reinforced steel bars from the Sichuan earthquake sites, straightened and laid out on the floor like rippling water. Another piece of art ‘Snake Ceiling’ shows a giant snake made up of children’s backpacks to commemorate the thousands of children who died in the earthquake.
Seeing the crowd around his ‘painted vases’, I couldn’t help wondering about the value of political art as opposed to art for art’s sake. Especially in the context of the Dropping the Urn stunt and the follow-on act at Miami with a million dollar Ai Weiwei vase. 🙂
Swoon has made a name for herself as a street artist. And her show ‘Submerged Motherland’ is an installation consisting of a huge tree, made of pieces of cloth and old canal boats people lived on. The tree with white paper leaves in the typical swoon style, is a pretty sight. Though it is doubtful whether the artist would appreciate the adjective ‘pretty’!
Once an editor, always an editor; is that true? Anyway, I was walking through the Judy Chicago show and caught a typo – ‘she changed her same’ instead of ‘she changed her name’! Unfortunately, that was one part of the show where photography was prohibited. Anyways, I made a point of going to the Information counter and reporting the typo. Good deed for the day, done!
And any talk about this visit to the Brooklyn Museum will not be complete without this beautiful painting by Georgia O’Keefe… and not a single flower in sight! What a joy!
02 May 2014
The car flies along the Mysore road. My cousin Bala is driving and the roads are delightfully empty as it is a Sunday morning. We are headed for the Lambani tribal settlement on the outskirts on the city. This tribe makes beautiful metal jewelry and embroidered cloth with mirror work, well known for their excellent craftsmanship. We are hoping to see the making of the lovely artefacts and to buy some, if available.
The progress is not so fast though, as we have to stop frequently to ask for directions. Many of these stops turn out to be exercises in character assessment as it seems inconceivable that anyone would willingly say ‘I don’t know’ around here. So one has to gauge whether the directions given are anywhere near dependable, based on the person’s apparent confidence, his body language, whether he looks you straight in the eyes…
From the highway we turn onto a paved road; just barely paved. Soon the going gets worse as the paving disappears from under the wheels and the terrain gets increasingly tough. Soon the path becomes two ruts hardly visible among the high grass, climbing up and down hillocks. The vehicle is lurching from side to side, the bottom often touching the ground with scraping noises. I’m getting more and more uneasy, as I’m the instigator of the plan. The other occupants of the car – Min and Bala’s wife Su – have this scared look on their faces and are looking uneasily around.
Soon the trees on either side are brushing the car and we can hear scratchy scrapy noises. Any indication of a road or path is almost gone. There is all kinds of discussion in the car… what if we get stuck somewhere, how will we turn the car around, what if we are not welcome where we are going… Su and I try to dissuade Bala from going any further. And Min looks like she is ready to scream at the first indication of trouble.
But apparently Bala is looking for adventure. We have come this far; now we don’t want to turn back without seeing the village… the road is sure to get better further along, says Bala the eternal optimist.
All of a sudden, the car bursts out into a clearing. Far off across the flat ground we can see some kind of construction. Just as we start looking around from the now stopped car, there is this loud whoop and flurry of action. A bunch of men, all dressed in tribal finery and shaking huge spears, rush towards the car from across the clearing. The loud shouting and yelling fill the air, combined with the noise of their running feet. Bala makes a tight circle with the car and in the blinking of an eye, we are driving helter skelter out of that clearing. As the car turns, we catch a quick glimpse of a huge cauldron, steam rising out of it, set on three gigantic stones with a roaring fire under it, in a corner of the clearing. It is being stirred by a bunch of women who are standing on stilts so that they can see into the pot. That is all we see and that is enough to set us out of there at the speed of thought…
Aah… I guess my imagination ran away with me… The story up to the point where we burst into the clearing is all true. We find ourselves in a grove of young mango trees, with some construction happening at one end of the grove. We speak to the people there… yes, we are on the right track; the Lambanis live around the area. No, they do not carry on their traditional arts anymore, at least not around there. And at this time, mid-morning, most of them will be at their work places.
Young mangoes – mouthwatering stuff!
So, a wild goose chase, but we thoroughly enjoyed it! 🙂 And the day provided many other enjoyments as well. On the way where we stopped for breakfast, we got to taste moode idli, a delicacy of the locale. Made of a mix of rice and lentils, it is steamed wrapped in pandanus leaves.
Also, we stopped at Janapada Loka, a cultural center set up to nourish the arts and crafts of Karnataka. Founded in 1994, it is located on the Bangalore-Mysore Road on a 15-acre campus.
Statues inside the gate of Janapada Loka
Artists in residence perform and conduct training in the traditional dance forms and music. Bangalore University has recognised Janapada Loka as a research centre.
Dancers at the Janapada Loka
The day we visited, there was a Yakshagana performance scheduled at Janapada Loka. But unfortunately, we couldn’t stay for that as we had to go see the Lambani settlement… 🙂
With sincere apologies to the Lambani people. The above story is no indication of the behaviour of the friendly and peaceful tribes; it only proves the influence of popular fiction on my imagination.
24 Feb 2014