In an aggressive instance of iconoclasm post the BJP’s victory in Tripura, a statue of Lenin was toppled in Belonia. In a domino effect, a bust of Syama Prasad Mookerjee was blackened in Kolkata, that of Periyar damaged in Tamil Nadu, and that of BR Ambedkar vandalised in Meerut. When art becomes political, the nation pays a terrible price. Statue and sculpture artist Vivek K Agrawal tells Ayesha Singh how politicising art has reduced the system to a brainless show of power that will not get anybody anywhere.
Why does art become political?
Because art is powerful, just like politics. It says a lot without saying anything. It stands out strongly and makes one introspect. Because it can be interpreted in different ways, it leaves a lot of scope for diversity of opinion. The problem begins when art is used solely as a political weapon and not as an aesthetic product.
What do you have to say about political statues being set up to mark a ruling party’s supremacy?
I strongly condemn them. Politicising art is downright wrong. Art is, and should remain, independent to not lose its essence, which is ultimate freedom from any shackles. Setting up figurative statues is a brainless show of power that won’t get anybody anywhere.
Making art a medium of radicalism is compromising on its fundamental beauty. For those who say that it’s a way of decorating a city, there are many other ways of doing so, other than installing political figures of dominance. Look at Europe and how beautifully non-political statues and sculptures are installed.
While I am in favour of political statues in government office, airports and public landmarks, setting them up at busy intersections and in parks is unacceptable. All they do is cause traffic jams. Nobody is really paying attention to them. Also, the number of statues should be streamlined. An expert committee, including artists, should be set up to decide the matter.
The other important point is that nobody maintains them. You pump in so much state money into making them and then you forget about them completely. Only when a historical figure’s birth and death anniversaries have to be commemorated is the statue dusted. If the ideology of the person is so important, why do you let it wither away? They are mere symbols, nothing more.
Irrespective of whether something is political or not, destruction of property should be criminalised.
Share your thoughts about the growing culture of vandalism in India…
Electronic media has a share in the blame. Showing something repeatedly, hundreds of times in a day, that too all in negative light, tends to incite people. It makes people vengeful. Moderation in reportage is crucial. Also, in TV debates, only those who can shout at the top of their lungs are invited, it seems. Why cannot you call thinkers with balance and discreetness?
I believe that the larger youth of this country, along with the general masses, are not indulging in vandalism, nor do they think it’s necessary. If we are a population of 132.42 crores, only a small percentage is violent.
If all political parties proclaim vandalism as an offence and ensure stringent action, it will reduce. Unfortunately, few parties consider that a priority. If the legal system disallows the making or subsequent breaking of public statues, the problem will be resolved.