What we lost in war

Art, it has been said, is that deep ocean and the bright blue sky that calms the restless soul with it’s infinity.

Published: 09th June 2022 02:03 AM  |   Last Updated: 09th June 2022 02:03 AM   |  A+A-

Express News Service

CHENNAI:  Is it possible to imagine Mogambo in love? Or to serve sambar rice with caviar? Better still, to watch a Tarkovsky film with a bunch of die-hard Tollywood fans breathing down your neck, even if they happen to be your best buddies? Some things in life do not fit together, not even in a sentence. They exist in extremes. Like war and peace. Or rather, war and art, for cannot art be translated as tranquility? 

Art, it has been said, is that deep ocean and the bright blue sky that calms the restless soul with it’s infinity. What imagined/unimagined connection could ever be established between a creative form as art and the destructive force that war is, where often for a brief while, sanity bids adieu to be replaced by egos and maniacal ambitions, as nations embark on paths of annihilation. War and art — how incongruous and preposterous the very sound of it uttered together in the same breath! 

The only vision that war conjures up is a scene straight out of Lawrence of Arabia or Dunkirk. While guns and tanks wage battle on blood-soaked grounds, the Mona Lisas reside safely tucked away in their respective museums. Or so you think. Alas, it is often art that becomes collateral damage in most battles and human conflicts. 

World War II is a fine example. The destruction of cultural property due to bombings by the Allied Forces, was unprecedented. Private Jewish art collections and museums were mercilessly looted by the Nazis. As with all situations in life where the boss has the final say, Hitler ordered that all art that fitted into the Nazi ideology be retained while the remaining were sold or tragically burnt. Though immense post-war efforts ensured that the artworks were recovered, at least 1,00,000 still remain untraced and lost forever.

Well, how can a story of combat ever be complete without acts of heroism and varied versions of the Avengers? And so it was with this one too, when heroes / heroines emerged to protect the artworks. Called ‘The Monuments Men’ (and women) and belonging to different nations, these valiant warriors who in their ordinary existence were art historians and curators, risked their lives during WW II by safeguarding monuments and braving bullets to recover looted art.

Any dispute big or small, between nations, doctrines or inflated self-conceit, has very often embroiled art in its complexities. The monumental Bamiyan Buddha statues, dating back to the 6th century, were destroyed by the Taliban in 2001, using dynamites, after being declared as idols. Likewise, the ancient Temple of Bel from 32 AD, located in Syria, was demolished using explosives by the ISIS in 2015. 

With a war being currently waged in far away lands and territorial clashes becoming a part of our daily news, a harmonious universe may perhaps be a distant dream but nevertheless, one that humanity should work towards tirelessly. Until that utopian day arrives, may the innocents along with our art and culture never be subjected to irreparable harm. Pray spare art from these violent explosions of hostility until peace eventually reigns.

Jitha Karthikeyan


(Jitha Karthikeyan is an artist and curator, passionate about making art accessible to the larger public)


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