Celebrating democracy through art

Art has the power to educate and ignite debate and dialogue


The general elections for the world’s largest democracy came to an end earlier this week after two long months. India, and the rest of the world seem to all be in a state of shock and surprise with the unexpected results. The beauty of a democracy came through with this outcome.

In a nation that has been colonised and ruled for decades and centuries, democracy is valued tremendously. Indian art is testimony to this. It would be impossible to take political influence away from art, with most art movements being born out of sociopolitical ongoings—be it the Bengal school where Rabindranath Tagore wrote the poem where the ‘mind is without fear and the head held high’ or Modern Indian artists such as Nandlal Bose.

Bose's work ‘Bapuji’(1930), a black and white linocut portrait, depicts Mahatma Gandhi, walking alone. There is a sense of calmness, peace and quiet as he walks by himself. The powerful lines, almost like rapid brushstrokes, are a testimony to his strong, relentless personality or perhaps symbolise the winds of change that the freedom struggle were to bring?

Even today, artists continue to use the strokes of their brushes to document political events, be it celebrations or the many upheavals. While art works, paintings and now photographs are a form of documentation, art also has the power to unite a country. Through hard hitting messages, artists have the control to build burning bridges and bring together society for a brighter future.

An Indian contemporary artist who recently caught my eye, Ganesh Kumar is a differently-abled artist using his mouth to create beautiful works of art. A self-taught artist, his work depicting a banyan tree is a celebration of democracy. His art has a deep meaning; while he is differently-abled, for him the right to vote is where he finds his liberation. The way a banyan tree spreads its roots and solid foundation, democracy of India has diverse roots but the solid foundation of democracy brings and holds the banyan tree together.

Mohammed Intiyaz, a visual artist hailing from Jharkhand, uses his firsthand experiences to colour his canvas. A powerful series on ‘Protest’ by him, inspired by the phrase Inqalab Zindabad or long live the revolution, shows a population with a voice, opinion and reason. Individual citizens set against beautiful backdrops are seen in this vibrant series.

'Protest No 9', depicts a young boy, of perhaps Islamic lineage, waving the Indian flag. His face radiating courage, conviction and pride.

Similarly, Riyaz Komu brings to life his love for democracy and the Indian constitution with his art. At a time when several incidents of oppression and silencing were unravelling, Komu built on a reflecting and poignant solo exhibition, titled 'Holy Shiver'. The exhibition included digitally scanned and printed pages of the Constitution of India. The same 26 pages have been installed as a dark and illegible X-ray image to showcase the threat and crumbling of the Constitution.

Ranbir Kaleka’s ‘Snips and Figments from City as a Stage’ is a beautiful, vibrant work, a celebration of Indian diversity. I love the manner in which, the work has an underlying sense of humour, showing us mere mortals as circus monkeys but at the same time depicts beauty of people of diverse social, cultural and religious backgrounds coming together under one stage.

But art is not confined to paintings on canvases and paper. Cartoonists are often the first to draw and sketch their opinions and also, sadly, the first to be censored and cancelled for doing so.

R.K. Laxman’s cartoon character 'The Common Man' was part of a newspaper's daily comic strip since 1951. His work is a visual representation of the hopes and dreams, the daily struggles of a common man in India. The cartoon character, over the years, was influential enough to be an airline mascot and be commemorated with tall statues and on postal stamps.

This is the power of art. To educate and ignite debate and dialogue.

Freelance cartoonist, Satish Acharya, brings together satire and sarcasm in his drawings as he brings forward political ongoings. Several cartoonists may not have the freedom of expressing themselves so freely given they are aligned with media houses and publications. This traps the artist and his or her works lack a sense of creative fluidity.

I love seeing an Amul billboard with a witty and accurate, socially, politically and culturally relevant drawing. For till the power to paint and draw in a free-spirited way is alive, democracy will be rooted like the banyan tree.