January 11 - February 7, 2010
The Curatorial Note by ROMAIN MAITRA
Although philosophers and writers have consistently conjured up their views on beauty so that it is possible to reconstruct a history of aesthetic ideas across time, the same did not happen with ugliness because it was mostly conceived as the opposite of beauty. But ugliness can have a separate existence from beauty or may be it has its own 'beauty' and, therefore, it ought to redeem itself from being a fallen angel outside Beauty's paradise.
In Indian art, while beauty gets plenty of attention, ugliness has not got its due. When Indian art was searching for its own identity in the colonial dissemination of art and the young Bengal School was seeking inspiration from the ethos and the canons of beauty found in traditional Indian and Oriental art, it was the old Rabindranath Tagore who stated that his paintings were born from ugliness. Their origin was the scratches in his manuscripts that "cried, like sinners, for salvation and assailed my eyes with the ugliness of their irrelevance." It is indeed in the land of dreams and nightmares that the uncanny critters in his works could only inhabit.
However, despite the many kinds of explorations of contemporary Indian art thereafter, the hegemony of 'official' Beauty still prevails obnoxiously. Like the Hellenistic sculpture 'Laocoön' that portrays highest form of beauty even under the tragic figure's assumed condition of intense physical pain, while his screaming being downplayed to mere sighing, an overarching segment of contemporary Indian art today is still predominantly trammelled, like the state of the confined newly-wed feudal bride, by the ornamental fetters of decorative beauty.
Flashing new shoes or old run-down shoes, a fresh or a wilted flower – all things are beautiful in their own ways although such perceptions are often culture-specific. While in classical Indian poetry, a beautiful woman is compared with the gait of an elephant, the comparison could have been considered ludicrous in the literary imaginations of other cultures. In another way, while tattoos and piercings can be current fashion statements, or 'prickly-heats' on the skin of subversive generational challenge, tattoos are still viewed', like in the past, as tell-tale signs of criminals or the degenerates and the and, significantly, Hieronymus Bosch's persecutors of Christ have their ugly faces pierced with all kinds of rings.
Perhaps it is time for the ugly to garner some of the attention routinely bestowed in Indian art on its more comely cousin, beauty. To face these questions, I have conceived ugliness as a curatorial theme although it was arduous to select Indian artists, specially from Bengal, since few are wont to summon ugliness as their muse. If ugliness can be identified as ugliness in itself, external ugliness and the artistic portrayal of both, then my idea in the 'Pretty Ugly' show is to examine how a repellent theme can have its own beauty, and a blissful theme can appear soi-disant ugly. However, I left it entirely to my invited artists to interpret the above in their own terms – along with their individual written statements. With the 'Pretty Ugly' curatorial theme, my clarion call to these artists is to celebrate ugliness with viable means of conventional aesthetic transgression and redefine the canons of aesthetics. There are few things more beautiful than the sight of procreation of struggling mammals with their slime, blood and innards out of which the beatific baby is born. The same with art.
"In my opinion, beauty and ugliness are not very different from each other. In real terms, they are like counterparts. Just as beauty sees its reflection in ugliness, ugliness is the first step towards beauty. It is this 'seeing' of the movement, which makes the venture meaningful.
This is true of nature as well. While mild breeze in the summer is soothing, a raging storm is not necessarily welcome. A gentle rain at the sowing time is life-giving and hence beautiful, but being inundated by floods is the exact opposite. The tamed fire that cooks food is beautiful and imperative, but a wild, uncontrolled and violent fire is capable of annihilating life forms and hence ugly.
For me, the act of expelling faecal matter is an act of going towards beauty from ugliness. It is internally cleansing on the wings of meditative thought. The toilet itself is a palace of dreams where individual and private dreams are woven and enjoyed as per one's chronological age, thought process and financial means.
In my childhood I have seen swirls of water etch images on the walls of the toilet, I have seen motifs in three dimensional forms peeping out of railway bathrooms as the trains chug from one station to the other, both physically and metaphysically. The no-holds-barred graffiti on the walls tell their tales in no uncertain manner. The toilet absorbs the entire negativity of the world like God. It is important, it inspires, it is essential. In this, I have experienced the calm and peace of a Buddhist monastery where one meditates and self-realization dawns. In actuality, the off-putting ugliness is only a matter of perspective.
The unique place that the toilet enjoys in the context of human identity is supreme and will continue to remain so. It is pure and despite being ugly intrinsically, it is still very beautiful."
"God gifted us a beautiful Earth. We tattooed it with an ugly civilization. So the society around me is fractured, decaying, horrifying, depressing, empty, and ultimately unintelligible. I feel myself as a part of inert generation. Inert eyes stare at me when I am cheated. Inert smiles quips at me when I get harassed and the list goes on. And, the helpless me vomit my anger on canvas, desperately and intentionally making the 'rectangle' ugly. I scream, I scratch; I fear, I stitch; I fear, I make it blue; I become angry, I make it red; I become hopeless, I make it black. The truth is that reality is horrifying, disintegrating with a swirl, and, further, I feel that the art world is slowly becoming marginalized, in-bred, and conservative. Therefore, it is about being left behind: for any self-respecting artist there should be nothing more demeaning than being left behind.
The point is about being a human being who looks at the world afresh. That is always the challenge of art and its highest calling. Without being inert, let us take up the challenge. That is the statement in my art."
"Art and aesthetics have always been understood as beauty or creation of beauty for the masses and its environment. However, since both beauty & the beast do co-exist we must give space to ugliness in art. Brutality, aggression, violence, terrorism, slavery, hatred, wars, racism, riots etc. are examples of negativity conquering human psyche ever since the evolution. Negative emotions characteristically transform themselves in accordance with the existing time in collaboration with the prevailing atmosphere. Today ugliness appears in the form of hazardous pollutants, life threatening diseases, accidents, disasters, global warming, extinction, drug abuse and poverty. Ugly art is hence an attempt of immediate call for attention demanding justification from the responsible lot."
"Ugly! Or Beautiful! Are these expressions 'absolute' and 'final' in this world? I dare say 'NO'.
Inside every living animal, there exists a skeleton which apparently looks ugly without which the beauty of the living creature can not be constructed. When one notices an object one does not see it with one's eyes only but the object creates a feeling in one's mind, a mind which perceives a thing through its experiences and inductive knowledge which are not fixed and absolute. Hence, an apparently ugly thing may change into a beautiful one if one looks at it from a different perspective, dimension and context. Thus, the famous saying comes 'beauty lies in the beholder's eye'. No object is ever 'beautiful' or 'ugly'. It is the beholder who makes the object the way he perceives it."
"Ugliness has been used for something with which society cannot negotiate, but the ugly is also a very integrated part of this world, whether with the living, or with the non-living. I perceive ugliness as a part of our daily lives and often its deeper domains.
For example, my divested deities are not just mere deities; they are also endowed with living existence. There is no aura of divinity left at this stage but they all become integrated part of our life. They cease to remain as just clay idols as they drag our vision into greater depths.
I feel they are mirror reflections of our own lives and these derelict standstill images become lively every moment while telling the story of each person, known and unknown. With all the details of imagery, one can ponder on the complexity of life or one can have there own journeys through these metaphor."
"Although it may appear apparently as ugly, there is nothing 'ugly' in art. I think strength is beauty and beauty is strength. Raw vitality and simplicity guide me in the execution of my work. Prettiness or highly finished work does not suit the nature of my expressions. And, the essence of reality prevails in most of my works morphologically."
"Truth can become beautiful if it is embodied through formal perfection in a work of art. After all, beauty is indeed a matter of relationship of size and proportion. However, if the truth is awful, it borders on ugliness. However, an awful experience can elevate itself into the domain of aesthetic experience where a dreadful image can become beautiful.
In any case, whatever may be the emotional experience, it has to be translated within the framework of formal balance to activate bhava and the aesthetic value of a work of art. So, beauty is inherent in every experience if it is elevated into domains of formal perfection and balance."