A canvas sans censorship and chains
The question of freedom in art has been debated much over the years. But how do we ensure that one man’s joy isn’t another’s regret?
KOCHI: Freedom is a chant that reverberates when days of national importance present themselves as a reminder of sacrifices of generations past that earned it for us. Lest we forget. Seventy-three years ago, the Constitution guaranteed us the right to freedom of expression. Filled with national pride, glowing in the aftermath of the neighbourhood Republic Day celebrations, with patriotic tunes still swirling around one’s lips, let us ask ourselves what is this freedom we celebrate. Are there pragmatic limitations to that freedom?
Alfred George Gardiner, the famous poet, once said, “A person’s freedom ends where another man’s freedom begins.” India is a country so complex in diversity. These boundaries of liberty are often blurred. Most often, our freedom spills forth and encroaches on our neighbour’s backyard. Reactions are varied, ranging from extreme violence to a meek acceptance of subjugation. Can art remain unaffected by this encroachment?
Any form of art thrives on free expression. Without this, the very soul of artistic practice is lost. Most artists take this responsibility with all the seriousness it deserves. And no! painting your portrait with the potbelly intact can by no means be termed irresponsible. However bitter a truth that may be, there are far greater truths that art voices. Truth is a hard pill to swallow, especially for those who live in the cocoon of falsehood. Yet, there can be no other way.
Art can never be only about beautiful sunsets and that slice of life from the suburbs. No matter how much they may remind you of a certain calm, much needed amid a domestic quarrel or an overdue analysis of even more overdue bills, the sole purpose of art is beyond appeasing frayed nerves. Art is a mirror to society, and life in this society comes in all shades. Ignoring the uncomfortable dark hues would be akin to viewing the world through rose-tinted glasses.
Unfortunately, to the present day, several artists, like Chinese artist Ai Wei Wei, have faced the brunt of censorship and artworks have often been destroyed, vandalised or banned for presenting views that oppose the dominant narratives. A mind that lives in the shadow of fear can seldom create or function. Haven’t we all experienced that lump in the throat and a complete blackout of all the late-night pre-exam preparations, when the invigilator stops by your desk to peer into your answer sheet?
Artistic freedom certainly does not merit debate. The consciousness to regulate its use lies within the conscience of the artist. In circumstances where art infringes another’s rights, the judiciary exists to determine this violation. Censorship by force and intimidation can never be the solution. To quote Pablo Picasso, “ Yes, art is dangerous. Where it is chaste, it is not art.” With another Republic Day passing by, as we celebrate our precious freedom, as a nation, let us also rejoice in setting art free from the chains that bind.