Art and Poetry Makes Singing in Dark Times More Relevant | The Daily Star
12:00 AM, December 02, 2017 / LAST MODIFIED: 12:15 AM, December 02, 2017

Art and Poetry Makes Singing in Dark Times More Relevant

The poet may be the priest of the invisible if we are to concur with Wallace Stevens. When art and poetry intersect, the invisible suddenly turns into the visible truth and this visible art is the skein that keeps the freedom of expression foregrounded. For someone who has grown up with Sukumar Ray's rib-tickling Ekushey Aaiin (21 Laws) and Ramgorurer Chhana (Ramgorur's Children) and the accompanying illustrations by the prolific poet, I realize our times need more examination of all draconian laws as well. It's a relation I personally keep exploring -- between the words and the art that makes the reader-viewer's experience a more lived experience.

It is rare but possible that an art magazine can feature excellence in all the aspects of art, aesthetics, and literature. Poet and editor, Bina Sarkar is passionate about visual, performance, photography, cinema, poetry and short stories "on a global scale." To channel her interests, Gallerie magazine was born in 1997 and has come a long way in showcasing the best of voices, some outright rebel. This year at its 20th anniversary, the magazine is 40 volumes old.

A sheer delight to flip through, among several well known names, Gallerie includes works from Balbir Krishan, Sarnath Bannerjee, Amar Kanwar, Shanta Gokhale, Astad Deboo, Waswo X Waswo, Nandita Das,             K Satchidanandan, Priya Sarukkai Chabria, Sudeep Sen and many more -- a feast for the lovers of words and images.

Very recently, Raqs Media Collective, a Delhi-based artists group, collaborated with the Bonniers Konsthall in Stockholm, Sweden, to hold an exhibition themed on war and poetry. Raqs has long been engaged in conversations about art and literature, and in a subversively creative manner.

The team worked with Theodore Ringborg of Bonniers Konsthall to curate "The Image of War." The entire showcasing is how we see "violence in images." Beginning September 20 and around till January 14, 2018, the exhibition houses 80 artists' work who "confront past or present conflicts."

This is where the collaboration has turned to poetry as another dimension in the documentation of violence or conflict.

In the words of Raqs -- who usually work as a collective -- the group felt that "we call poetry into existence when we feel a need to speak and listen acutely, and with a desire to conjure images and ideas that test the limits of language. If we think of war as a machete that cuts through thickets of conversation, then poetry—which insists on a persistent obduracy of utterance—acts as an active assertion against the collapse of language."

For artist and poet Sanjeev Khandekar, music, dance or visual art all have poetry as their common seed. He often uses a tone of cynicism and critique regarding current political issues in his social media posts of art works old and new and belonging to artists other than just himself. "It is the viewer who then deciphers the code of poetry hidden in a piece of art using the clues provided in a painterly manner," Khandekar said.

While for Sarkar art and poetry are entwined, and in dialogue with each other, Raqs believes that "poetry, which need not obey the syntax of the slogan, can confront this collapse (of language) by gifting us an awakened toolbox. Poetry can undertake the task of philosophy, and also of a mending of language and thought."

Hence the critical engagement of Raqs with the space shared by art and poetry. They have edited a poetry book to mark their solidarity. According to Ringborg, the book -- titled Read by, Written by --  is where readers have been invited to share poems and poetic fragments that respond to currents of war as an "act of networked readership" resulting in a unique collection of texts.

Sarkar says that Gallerie's 20th anniversary issue emerged from a self-challenge. "Due to unfortunate reasons the 39th volume had to be postponed. Thus, the 39th and the 40th volumes came together as a double issue to celebrate our anniversary with 'Hope' and 'Peace', considering the increasing turmoil, hate-mongering and violence in India and the world today," Sarkar said.

At Bonniers' exhibition called The Image of War, artists "deal at once with violence and its image, posing crucial questions about what violent images create, what consequences they have, and how they circulate."

Sarkar's endeavor is to keep the dialogue in art and poetry "ideas-oriented", starting with topics such as Race and War, Conflict, Migration, Seeking Peace, to Celebrating Books and the like. Gallerie's conceptual intention is to "lure readers outside the exclusive confines of the art and poetry spaces" according to Sarkar. "Therefore, over the years, our readership has grown substantially to include those outside these spheres … encouraging a dissemination of knowledge and appreciation of the arts in more egalitarian spaces," Sarkar said.

What else poetry can do for artists? Raqs thinks that poetry can undertake the task of philosophy, and also of a mending of language and thought. "Perhaps we seek to insist, against the grain of Adorno's formulation, not on the impossibility, but on the necessity of poetry in the wake of atrocity," Raqs said.

In her 20 year-long journey, Sarkar has worn many hats other than just writing and publishing. Her "Migration" issue was a curated project at the Pune Biennale from Jan 5-29, where Sarkar mounted a photography, films, art and poetry show in six shipping containers in a public space which was "immensely exciting and well-received."

Khandekar especially thinks the Dada artists were also into poetry to use the possibilities of the both the mediums to overcome the limitations of the both.

Conflict and war are issues that are complex and evoke contextual reactions, to be often explicated through poetry. Ringborg believes we turn to poetry when in need to speak and listen acutely, and with "a desire to conjure images and ideas that test the limits of language."

By 'war', Raqs suggests that these are conflicts "between states, overt or covert, camouflaged or performed as a spectacle, along with varying insurrections, and escalating counter-insurgency operations." "We see this happening all over the world, in the mines, in forests, in desert, in streets, in islands, in the sea, in workplaces, in neighborhoods, in camps, in schools, in universities," Raqs said.

Perhaps this is all best summed up in the words of young Kashmiri academic and poet Huzaifa Pandit whose work appears in Read by, Written by:



I petition to dye

The soiled bowl of moon

With the warm tint of that fateful

spring. (“His Master's Voice; For Major Avtar Singh – the murderer of Jaleel Andrabi”)


Nabina Das is a poet and writer based in Hyderabad, India. She is the author of two poetry collections, a novel and a short fiction volume.

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