Posted by: Rajesh Shukla | February 10, 2013

Postmodernism of Sudhir Patwardhan

etetModernism is cultural term […] imposed on the colonized world via selective modernization, modernism transmits specifically bourgeois ideology–Geeta Kapur in ‘When was Modernism’

Postmodernism is a cultural category [..] it is the expression of the consciousness of a whole new class that largely transcends the limits of the groups [..] this larger and more abstract category has variously been labeled as a new petty bourgeoisie , a professional managerial class or more succinctly as “the yuppies” –Fredric Jameson in ‘Cultural Turn’

Sudhir Pawardhan like other artists of his generation too have defined his own space through his style and petty bourgeois modernist sensibility. He is quite a respectable artist in Indian art world and his works have acquired some short of reputation increasingly decade by decade. In Indian art that has been through and through imitative; he has undoubtedly carved a certain place for himself. It was once again Madam-e-Jana Geeta Kapur in whose association he received his designation as an intellectual artist. Associated with medical profession as a radiologist Patwardhan comes from a middle class petty bourgeois background. He began his artistic carrier as a landscape painter but gradually moved to figures and started capturing lives of people in their dailiness. He exhibited his first solo show in 197 but reception had not initially been that much encouraging to him. The kind of paintings he has produced did not find place in galleries in those days of beautiful Picasso Mania. Perhaps galleries have always been habitually irrespective to new artists and their works.
Sudhir Patwardhan has been preoccupied with the middle class milieu and daily life from the very beginning. Ideologically left oriented he painted proletarians, middle class workers in the suburban of Thane, Mumbai and adjacent areas; often, in the industrial background, in suburban train, amidst market and in homes in their dailiness. He says, “Painting the human figure is commitment and responsibility. I would not be able to justify being painter without being a painter of people. This may seem unnecessarily self-righteous, but the remoteness of artistic aims from the immediate and pressing needs of ordinary people bothers me. I would like to be revolutionary or one who works directly for the improvement of society. I became an artist instead and the guilt of this choice has not let.” Of course, nobody can be allowed to be irresponsible and can have the intellectual-artistic right to speak lightly of human suffering. Only authentic voices are endowed with responsibility to speak for the oppressed and suffering humanity. Sudhir Patwardhan’s confession seems valid and may be a truth of art as for as “need” is concerned. Hegel was first to formulate this truth that “art is the consciousness of the need” which is almost universal and still valid.DeathOnTheStreet
Truthfulness of ‘need’ is not a gesture of some self imposed muteness, vanishing and void. It carries a voice; it is loaded with some potential language of art that frees art from the slumber of so called hallow Spirit by destroying it. Art can escape the guilt of speechless, mute spiritual barbarism (to which somewhere Patwardhan is aware of) only by destroying it. Whether or not SudhirPatwardhan takes these issues forward in his artistic discourse we will see in the proceeding paragraphs, but, one thing is important to notify here is that he moves in his art deliberately in a particular direction with precise deftness and awareness. Everything is seen, perceived, understood from a distance as a spectator. He investigates the expressions of people’s faces, their dailiness of the daily-life with altogether another point of view i.e. of an observer. A figure seen from afar when drawn carefully and colored on canvas gives a certain intimacy hence a certain metaphysical fervor, logic for certain inwardness. In fact being a spectator is a bad thing says Jacques Ranciere, because it is the opposite of knowing: the spectator is held before an appearance in a state of ignorance about the process of production of this appearance and about the reality it conceals. And second thing is that, it is the opposite of acting: the spectator remains immobile in her seat, passive. To be a spectator is to be separated from both the capacity to know and the power to act. Plato’s conclusion is formulated in this way: theatre is the place where ignoramuses are invited to see People’s suffering. What the theatrical scene offers them is the spectacle of a pathos, the manifestation of an illness, that of desire and suffering – that is to say, the self-division which derives from ignorance. So from this logic, the reason Patwardhan chooses to be a spectator is perhaps quite clear. However, he formulated his logic in a very obscure way but quite truthfully “The feelings of being an intruder now catches up with me and pull me away from the image. I am probably fated to oscillate this between proximity and distance…there are periods when I am neither here nor there. It is in this in between space that figures closest to my heart take shape. Figures neither near me not far…like the distance between me and the stranger in the street or in the cafe. In such figures, close enough to be sensuously full bodies and disquieting. But distance through the act of observation and depiction are compounded the pleasure and problems of both both extremes. The character and social background of these figures are established and they take a sociological role ..[..] But it could as well be an autobiographical one. ”

In his view only in those paintings in which landscapes are excluded intimacy and proximity with figure is attained. In figure with landscapes perhaps contemplativity is not attainable; contemplation is fragmented and scattered in its perspective and a private encounter is not possible. He is talking here about inner life which artists often long for and often described by modernists in an ambiguous way. “It has been already composed before you ever get to it”; relationship to composition is enigmatic and difficult to explain. It is that feeling of being both near and far [Patwardhan says ‘when I am neither neither here nor there, neither near nor far] which comes with great understanding that profound sense of union which yet is eternally a being-separate, a standing-outside. It is state of a true longing of form, hard, violent and spiritual and form creating leading to a great moment of silence. It has been an ideal of romanticism. In painting faces with certain intimacy some short of spirituality and contemplativity prevails. In Sudhir Patwardhan a certain kind of objectivization and particularization is immediately apparent; however, he is quite confused over it. He says, ” we loss confidence in the artistic capacity to talk of ‘human fate’ so we choose the particular”. Obviously, particular in his understanding is opposed to transcendental themes painted by abstract and neo-tantrik painters. Ranjit Hoskote elaborates the list of the painters of particular also found in Geeta Kapur’s book,” Radical in their politics and broadly postmodern in their aesthetic choices these artists. Gieve Patel, Nilima Sheikh, Ghulam Sheikh, Nalini Malani, Vivan Sundaram, Bhupen Khakkar etc insisted on foregrounding the particular against the universal”. We can certainly correct him here that none of these painters are postmodernist,[ because their works were not that new and still characterized modernism proper. In the works of these artists all the formal features of older modernism is apparent, rather, in majority of cases a sheer imitation of modernists. Nothing was radical in it.] They are more or less second grade imitations of high modernism and carried within them its faded spirit. If we exclude Vivan sundaram and Nalini Malani who at least adventure into to art from the list following Geeta Kapur’s categorization; then it perhaps becomes perfect. But let us leave this historical categorization here and move on to the question concerning particular and ask; is there any opposition in between universal and particular? Isn’t universality is already pre-established in the particular! The presupposition that universal has a certain nature; precisely the nature of ‘spiritual-metaphysical’ itself is baseless and largely an ideology of seventeenth century. Question is not of particular and universal concerning the genres. On the other hand, what neo-tantric and abstract painters painted itself is a particular. Every genre in art is dialectical in relation to universal and particular, this Kant recognized long ago and in aesthetics from Hegel onwards it has been universalized as a principle of movement par-excellence.

Only by becoming particular and specific, the work truly fulfills its type, in this context particular is universal and finds its true model in art.( Bacon had grasped this truth). Sudhir Patwardhan says ” They spoke man with capital ‘M’ (hence they were on universal side) while we spoke man with small ‘m’ hence we were in particular side.” It does not only show his ignorance and backwardness but also this that how these artists proved themselves progressive and contemporary in backward and ill informed Indian society. It is remarkable to note here that the particular that he colors on his canvases has been declared aesthetically nonsense. Since the time photography took the job of illustration, recording and representing facts; painting left this domain to battle threats posed by it. When Francis Bacon returned to the pure figuration he had proclaimed the death of such representation; though, before him Cezanne had already recognized its futility. Invention of color as form is one of its outcome. Sudhir Patwardhan is no less aware of such representation; he speaks about the futility of what he has been painting; the figures he painted in Landscape setting do not give him the feeling of intimacy. In it we can read an inherent longing of artist’s search for a language by radical particularization of art. Philosophically it is here that universals are strongest, it is in the virtue of its immanent process that art realizes its spirit as we find in Bacon, though, there is no less danger of its distortion. In Sudhir Patwardhan’s painting there is a certain kind of particularization of the subject; he struggles to resolve the issues of perspective from his point of view. But there something is lacking in his visual language, it does not speak the truth; it seems to be just a spectacle from which spirit has been deduced. The dailyness and degradation of working class is not depicted in its irony but with a romantic ideal. Hoskote narrates the content of his painting: “Pawardhan’s individuals are by no means victim figures or pathological constructs quite contrary; for they augur potentiality and are imbued with a sense of everyday heroism” . Everyday heroism of his subject goes to the extent that it learns to see everything negative and evil in life as something positive. It learns to accept suffering, evil and death as fate; it is not to be changed. Hoskote shades sufficient philosophical light upon the consciousness of this everyday man, thus here goes another passage from his book, ” Patwardhan asserts that he does not mean to deny the pervasiveness of despair but rather chooses to ‘with hold’ it ; he likens this technique ( of withholding -my emphasis) to Shivas’s act of drinking the deep blue halahala.[…] and this is not something unfortunate rather a fortunate one, as in this profane and pious deed of drinking poison of life there is something sublime ” He is looking out and beyond ” . This sublimation of suffering, despair and evils of life helps the hero of everyday life to bring back normality, a kind of stability. To put it straightforwardly, the act of drinking halahala is a kind of shock absorbing act. And it happens only because mankind fails to define himself did it grope for determination through something else. Beneath this sublime deed it seems that individual turns against himself which he is supposed to serve.DifficultyTruth_resize

Sudhir Patwardhan’s petty bourgeois middle class subject is thoughtless individual who does not desire beyond his given fate. He is powerless and degraded in a bundle of functions. He does not teach through his art that no elevation of the concept of man has any power in the face of his actual degradation in a bundle of functions, rather contrary to that he teaches to elevate it in some religious emotions. Hoskote once again puts his devastating interpretation forward, “His belief in art as a means of healing, strengthening and enabling people to lead their life with hope and reason, rather than as a means of shocking them out of their complacency and into an awareness of a reality that is already brutal and overwhelming.” It is now pretty much clear that job of artist here is not to enlighten people but to drug them with the same opium with that bourgeois uses to opiate the masses. He represents degraded being of the oppressed as something sensuous and spiritual. Artist immediately becomes an agent of our feudalistic bourgeois and helps apply the magic formula of existence on the oppressed. Petty-bourgeois agents’ the petty-bourgeois is apparently true in this sense. Inwardness that has been proposed with the mythic metaphor of ‘drinking halahala’ has been already criticized by modernists. Adorno says: “The less powerful the subject becomes, the more the sphere, which once self-consciously confessed itself to be inwardness, shrinks to an abstract point; the greater becomes the temptation for inwardness to proclaim itself and throw itself onto that same market by which it is terrified.” Terminologically, inwardness becomes value and possessions behind which it entrenches itself and it is surreptitiously overcome by reification. Even Hegel interestingly formulated that inheritors who by slight of hand changed unhappy consciousness in happy consciousness, possess only the limited self righteousness. In other words in a modernist sense the retreat from the course of the world is also a retreat from the empirical content of subjectivity. In this regard, the Subject conceived in halahala ontology is already a dead subject. How come Hoskote to poetize it in some vague metaphysical way if subject is empirically dead? Even Kant the first modernist has separated inward consciousness with the transcendental; he says inwardness consciousness is a category of casualty. I will not go in this matter philosophically here, but, it is necessary now to think art’s objective–whether art is an agent of bourgeois oppressive administrative ideology or it is a liberating force. It seems that painter’s eye is controlled by the bourgeois way of looking and ordering of the world. Art must think it and confront it and once again ask ‘what is painting’!!

If Hoskote subsumes everything human i.e. man’s desires, interests, excitements, his right to live a dignified life etc. as unauthentic and puts his being into inwardness that conceives the reality and suffering which has been inflected upon him not from above but by the world of profit not to be overcome but to be sublimated into religious mode of being; then it is unfortunate. He could even suggest that man’s longing for true happiness and life is just a sheer greed and inauthentic. In affirmation of life (the heroic in man) there is always some negation; it negates the dead life by changing it. Bourgeois fears this historical act of man; he fears affirmation of life as affirmation necessarily brings contradiction and conflict. As an agent he suggests like a priest that contradiction must be avoided. People should jaw about blood and soil without smile as they did during the excessively accumulating industrial capitalism of third Reich. We can not expect more form a pitiless and senseless author; this is what is bourgeois in it. Things are because these conservatives say so, everyday being of the lower middle class, the working class, is a harsh reality of which it can not get rid of, it must not get rid of at any cost and also it is not proper to bemoan it as it were but rather to drink the halahala, sublimate it and feel it as spiritual essence of everydayness. Emptied itself of any subjective content, everyday being concludes in a vague metaphysical illusion and finds happiness; gains normality in life.

Now this silent, contentless subject must have something to say; that is of the metaphysical disclosedness of itself. Not some ‘idle talk’ but an aesthetic substance achieved through such a petty sublimation. Heidegger speaks about such beings in ‘Being and Time’ that […] ” ‘They’ in its Being, essentially makes an issue of this ..(Metaphysical disclosedness) ..[…] ‘They’ maintain their averageness, an essential tendency of the ‘They’.. In this every kind of priority gets noiselessly suppressed…[..]” On the other hand if we look at the logic of inwardness of artists as Patwardhan wishes to; we find out that it would be a result of their artistic position in the society (if not in market). Fredric Jameson explains, “As position of the artist becomes jeopardized, reflexivity increases, becomes an indispensable precondition of artistic production, particularly in vanguard or high cultural works” It is old fashioned. “Alienation of intellectuals (artists too), their free floating lack of social function, can not be redeemed by reflexivity, political commitment is only concrete response to this dilemma, which is the result of the dynamics and priorities of the market system itself, its refusal of institutional legitimation to any form of intellectual activity which is not at least immediately involved in the social reproduction of the market system. ”

Artistic development of the SudhitPatwardhan has been briefly chalked out by the art historian and self confessed culture critic Ranjit Hoskote in quite illogical manner (which is often termed as art discourse in Indian contemporary art). He narrates how after traumatic flood in Thane SudhirPatwardhan was baptized in a kind of religious consciousness, “It was a traumatic encounter…[..[.after deluge a sense of common loss and common purpose developed [..] from this emerged the stoic (stoic artist perhaps), sorrowful figures of the survivors who wade through the flood series of 1991, consoling each other, salvaging whatever can be rescued from the murky depths of what used to be home” After the great deluge every thing suddenly changed; not only his work, his structure of painting, his images but also his ideological commitment whatsoever he had been to as a left leaning artist. Only after this traumatic event; he could learn something extra ordinary about life and living i.e. living with community. Hoskote interprets his conversion and emergence of a new consciousness in a quit peculiar way,” (since).. Association with the organized left had faded; he had found himself unable to use class inflection or behalfist emphasis to generate a sense of common identity with others. He perceived this as an intellectual and emotional loss, death gift of a moribund ideology” and hence he moved towards traditional peculiar spirituality. “from the violence of the flood he received a lesson in intuitive empathy of the order described as KARUNA AND MAITRI in Buddhist praxis. Compassion and loving kindness, acts by which the self releases (as if self was fluttering for eons to release itself in religious dogma but with left and proletarian mindset it could not..) itself to the OTHER unconditionally.. From such acts may develop the bonds of solidarity and even community..” Only on this point of Buddhist consciousness he could have developed a sense of solidarity and community.

Every thing has been concluded, the last word has been said about the artist and his oeuvre with all the conservative profundity. The middle class working hero –the subject survives the horrors of life to such a heightened level of redemption that he negates his being itself. On the other hand, artist achieves no less; he finds a religious sense of solidarity and community. Over all he was redeemed Cultural cynicism is no better than cynical barbarism. What is accomplished by this disillusion on the so called higher level? if not a degraded lie!! If you will truthfully ask, why Hoskote advocates alienation and redemption in halahala? You will find a right answer together with its inherent logic. Artist turns against reason and reasoning subject and embraces the bourgeois concept of pleasure, which means not pleasure but not to think about anything, to forget suffering. As Adorno puts it “pleasure is always flight from the last remaining thought of resistance” . Ideology has a material basis; it has no ideal or some spiritual existence. The lies and the speculative ideas put forward by writer have a concrete material basis and it has a certain purpose. He is just doing his job of falsifying the representation of the world, he is silencing the reflexion though in a quit insane manner. Bourgeois is literally very smart. As an author and agent of market he has to falsify everything, he has to reject humanism, man’s right to live a dignified life; in it nothing is strange. While giving a new meaning to secularism of art he exhibits his absolute cynicism, ” Patwardhan’s visual proposal indicate a normality that is veined with disquiet yet braced by a qualified optimism..[..] He remains committed to depicting the human body a model of endurance, with the heroic proletarian protagonist of earlier decades having been replaced, successively by the survivor as secular martyr and individual as epiphatic presence.” Now you can read the bankruptcy and barbarism of his art writing in between lines, its inherent hate and pitilessness. He must have been served the Nazis at their camps killing people and feeling nothingness. You need not ask now why he objects heroism of working class. Why does he want oppressed to remain wretched? Every sensitive reader and man of culture understands it, it needs no explanation.

I would like to close this article at this point with a brief fragment of a poem quoted by HomiBhabha in his essay ‘how newness enters the world’.

” My race began as the sea began,
with no nouns, with no horizon,
with peeblles under my tongue,
with a different fix on stars.

Have we melted into the mirror
leaving our souls behind?
The goldsmith from Benaras?
The stone cutter from Conton,
The bronzsmith from Benin.

A sea-eagle screamed from the rock,
and my race began like the ospray
with that cry,
that terrible vowel ,


note: Article was originality written two years back for my online magazine but unfortunately the data of my website has been hacked and it is unavailable now. I have just retrieved it from my computer  hard disk where fortunately I had saved it.  WordPress Blog is safer platform than servers of Indian web hosting companies.  Indian web hosting companies can do anything to your data, your data is no way safe on their server.


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