Picasso in the raw comes to town
- Shanta Serbjeet Singh, New Delhi
e-mail: shanta.serbjeetsingh@gmail.com

November 15, 2009

A spanking new Spanish Cultural Centre, built on the site of an old kothi on Hanuman Road, in the very heart of Connaught Place, marked its opening with Spanish royalty and an exhibition of original Picasso prints from the famous Suite Vollard series. The 100 copper etchings in this suite were produced by Picasso in an old 19th century stone chateau he bought in 1930. It gave him enough space to play around with studios and workshops of all kinds, including a small engraving press. All this, including the first exhibition of his paintings in Paris in 1901, happened with the help of a dealer, Ambroise Vollard. The relationship continued until 1930 when Vollard died in a road accident.

Perhaps an artist's most meaningful relationships are only of two kinds: the ones with the women in his life and the businessman who helps him sell his works. If you needed to fix how the artist-patron relationship works, you could well start with that between Picasso and Vollard, a close friend and admirer of the Malaga born painter. Strangely, women creative persons rarely talk about their love interests and the only Indian I can think of is Amrita Pritam and her companion for 31 years, the artist Imroz.

The Vollard Suite was a fascinating mix of most of Picasso's favourite themes. You find the theme of the artist-sculptor turned into a minotaur, the half-animal half-man image that mirrored his innermost persona. And you will see variations of his lifelong obsession, to capture the relationship between the artist and his model. Here his model, always the nude is always his second wife, Marie Therese. He used an equally eclectic mix of techniques, from burin, etching, acquatint, wash to drypoint and even a combination of all of them. How a simple line, etched on a sheet of copper, could reflect the disfiguration and destruction of form and capture the expressionistic barbarity, the angst and passion of not only a man-woman relationship but also the gloom of the war clouds that were gathering over Europe, particularly Spain, and the inescapable signs of the rise of Hitler and fascism, is the miracle afforded by one man's artistic vision, one man's hand, that of Pablo Picasso.

Home, for Kathak diva, Prerna Shrimali, as a young girl, was the Pink City. "When I left Jaipur in 1978," she says, "it was a place full of cultural dynamism - regular dance and drama classes, regular programs of good and important classical artists, drama festivals and summer camps...in fact it was a place of uninterrupted cultural activity. I have seen performances here by Pandit Birju Maharaj, Sitara Devi, Sonal Mansingh, Yamini Krishnamurthy, Rani Karna, Swapna Sundari ... I have heard Begum Akhtar, Mehdi Hasan, Girija Devi, Laxmi Shankar, Bhimsen Joshi, Pt. Ravi Shankar, Amjad Ali Khan Sahib, Samta Prasad ji, Zakir Hussain, Alla Rakha Khan Saheb, all here in Jaipur, and many times over. I am witness to several major Hindi theatre productions like Khamosh Adalat Jaari Hai, Sakharam Binder, Surya Ki Antim Kiran se Pehli Kiran Tak, Zoo Story, House of Barnada Alba, etc with artists like Om Shivpuri, Pinchoo Kapoor, H P Saxena, Dinesh Thakur and so many more.?

After spending 31 long years in Delhi, I came back to my hometown Jaipur. I had imagined that it would be a great upheaval of my life, because in a way I grew up in Delhi, all along and all alone, far from my family. My artistic vision and aesthetics took shape in Delhi's cultural scene and developed with few strong and evolved friends and acquaintances. Jaipur city was equally famous for one very distinctive feature and that was a deep rooted love of folk traditions. One saw them reflected everywhere, especially schools and colleges. If any student had even a minimal interest in dance or music, he or she would know the steps of Rajasthani folk dance and some basic steps of Kathak.

With all these memories, I came here in a mood of deep nostalgia. What I was met with was a cruel reality. All those streams of good music and dance have dried up. Bollywood has taken over and unfortunately people have more stake in imitation then faith in the original. Every newspaper is full of reports of Bollywood dancing, salsa, hip-hop, the works. Now even in schools, the children are supposed to do Bollywood dancing. There are reality TV style programmes of all kinds with kids taking part in fashion shows, salsa and "modern" dance competitions. As for the media, it is playing a sad role of encouraging all these negative trends.

So, with all these harsh facts, I am in constant cultural shock, if I may say so. Even the face of Jaipur city has become a blur and the beautiful pink city has become a hub of shopping malls with mindless architecture which does not go with the original Jaipur architecture. The famous Jaipur Gharana of Kathak doesn't have a face here anymore. There are gurus with good content but they lack the required presentation values. Jaipur city is no longer representing Jaipur Gharana Kathak in any sense of this term."

And where now?

Says Prerna, "But whatever it is, it is my city and I want to make an effort, maybe a drop, to pull back at least some of its old colours of culture." Amen!

Shanta Serbjeet Singh, for twenty-five years, columnist, critic and media analyst for The Hindustan Times, The Economic Times and The Times of India, India's most important mainstream English dailies, is the recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award of the Sangeet Natak Akademi, the premier Government cultural institution of India in 2000 and the same from Delhi Govt.'s Sahitya Kala Parishad in 2003 for her contribution to the field of culture.

She is on the Central Audition Board of Doordarshan, India's national television, as well as the selection committees of several prestigious government bodies involved in culture such as The Indian Council for Cultural Relations and the Department of Culture. She was a member of the Tenth Five Year Plan Committee for Cultural Policy and of the First National Advisory Committee of the Ministry of Tourism and Culture.

Singh has authored several best selling books on Indian arts such as 'Indian Dance: The Ultimate Metaphor,' 'The 50th Milestone: A Feminine Critique,' 'Nanak, The Guru' and 'America and You' (22 editions).

As elected Chairperson of APPAN (The Asia-Pacific Performing Arts Network) for the past nine years, she has individually organized and helped her team of eminent artistes to organize eight international symposiums and festivals in several Asian countries and in the United States. APPAN, set up in 1999 by UNESCO, has, with the collaboration of UNESCO, pioneered the concept of delivering stress therapy, in particular in disaster-prone situations such as the tsunami and earthquake victims. The pilot project of this series was done under her leadership in four Asian countries after the tsunami of 2005 and another for the cyclone affected of Myanmar in 2008. Singh is the founder-Secretary of The World Culture Forum -India and Director of WCF-India's first Global WCF to be held in New Delhi in 2011.