Serge Selvon – an important Mauritian artist working in Germany

While doing research on the art of the post-independence period, I had come across the name of Serge Selvon a few times. It is only after a conversation with Khalid Nazroo (who was Serge Selvon’s student at the Royal College of Curepipe around 1969 – 1970), that I began to look for information about the artist. I came across a few images on the internet, and several texts that were in German. Fortunately for the research project of the module art in Mauritius, one of my students, Deepa Dhoomon, did a thorough search on the internet and came across Mr. Selvon’s blog, found images of his work over the last few decades and was able to make a fairly decent presentation on the artist’s works.

For me it was a real discovery, in the sense that I was coming across a powerful and articulate artist that had contributed in a fundamental manner to the key period of the immediate after-independence years, and whose contribution seemed to be overlooked and forgotten by everybody.

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Art in Mauritius – Post Independence issues and perspectives is to be launched on the 30th of May 2007

Finally the book is coming out (please look at the page that outlines it in this very blog).  The special launch price is Rs 275/- and I must thank the MGI, for selling at almost cost price: if published commercially, this book would have easily cost twice as much and would have been out of the reach of many people who are interested in the visual arts.

I sincerely hope that this book will spark some kind of interest in the wider public and will be a means to build something together. I am thinking of my ex-students who now teach in several secondary schools, as well as a few batches of teachers that attended my lectures on art history at the MIE. I hope that the book is at least helpful in giving some kind of wider map that can be used to understand the different aspects of the art of Mauritius.
Please respond by writing your feedback, what you think could be improved upon, what could be included, or developed in greater detail.

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About wanting to be an artist

I came across Alain Mabanckou’s blog when I first heard about this important contemporary African writer some time back. One essay on his blog struck me and directly relates to discussion I have had with students who were wondering about their choice of a career as ‘artist’. In the following lines I have translated part of the text of the writer from French and in the next section I discuss how this same advice is relevant to artists.
From Alain Mabanckou’s blog, words to an aspiring writer:

[…] Really speaking, there is no one but you who can free yourself and transform your uncertainties into creativity without waiting for the approbation of others or the benediction of those who have already edited books [or painted pictures]….
Concerning this topic, at the very beginning of my career, when I was carried away by doubt – like you today – and felt that the world was unjust, I always reflected on the words of the writer Rainer Maria Rilke [in his letters to a young poet], words that I ended up memorizing, and that I whisper to myself even today in my most desperate moments:
Nobody can advise or help you, nobody. There is only one way. Go inside yourself and find the need that makes you write: find out if its roots grow from the deepest parts of your heart. Truthfully confess to yourself: would you die if you were not allowed to write? Especially this: ask yourself at the darkest hour of your night: am I really forced to write [or make art]?
It is true that answers to these questions have serious implications. And yet, all those who claim to be creators need to answer with their soul and conscience as witness bearers. For my part, I do not know whether the text you will send me will be good or bad, publishable or not. I will let my most intimate conviction go to the depth of your text and I will listen to that small voice which will murmur this:
There is something unusual in these words and sentences, something slightly different, a universe enriched by the life of the author, a sentence that has been chiseled with a pneumatic drill, at the heart of night, when the whole neighbourhood complained of disturbance; sentences that I would want to appropriate for myself, taken as words that come from a proud and far-off mountain, words that keep the secret of inanimate things. An artistic temperament that would leave everything – life, wealth, recognition – sacrificed for his art at the cost of receiving ungratefulness in return. Ungratefulness says I? Yes, success in all fields depends on three factors: talent, work and chance. A writer can always be talented and work hard, but luck will have its say. It is the most fickle element; it comes too soon for some and too late for others, often after the death of the authors…
I will of course enjoy reading your texts, but I would ask you not to take the sincerity and rigor of my judgment as God-given. There is no worse creator than the one that refuses the challenge of being confronted and the wounds inflicted by truth. That at least is a flagrant, definite reality. […] (my translation).
To what extent does this also apply to visual artists? It is exactly the same need, the same compulsion to create something worthwhile. The same disregard for everything else – life, wealth, recognition. Or is it?
There are some differences between the visual arts and literary fiction and being aware of these can help the visual artist figure out his direction. Although it is possible to go into greater detail, the following can serve as a summary: literary fiction (long or short, as well as cinema and theater to some extent) relies on narration in the first place. This already establishes certain expectations – certain rules of the game – for both writer and reader/spectator. For the visual arts, it is very difficult to pin down any kind of expectation, which makes the task more difficult for the artist to engage his viewer.
Mabanckou writes of his expectation to come across an ‘unusual’ use of words and sentences (in other words, a different, unique way of making art, if we were to apply the above advice to the visual artist), but in the visual arts, this very idea of being ‘different’ has been an obsession – to have a unique ‘style’. This has been detrimental to much of modernist art – this exclusive emphasis on being recognizably ‘different’ at the expense of an interesting and rich multi-verse, what I call a rich ‘voice’ that can be heard through the images presented to the viewer.
Of course, if you are planning to make art as a hobby, a passe-temps, or as a business all the above advice is useless. But if you are serious about making art, then finding your ‘voice’, discovering what you like by ‘going into yourself’ is a advice worth remembering.

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Nirmal Hurry’s ‘Monnoir’ refused by the ‘Salon d’été’

Monnoir

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Monnoir qui faire to dans noir?
Dans noir couma to pou trouve mo jar ?
Peinture péna l’avenir
Skilpture ine vine ene martir
Gravire so lizour mari noir.
Laisse moi raconte ene ti zistoire.
Avant ki li asoir
Pou pas perdi l’espoir
Mone senti grandi depuis 68
Ti dire moi No 18 fer moi vine adilt
Mo rever ena piti
Enefois li ti ène zoli ti tifi
Ti pou appele li Galerie
Fine perdi li akoz l’anemie
Enefois li ti ene bon zenfant
Ti pou mette so nom Permanent
Fine perdi li akoz sanz decision tous les 5 ans.
Ene lot fois li ti bien galliard
Ti appele li L’Art
Sennlàla mo fine perdi li dans ène bagar
Mo ti reve aussi ène ti garcon
Fine pense so nom Exposition
Perdi li acause ti èna tension
Ene fois neque ti pe gagne nausée
A fine choisir so nom Musée
Senelala aussi fine dan bezé
Ene fois fine concevoir dans pression communal
Fine appele li Triennial
Fine perdi li dans rode la salle dans l’hopital
Ene fois ti jumeau, jumelle
Ti pou appele zote Biennale
Fine perdi zote a koz fine mal coupe cordon orbical
Ene lot fois ti gagne beaucoup douleur le rein
Ti appele li Contenporain
Fine perdi li lors tate terrain
Ene fois ti bien faire du mal
So nom fine gardé comme Nationale
Line perdi dans ene zaffaire banale
Enfois ti aussi pense pou faire cesarienne
Ti pou appele li Modèrne
Mone perdi li acause mot ti trop jeune.
Apres 2 ans
L’été 2007, ventre la ti bien bien ron
Mone pense nom Salon
Quatre Borne place pou accouchement
20 Fevrier 2007 nomination
Mone pense mo l’emblème l’Installation
Mo peur bastion pas trop bon
Acôte mo capave pas tire caution
Encore combien perdi mo pou perdi
Mo pé perdi mo kiltir
Mo pé perdi mo natir
Mo pé perdi mo la mer
Mo pé perdi mo la ter
Tou pé perdi, mo bien peur
….dans la ville des fleurs.

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Krishna Luchoomun body paints the independence for L’Hebdo

For the 39th independence day celebration, L’Hebdo newpaper came up with an innovative concept. It asked Krishna Luchoomun to do a body painting with the colours of the independence.

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Photo-0039

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Comments on the recent “salon d’été” (held in Feb 07)

Recently the National Art Gallery organised its first “salon d’été” for what would seem to be the inaugural exhibition of the new SSR municipal gallery at Quatre Bornes.

Some quick comments on the exhibition.

1. The gallery space is a refreshing new exhibition space, as compared to the usually cramped spaces that are available in the other towns. It is better than the Max Boullé in Rose Hill.

2. While we can understand that the NAG has to work for the majority of artists, the kind of ‘please one and all’ attitude it displays may eventually become its main weakness. All group shows, especially large ones with a few dozen artists suffer from the same weakness: uneven standards, with works ranging from good to quite mediocre. The organisers of the Salon de Mai of the MGI will probably tell you the same story: the main problem is to look for works of a certain level of execution that allows the overall standard to still give a good impression to the visitor. Honestly, not many works stood out of the general ‘average’ déja vu feeling, exception being made for Nirveda Alleck’s “morphology of two wasted years”.

3.It would seem that some confusion occurred over the work of Nirmal Hurry, which was not exhibited, the artist not respecting the rules. N.Hurry as per press reports would seem to have a different opinion about what happened and claims that his work was unjustly censored.

4. By trying to please everybody, the NAG may eventually end up creating more frustration because different artists seem to have different expectations about the NAG. While the more amateurish (and I do not use this term pejoratively, but to categorize those who enjoy painting as a hobby) would seem to be content to exhibit their usual landscapes, more ambitious ones who would want to create a socially relevant art of confrontation and reflection feel let down by this ‘omnibus’ type of exhibition.

5. It is a quite complex situation, and in all fairness, unless a different formula is found by Mr. Naiken and his board, frustration may keep on building up. More than ever before, the lack of a clearly enunciated cultural policy for the promotion of the visual arts is being felt.

6. The Salon de Mai type of ‘omnibus’ exhibition already exists, it has its raison d’être, and its organisers are trying hard to adapt it to new circumstances, make it more relevant to changing times. Re-utilizing the same formula seems to be a waste of time and resources.

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Nirveda Alleck’s “The Morphology of two wasted years” (3 photographic prints, 50x 65cm each)

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Baudrillard deceased, survived by Hyperreality and Simulacra

On 6th march 2007 philosopher Jean Baudrillard died at the age of 77. A controversial figure of the late 20th century, he is best known for his polemical analysis of postmodern societies. He is at the tail end of a list of major post-structuralist thinkers – Roland Barthes, Michel Foucault, Gilles Deleuze, and more recently Jacques Derrida, who have left us, but who also left us with a body of work that is unique and thought-provoking to say the least.

I wonder why nobody in francophile Mauritius bats an eyelid? Baudrillard who? I recall my own reaction at university in India when I first heard the name, mistaking it for a mispronunciation of Baudelaire. But soon enough I would come across the whole group of theorists (by and large they refuse to be categorised as philosophers), and particularly Baudrillard’s theory of the hyper-real and of simulacra. Not many of my students know him when I begin lecturing, but everybody knows ‘The Matrix’, the trilogy that pays homage, or at the very least, overtly refers to him, because he is the philosophical inspiration behind it: he is one of the first to imagine us living in an artificial, pseudo-reality. His philosophy is fatalistic: we have lost touch with whatever could be called the ‘real’ (that does not exist in any case) since we live in what he calls a ‘simulacra’, a world of make-believe where signs have replaced the real referents that they stood for. Take the brands we purchase. We do not buy a pair of shoes, but a nike, or an adidas. Porsches or ferraris (locally bmws or mercedes and now aston martins) are more than just cars. It is the image that matters, we forget that these are just shoes or cars.

He goes overboard when he says that the Twin Tower attack was just the product of the media, disregarding the victims. Or that the first gulf war was a purely televisual war, a product of television (again disregarding the real victims on the ground). In spite of this kind of exaggeration, no one can deny that he was right about the impact of media and advertising in our times, and the transformation brought about by the internet.

Whoever wants to try to understand the rapid changes that are taking place in the post-industrial globalized cultures cannot bypass the above-mentioned group of post-structuralist theorists. Deleuze for example, another deeply influential thinker, began to see beyond traditional hierarchies, the tree-model with roots-trunk-branches. Instead he proposed the ‘rhizome’ (a biological model – the type of plant that grows like grass , in a network of inter-related nodes) as a different, decentralized, structure, which is the most apt model of the internet.

And all of them bear directly upon contemporary art: a different kind of response to art, one that could be loosely qualified as a semiotic (and sometimes, deconstructive) approach is their fundamental contribution to art.

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