Bringing order into the passing stream of image and experience: Adivasi art as “collective heritage”

BY J. SWAMINATHAN  (excerpts from pp. 119-126, India International Centre Quarterly, Vol. 19, No. 1/2)
To presume that Adivasi artists lack the sense of perspective because of mental deficiency or the technical incapacity of ‘proper’ representation is to insult both intelligence and art. Moreover to think that the primitive is not aware of the sense of perspective is obviously wrong; for how can he return to his hut or his dwelling once having left it for the hunt or any other purpose, as from a distance he would find it not of the same size as when he left it? Identification would become impossible were he not to know that his hut or his dwelling would look smaller or bigger depending upon his relative position to it. And as regards competence, it would be foolish to think that a mind and a hand capable of such marvellous use and manipulation of line, colour and space would become incapable of realising perspectival juxtaposition. The simple fact which emerges out of this is thatthe Adivasi has no use for perspective in his painting because he is not attempting to represent reality as seen by the naked eye but is creating a parallel reality of art. The modern movement in art, as is well-known, threw out the renaissance perspective. It also questioned the very fundamentals of representation and attempted a re-definition of art freed from mechanistic and unilogical constraints. I quote here the famous statement of Paul Klee: May I use a simile, the simile of the tree? The artist has studied this world of variety and has, we may suppose, unobtrusively found his way in it. His sense of direction has brought order into the passing stream of image and experience. […]
All true art, and Adivasi art specifically, is visionary. It is through art that the tyranny of the senses is overcome and the terror of the unknown transcended. Art, therefore, has been the primary need of man for the health of his mind just as food has been for that of his body. It is an essential stimulant for overcoming the boredom of existence, for man is not merely a biological machine. He not merely eats, defecates and makes love, but as a being both perceived  and perceiving, is for ever locating his place in the cosmos. It is interesting to note that alcoholic beverages and hallucinogenative drugs have been used by man from the very beginnings of time and indeed most Adivasi communities treat them as essentials of life. If such stimulants provide a corporeal means for living in a parallel reality, art is a sublime means of achieving it. In dealing with art, whether Adivasi or otherwise, we must bear in mind that we are not so much concerned with the image of reality as with the reality of the image. The image acquires reality in art as Form. The image springs from our perception of reality or even the conceptualisation of it. However, in art, it passes through a process of transmutation and transformation and not that of translation. The faculty which brings this about is the creative faculty which does not lend itself to analysis but only appears as expression. The image in art, as pointed out above, is not a mirror image. Traced back to its source it would have subserved its purpose—a vehicle of communicating information and, therefore, of no intrinsic value in itself. However, as we know, such is not the case. “In language as a means of communication, the message is received or is supposed to be received as it is meant to be. True communication abhors ambiguity. […]
In experiencing art and especially and specifically Adivasi art, this point is of paramount importance. For, from the point of view of social anthropology we may analyse the art and the myths of Adivasi people to arrive at an understanding of their social relationships, but surely we are not presumptuous enough to think that they create art for the benefit of our analytical appetites. […]
Art, of course, is for art’s sake, but it is addressed to man, it is addressed to him as a gift from the unknown, as a thing of wonder. An important aspect of Adivasi art is the role of the individual as an artist. Whatever be the motivations, the fact remains that individual genius in Adivasi societies invariably finds expression in works of art which the community may then accept as its collective heritage. […]
What is the destiny of man, if it is not man? History as we know, knowing it from the point of view of the West, has reduced man from the status of an aspect of infinity to that of a creature of time. In the unequal development of technologies, the universal brotherhood of man lies bifurcated, chopped into pieces, and whole cultures are subject to a dominant civilisation which has lost the spirit of man. For man to become homo sapiens, as indeed he is conceived by anthropology to start with we have to approach the Adivasi cultures in our own society with an attitude of brotherhood and one of shared wonder at the palpable presence of the incomprehensible incessantly unfolding around us. We have earlier talked about the impossibility of treating Adivasi communities as closed systems. Even if for theoretical purposes, such an approach may yield some guidelines, such guidelines have to subserve the needs and challenges of a changing reality. Respecting the innate creative genius of the Adivasi people, just as we respect our own, we are seeing them as living in a commonality with us. We see our fates inexorably linked together, and the new artistic ethos can only be born if this commonality is realised. [concluded]
Source: India International Centre Quarterly, Vol. 19, No. 1/2, INDIGENOUS VISION: PEOPLESOF INDIA ATTITUDES TO THE ENVIRONMENT (SPRING-SUMMER 1992), pp. 113-127
Published by: India International Centre
Accessed: 19/07/2014 08:32

[Bold typeface added above for emphasis]

Related posts