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TEXTILE DILEMMAS – TO BE WORN, OR TO BE HUNG ?
[ Oct/Nov. 1998 ] 
This presentation – quite candidly – perches on the horns of a dilemma, namely, whether the objects put up in it are to be approached as those of utility, or as ones deserving of disinterested attention. But the compiler of the event has not run into the quandary unwittingly. Rather, she courts it head on by waving a question mark in the face of the public.

Ambiguities do not please those comfortably basking in the warmth of ready made assumption. None of the exposed rich, immemorial, art – crafts nurtured in the ambience of the socially submerged India of the hinterland, as also to the urban ethos and its so-called high art, this mentally agile maker asks of herself hurting questions. Indeed a whole host of fateful issues would seem to lurk at the back of her mind, and these bear on our present socio-economic, somewhat self-justificatory existence.

For one thing Gopika Nath would seem to debate the thin line dividing art from craft, realizing well that great artistic powers may produce works of art even though the technique be defective; that even the most pukka technique will not produce the finest sort of work in their absence. And, yet again, that no work of art whatever, can be produced without some degree of technical skill; that other things being equal, the better the technique, the better will be the work; that the great artisic powers for their due and proper display demand a technique as good in its kind as they are in their own. Well here are some, perplexing dilemmas all right!

Even so, if we ponder a bit, it might become clear that the prime motive that makes you produce an object is vital to its meriting the name and nature of art. Finesses in technique alone ought not entile a design or pattern in whatever genre, to be mistaken for substantial art. Art is not artifact alone. Some live impulse, some dynamic vision – needing expression – throws up vitalizing form, one in which vision and design cannot be told apart. Fact is, there is a wide variety of only nominal art, masquerading as true art right now. And this may well come in the form of paintings, sculptures, or what you have. Again, if some art is only a variation on craft objects, some exceptional so-called craft objects may well be art. It all depends. After all, till the other day, all artifacts carried the load of necessity, or of social or moral purpose, on its back, without in any way being the worse for it. The Sistine Chapel, as the Ajanta frescoes are is evidence enough. On the other hand a great deal of painting when it is not really the expression of distilled feeling or personal intuition may well be art only by proxy. Alternately the apparent crafts of the rural or tribal worlds may be precisely that, even when they are not placed in the elevated niche of ‘art’.

Gopika Nath is not automatically announcing what is what. What she is really at pains to gesture is the tricky nature of the whole celebrated enterprise. She suggests caution. Is minimalist colour field painting art or craft, of only crafty art? That some painting has no mundane uses does not necessarily help raise it to the eminence of art. But it could well be art, hinging on whether you detect behind it any genuine creative assaying. But it is clear, that, on our art scene most framed objects tend to be described as art; contrariwise the humble origin of a thing – or its unbondedness – causes it be dubbed as craft. The quality of what a maker invests in his or her work, is what results into an art. This foregoing pedantic opinion is not of academic interest alone, since far too many of our lay art viewers are hopelessly smug, else hypnotized by nomenclature, or else by public image, to challenge their unconscious presuppositions. The author of this event means to do just so, and with much vigor.

And what she has been also endeavoring to do gently, is infuse fresh life in the famed textiles of the land; to help out the creative but mute opral India, threatened by demonic industrial forces. She at the same time, is want to keep herself at an objective distance from the uncreative but opulent urban consumers of cultural artifacts who are not at all in touch with the living traditions, treating art only as merchandise. And so, Gopika Nath, even as she puts up ravishing work on the walls, also courageously airs self doubts.

This is a sign of a fine conscientiousness. Without her, so to say, radical approach to matters of art and craft, and indeed to the whole human context in which things of beauty take their rise – the meaning of creative making remains incomplete, socially unfructious. Art ought not to become mere self-indulgence, but rather provoke us into being more of our human selves. And thus the significance of Gopika Nath’s poser.

Keshav Malik
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