Friday, October 19, 2007
Savi Savarkar: A Painter
- Y. S. Alone,
Asst. Prof. School of Arts and Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi -110067, India
Savi, as he is popularly known had to face the mainstream modern Indian Art and struggled to evolve a space for dalit art and imagery in the realm of art gallery exhibiting space and was able to carve out a niche for the Dalit art, the gener he made it recognized all though the world and especially in all the three continents of Europe, North America and South America. He is the first dalit artist in the country who dared to aestheticise the Dalit themes in the main stream contemporary art practices. It may also be noted that Savi challenged the boundaries of main-stream aesthetics in terms of weaving pictorial signifiers that have altogether a different connotations and defies the hegemony. His works are located in the realm of countering the Brahmanical hegemonic practices by articulating voice for voiceless.
Savi Savarkar was borne on 23 Jan. 1961 at Nagpur in a locality called Garoba Maidan, a place known for another stronghold of Ambedkar movement in Nagpur. He was brought up in a strong Ambedkarite environment. His grand parents Mahadeorao and Gajabai had joined the Ambedkar movement long ago and for them Ambedkar was a hero who was viewed as a moderate democratic statesman with great intellectual power. The belief in Dr. Ambedkar was so strong that whatever communicative action initiated by him would have been followed unquestioned. Right from childhood like any other post-conversion family, Savi too was exposed to the Ambedkarite ideology. The surrounding around him was deeply structurised in the ideological formulations that were initiated by Dr. Ambedkar himself. More over Ambedkar’s preference on Nagpur as a place for organizing conversion has its significance not only from the locational aspect but also from the point of view of the support he had ever since Ambedkar had entered in public life. The very act of conversion made a deep impact on the dalit society which strived hard to establish their identity at social, educational, economic and cultural levels. The society was highly receptive to the new changes that were initiated by Dr. Ambedkar and Savi was no exception to absorb those changes from the very beginning. As a child he had lot of love for his grand-mother Gajabai who often would narrate numerous stories from their own life. However, more than autobiographical account, Gajabai preferred to narrate stories of Dr. Ambedkar’s life. Those stories were added additions like fairy tales transformed into visualized world of Dr. Ambedkar’s life. They had deep impact on Savi’s mind and he began to understand Dr. Ambedkar through the eyes of Gajabai. It served for him the first hand information regarding the quality of life of a Dalit family constantly struggling to live life. Incidents from Dr. Ambedkar’s life inspired Savi in many ways but could never translate that pent-up energy into an organized intellectual activity. Like many Dalit families, his family too was not very well-off. The family indeed faced considerable hardship for survival. It was not an easy task for his father to up bring the family as many were dependent on them. His father Haribhau Savarkar was one of the few graduates during then who pursued education because of Dr. Ambedkar’s movement and had joined Central Railway service in the clerical grade. Haribhau had lot of dependents on him. He had to take care of his sisters, brothers together with their education and marriages. However as a part of larger social movement many Dalit families had started taking education very seriously. Savi had his schooling in Vinayakrao Deshmukh Highschool located in Lakadgunj near Garoba Maidan. During his high school days, he was drawn to painting. His drawing teacher was Mr. Sukhdeve who encouraged him and helped to develop drawing skill. The art education had begun in Nagpur some time in 60’s and being the former capital of CP and Berrar Province, it also had the ambience of popular visual imageries at numerous places. For many, the inspiration for the visual was those popular imageries that would draw attention. The painters who were engaged in the profession were painting either film banners or sign board paintings or occasionally they would paint the images of political leaders like Gandhi and Nehru. Very few were involved in making images of Phule, Ambedkar and Buddha. The Buddhist religion was considered as a new life and the converted population had added responsibility to instill new values based on Buddhist principle without sacrificing the fight for injustice and caste oppression. The colors of Panchashil flags, the blue caps and flags of Republic Party of India caught the imagination Savi Savarkar. He diligently perceived those images as his own heritage. In the school, he was very good in drawing. More over, he also had habit of copying those popular calendar images of Ambedkar etc.
The matriculation examination was a turning point in his life. He scored very less marks in the exams and was worried for further education. During those days, the most preferred educational streams were Medical sciences and Engineering studies. Usually, not many would thought of joining to study painting in art-schools. Finally he decided to enter at Chitrakala Mahavidhyalaya Nagpur ( Art College Nagpur). He took admission for foundation class. The environment during that time was very volatile. The Buddhist at Nagpur would never tolerate any caste injustice and any derogatory remarks against Dr. Ambedkar. In the foundation class, he would commute on a Bicycle to college and then move to places for regular sketching. His most preferred spots for rapid sketching were Nagpur railway station, Bus stands and Sitabuldi. The stream of applied arts was very demanding those days as jobs were very easy to get in the advertising agency. Very few students would take-up painting by choice. Such generalization and preference for applied arts was deeply rooted due to urban world of Mumbai, which would provide easy employment for many. Savi could never relate himself to the applied arts and found the teaching of imitation extremely emotionless. He could never live up to the expectations of a very finished academic style of working. The result was very obvious, he scored less marks in the foundation class and he was rejoiced as he would not have to study applied art anymore. Savi’s choice to study painting was though appeared as no choice but he admits that it was a major turning point in his life as he began to rediscover his emotions and past in the visible world through Drawing and Paintings. The expenditure to carry out his painting studies was so enormous that his family at times had very tough time to provide him adequate financial expenditure. Savi was so economical that he learned to survive with meager amount. He would go to Lokmat Marathi daily news-paper office to buy the west-news print papers for sketching purpose. Savi used to buy those papers in bulk for Rs. 3.50 per kilogram. He even had to compromise on the choice of the papers for drawing due to higher cost of the superior quality drawing paper. His ability to make drawings at furious pace earned him respect from his teachers such as Kashinath Salve, Arun Mendule and Murty. Arun Mendule had a special love for drawings, his line was very sharp rhythmic and equally spontaneous. On the other hand Salve was visionistic and experimental in techniques and executions. Murty was very docile and philosophical but died very early. Savi learned many aspects of drawing and paintings. Among the other teachers, Dhanajay Verma impressed him because of his sheer mastery in portrait paintings. Savi methodically absorbed their teachings and skills. It remained with him forever.
Savi always had problems for money hence, colors were not within his reach but drawing was as for drawing only pencil or pen and papers were required. At times he would get furious with many others and would express himself very violently. Studying at Chitrakala Mahavidyalaya exposed him to various modes of expression. In the graduation, the subject of Graphic caught his attention for economic quality expressions and the medium was highly suitable for drawing. He discovered great masters like Durrer, Goya, Picasso etc. His gradual mastery over drawing made his line highly rhythmic and powerful in which he began to discover various shades of expressions. Being emotionally charged person, Savi would always look for quality of expression rather than execution of a theme or subject on the two dimensional surface. It was a very different time at Chitrakala Mahavidhyalaya and teachers generally would encourage students to explore various textural possibilities and create a new pictorial language. The element of modernistic principle was at its peak. Mumbai was looked at as a very happening and trendy place in contemporary paintings. In such a scenario to develop and emphasis on traditional working style of drawing was highly noteworthy as for the fact that the pictorial language had gone under considerable changes and the element of novelty and execution of pictorial surface became the sole criteria for acknowledging the creativity. Savi’s quest to convert the two dimensional surface into varied textural zones on the sheer strength of drawing in the medium of graphic impressed his teacher Kashinath Salve, who advised him to go to Garhi studio of Lalit Kala Academy, New Delhi. After his graduation exam, Savi landed in Delhi. He had no problems as far as travel was concerned as his father was in Railway service, travel would come at no cost. In Garhi studios, he happened to meet many young painters and also some old painters. He happened to hear about Baroda as a place that offers master course in Graphics. After spending few months in Delhi, he began to rediscover his emotional strengths and started searching for a quality of expression that would be of his own. So far he was engaged in lyrical landscapes with emotionally charged expressions. But his real strength was drawing through which he began to search for emotions that would narrate the self. The self in him was that of a Dalit whose ideal was Dr. Ambedkar. It was a tough time for him to survive in Baroda. Savi was getting only Rs.300 from his home, he had to work outside to support himself. In Baroda, the narrative figurative trend had gained considerable momentum where many young students were involved in making the figure in a narrative context as his/her prime concern. Savi observed those happenings. Besides, the environment in Gujarat was so vitiated that number of anti-reservation agitations had opened up a very different politicization of the Indian society. Savi was a spectator to all this. His anger against such issue was so out bursting that he began to involve in the figures that would make him to structurise a series of visuals that were highly emotional and signified. It may be added that Baroda was a place were Dr. Ambedkar had come to work but was ill-treated because of untouchability. The issue of untouchability was being constantly projected and addressed through various social movements. Savi, being a witness to all those happenings, initiated the problems of untouchability through pictorial codes. He started with a limited iconography of untouchable images with considerable force in drawing but highly communicative figures that were narrating their own existence in the Brahmanical social order. The distinct iconography he developed was an image with sputum pot hanging around neck and a broom behind signifying the untouchable. The very perpetuation of untouchability and its systemic sanction in the religious ideology became the sole contention among the many Dalits in the country. Savi’s ideas emerged through the same common heritage of social struggle i.e. Dr. Ambedkar.
Savi mastered the dry-point technique in Graphic medium through his command over drawing. Baroda was very open to ideas as far as visual expression was concerned. Ever since the days of Bendre and K.G. Subramanyam, Baroda was highly modernized but Savi preferred not to follow the trend, instead he preferred to address his own society and their miserable living. The background in his graphics began to get harsh, the surrounding area of the untouchable figures were so dark that the over all effect was that of a very sad days and pathetic conditions. While his untouchability series in graphic was being shaped, some of his friend such as Amitabh Pande supported him in his endeavors to make the images communicative. Savi’s dry-point started getting matured. Because of his command over technique, he was highly respected. Young Savi was now a different person in search of his own, very different from what he was at Nagpur. But graphics was his love, so, he explored to work with some of the contemporary masters. Soon his dream came true, he got the opportunity to work with Mr. Paul Lingren of USA, Mr. Krishna Reddy of New York USA, K. G. Subramanyam of India and Prof. Pointacle of Germany. At the same time he had to look for his survival. Meanwhile Savi managed to get a job in Delhi College of Art but the job came with intense politicking which resulted in his departure from Delhi College of Arts. To survive in Delhi was very difficult for Savi as for the fact that he could never manage his finances. At times he had to walk with bathroom slippers in the cold days of Delhi. He also had an opportunity to go to France but he decided not to go due to fear of getting changed in the art-world of France. But his travel to USA proved to be extremely helpful. His interactions with Reddy and Paul Lingren helped him strengthen his own ways of world makings were self was transformed into the characters of the past livings and loaded with literary forms of reference. Savi again was reappointed in Delhi College of Arts. With recent visit to Mexico, his learning process kept growing and the result was his handling of wet-mural technique at ease.
He was now in search of more volatile expressions. He simply recalled the ideals that were taught to him by his grand-mother and explored various forms of visuals to address the issues of caste and Brhamanical oppressions in society. It was after his post-graduate studies at Baroda, Savi went into the world of Devdasis. He actually went and witnessed the pathetic tradition of Devdasi and observed how the sexual exploitation of the lower caste is done under the religious sanction of the Brahmanical religion. His series on Devdasi was an out come of his observation of the very tradition itself. The image of Devdasi is not addressed as a sexual object to be viewed by the spectators but as a human in pathetic Brahmanical society.
Savi restarted paintings. Being a graphic artist, it was a difficult task to execute the same type of textural surface on the canvas. He made series of paintings based on the theme of untouchability, Devdasi, communalism and child labor. At the same time, his pictorial expression turned for more sophisticated philosophical critic of the Brahmanical tradition of the caste and Chaturvarna. He is the first Indian artist who visualized the Chaturvarna through pictorial signs as a critic of caste and inequality. His significance lies in the fact that no Indian artist ever dared to address those social issues as a very modernist critic and if modernism and modernity are considered as two sets of historical constructs then the very pictorial expressions of many Indian painters functioned within the larger realm of the Brahmanical traditions and the result is the numerous paintings that are created around the mythical gods that had no historical existence. On the other hand, Savi represents as a critic of the Brahmanical tradition that has the lineage in Phule and Ambedkar. The cultural critic if at all viewed from this perspective then it may be observed that the representations of many painters stand to loose the very fundamental concept of modernity as they wish to claim because the gross Sanskritisation in India always has been the hindrances for creating modern values and the cultural practices, hence Savi is different than his radical counterparts in Indian contemporary art world. He is one of the very few painters of modern India who exploited the dry-point technique for his expressive imageries. Savi produced numerous prints in dry-points unmatched by any Indian. He works with rapidness, with sheer energy. As and when he starts drawing on the canvas surface, he completes the drawing in one stroke. According to him, the process helps him to conceptualize the visual form directly in order to bring life in it. The sheer contours define the volume at considerable strength. He simply puts color in them and creates a very different world that speaks for his inner self.