Living in Interesting Times

Cover Story

I am glad we are “living in interesting times,” courtesy Modi 1.0 and now Modi 2.0. This often used expression of wishing someone to “live in interesting times” purportedly is a translation of some apocryphal Chinese curse; yes! you read that right: a curse! So oft-used it is that perhaps the most influential art exhibition in the world, the Venice Biennale Arte 2019 is themed “May You Live In Interesting Times.”

Why a curse you may very well ask? Well, apparently uninteresting times are a time of stability and strength, and peace and harmony. Hence interesting would be the converse.

Interestingly, there have been uninteresting times for decades if not centuries during various reigns and regimes of despotism and feudalism when the common folk or the proletariat hung in there; neither gung-ho nor “interesting,” yet not content and far from happy. Are those the uninteresting times we should aspire for?

Narendra Modi has made India more interesting. And interesting is good; an uninteresting acceptance of a languid state of ennui is highly undesirable and unacceptable.

I thought the Venice Arte Biennale’s title for this year about living in interesting times was at best uninspiring. Of course, art needs to be interesting, but it would thrive more in uninteresting times if we were to believe in the curse. Why would one bother with art in interesting times? Maybe, Ralph Rugoff the current curator of the Exhibition has got it right: interesting times are good and not a curse after all.

Great art needs to inspire awe and be “interesting.” Art for shock has also been around for ages: Serrano’s Immersion (Piss Christ) is regarded among one of the seminal works of “shock art.” However, I love my art to inspire awe, not induce shock. Who can ever forget Malevich’s Black Square when in that decisive, apocalyptic moment with a few brushstrokes on his previously used canvas he obliterated any pictorial illusion whatsoever of three dimensions, thereby banishing recessive spaces and modelled forms of post-Renaissance art, the naturalistic light and colour of Impressionism, and the fleeting glimpses of the objective world. The genius lies not merely in the simplicity or literalness of the black square, but more so in the stupendous discovery that led to its creation, the purgatory; it was cataclysmal. In one astonishing moment of intuition, with that epiphanic masterstroke, Malevich severed all ties with the past; he trashed all values held sacred up till then. Malevich’s work was literally and metaphorically the ending and beginning of painting; it sounded the death knell for the old and became the harbinger of the new. The square is not a subconscious form. It is the creation of intuitive reason, the face of the new Art. The square is the Living. Malevich called it the “zero point of painting.” He had reduced everything to the “zero of form” and transformed himself and emerged from nothing to creation. Modi walks a similar path.

Satiety agitates, placidity cogitates, and art invigorates. Art sows and reaps for the soul and not the body. The body needs to survive while a lifeless soul may need sustenance from an artist or perhaps even God. For civilizations to thrive, survivability is a prerequisite followed by stability in spirit and life; Darwinian though it may sound, it is a given. Those who decry Modi as a parvenu reek of pusillanimity, and need a lesson in art and history: it is fine to be a “chaiwalla” (tea-seller) and yet be anointed as “chowkidar” (guardian). His inalienable right, which no opposition or detractor can expunge or besmirch despite puerile outbursts from the scion, the debutante, and their statesmen. Modi’s 2019 mandate is exemplary of that fact. Some of the greatest artists and leaders and thinkers and philosophers that the world has ever known were not lineage-rich. Apathy and tyranny are two sides of a perfidious coin. Revolutions and rebellions are not an outcome of interesting but of uninteresting times: of utter disdain for dynastic regimes with tyrannical apathy for the masses; the uprisings in the resolute belief that the “common” strife would lead to interesting times. Art and Life are ineluctably entwined whether one is a proponent of ancient mimesis or modern anti-mimesis. Malevich chose Black; Modi chose Saffron. Both realised, symbolically, of course, their colours to be the ultimate fullness, their individual colours that would give birth to light and hope in Art and Life, respectively. It is said that change is the only constant. We all seek rapid change, but Modi did state that our great nation is akin to a heavy goods locomotive and not a two wheeled scooter; turning it in the right direction would take time. We live in hope and with faith. Modi 2.0 is a triumphant victory of faith for kind, and a reaffirmation of the indomitable and ever puissant Bharatiya spirit. May Modi’s era provide succour for body and mind; the artists can do the rest for the soul. Modi will be the intuitive face of the living and the reason of hope, the very hope we breathe and believe. All Bharatiyas need benevolence and beneficence that we were bereft of in the past from a leader who effects effective governance: I truly am glad that we are “living in interesting times,” courtesy Modi 1.0 and now Modi 2.0.

Go to Content Page

Back to Top

Diplomatist Magazine was launched in October of 1996 as the signature magazine of L.B. Associates (Pvt) Ltd, a contract publishing house based in Noida, a satellite town of New Delhi, India, the National Capital.