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Nafisa Joseph, Alanis Morissette and Sheela Gowda
The symbols of cultural degeneration
Mind-numbing 'intellectuals', whining 'singers' and 'modern art' are its icons

Who is Sheela Gowda?

Sheela Gowda is an 'atist' from Bangalore who recently won the Sotheby's prize in contemporary Indian Art.

What does she paint?

Sheela Gowda won the prize, for using cow dung(!) as the 'medium'. In the India Today issue dated Dec 28, 1998, Gowda is described with adjectives like "innovative", "an artist with contemporary sensibilities" and as being "acutely sensitive to the current social and political upheavals around her".

In addition to cow dung; thread, vermillion, needles and rope are also used by Sheela Gowda in her 'artwork'. Speaking about Gowda, art critic Victoria Lynn says that "Gowda invokes the aroma, texture and color of the natural and cultural landscape". She is right; cow dung is the only material suited for invoking the 'aroma' of the cultural landscape of our country.

Today, works of art and their reviews compete for incomprehensibility and artists like Sheela Gowda win international recognition and aaccolades. An artist named Ofili supposedly uses elephant dung as a 'medium', another Christoph Storz uses graphite, Gowda herself uses coconut fiber to explore the relationships between the "form and formlessness".

The disease of irrationality

Is there no cure to the irrationality that seems to have gripped art? Centuries of painting gods and other religious themes was finally brought to a halt at the dawn of the 19th century. Was it only to start working with dung? Has the artist stopped to portray the Immaculate Mary and Goddess Durga only to dip his hands in animal excreta?

Justifications for using such "unconventional media" as cowdung read like—"the usage of everyday symbols in art", "poultice on the trauma of a nation" and "...mediums of expression rooted in tradition and religion". Installation 'art' is supposed to be the rage now. Scrap metal and rubber tubes pass off as 'sculpture'. The terminologies and jargon used to describe works of modern 'art' are vaingodly attempts at reaching the 'sublime' levels attained by the works of art reviewed. Witness Stephen David, the author of the column reviewing Gowda's works in India Today. According to him, Gowda's medium is 'rooted in tradition'. Does he mean that cowdung is a 'traditional' medium because it has been the only unchanging form in which the cow has been able to expel its digested wastes?

Art is dead

Art is dead today. If Sheela Gowda receives a Rs. 3 lakh prize and gets invited by the Japan Foundation Asia Center (for a series of exhibitions), then art is dead. If cow dung is the 'medium' today, then art is dead.

Articles in this Series

Nafisa Joseph
Alanis Morissette
Sheela Gowda
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