3 September 2009

‘My Ram Is Kabir’s Ram, Not The BJP’s’

Subodh Kerkar tells TRISHA GUPTA why his Ganeshas should outrage no one

Goa-based artist Subodh Kerkar is being hounded by the Sangh Parivar for his recent Ganesha exhibition. He defends his work:

Could you tell us about your Ganesha exhibition?
The first part was an installation: a 15 foot tall mud Ganesha planted with grass, and a few plastic bags strewn around. The day after a festival, our religious spaces are filthy. Do devotees feel that the god inside the image is blind? My idea was to make Ganesha a messiah for cleanliness. In the second part, I took Ganesha on a world tour of various cultures. His very name is Ganapati – the leader of the gana, the people. So he walks on water like Jesus, he becomes a sphinx in Egypt, an Oscar statue in the US.

And what response did you get from the Hindu right?
Three of my Ganeshas were published in Dainik Lokmat before my exhibition opened on August 20 in Goa. The Hindu Janajagruti Samiti and the Sanatan Sanstha called me a dharmadrohi (a traitor to religion) and labelled my paintings obscene. They published my phone numbers in their mouthpiece Sanatan Prabhat and I got thousands of threatening phone calls and SMSes, including people saying they would kill me, or chop my fingers off. 100 people came and shouted slogans outside my exhibition.

You’ve used religious imagery before. Why have the Ganeshas created outrage?
It’s not really about the paintings. The Hindu right wanted the only MF Husain painting in the Goa Museum removed. I came out strongly against it. I published a cartoon in Lokmat: a painting of Ramdas Swami with his kamandal but in a suit, with an artist saying, “I didn’t want to hurt religious sentiments, so I made him wear a suit.” They didn’t like my making fun of them.

Would you say you’re a practicing Hindu?
Hinduism gives you so many possibilities. You can be an atheist and still be a Hindu. In my house, I have an altar with Ram, Jesus, Ambedkar and the Kaaba. I am a Ram bhakt, but my Ram isn’t the BJP’s: it’s Gandhi’s Ram, Kabir’s Ram.

Would you locate your work within an Indian iconography of gods and goddesses?
Well, I have done nothing new. There are all kinds of Ganesha images everywhere, in Chaturthi celebrations all over: Ganesha skating, Ganesha as astronaut. Of course, they object to those too.

What is your response to those who say you have hurt Hindu sentiments?
I’m often asked, “Will you draw the Prophet like this, or Jesus Christ?” Catholic bodies in Goa objected to The Da Vinci Code so the government banned it; India was one of the first countries to ban Midnight’s Children. Organisations like the Hindu Janajagruti Samiti spit venom against Muslims, but they’re aping Muslim fundamentalists. They get more like Al Qaeda every day. Hinduism has always been open. Tukaram felt so close to Vitthal (Vishnu) that he could even abuse him. I just wanted to use Ganesha to take my message to the people.

From Tehelka Magazine, Vol 6, Issue 35, Dated September 05, 2009

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