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Ananda Bazar Patrika (আনন্দবাজার পত্রিকা), 17 December 2011:

"I have kept a Khajuraho composition beside the strange,
masked figures of America’s Halloween"

Sovan Tarafder

face-to-face with
Uday K. Dhar



Bright in its Brilliant Sarcasm

It is not possible at all to capture the personal presence of Uday K. Dhar from his artwork printed with this interview. The picture included in a recent exhibition of CIMA named “ADBHUTAM” is intense and radiant. It is bright from an explosive and brilliant sarcasm.

In contrast, when its bald-headed, no-longer-young artist came walking to the lounge of a magnificent city hotel, it was revealed that his presence is quiet and gentle. His smile too is gentle.

Uday literally incarnates the geography of globalization in his own self. His parents are Indian, but he was born in Britain. Then, from his third to his twelfth year, that is during the most receptive years of his life, he was in Patna, India. Then, he would move, along with his parents, to the USA. On growing up, he would live for a considerable time in Berlin, but in the end, would permanently settle in New York, USA. That is, his life has been woven around an international texture. Many stories centered around that life. Stories attached to those many tidbits related to place and time. Those stories were the topic of our discussion for a long while. In the middle of such anecdotes, he was asked, “Now then, how do you view ingenuity, the quality that we refer to by using the term ‘originality’?”

“Interesting, but why this change of topic?” Uday smiled.

“For you do not have a single vision but many. Really many. You have seen life from as many aspects as there are shadows of different cultures in the years of your growing up. As a result, you have as many points of view.”

“This originality is a funny thing, you see,” Uday sipped his coffee. “As an artist, I want to say it at the beginning that many streams have mingled in me and I want to admit them. That is my own vision of myself as an artist. And if you speak of originality, I’d say this aspect is viewed completely differently in India and in the USA.”

“What do you mean?”

“It’s easy. In India, when we say ‘original’, the picture that comes to mind, whatever it be, is hardly those of a rebel. In this country there are a few patterns. Like those of the statues of the deities. Those patterns slowly permeate into society. The majority, although they may not admit it, at least in their minds, expect that those patterns will be followed. Hence, we are not disturbed by that need that we will have to be ‘original’.”

I couldn’t tell Uday that once our great poet brought to the field of literature such a rebel, who clapped his hands and said, “What shall we do by being a better fajli mango when we have other fajli mangoes as our predecessors? Rather, it’s better to be a custard apple.”

We might have had to bring Nibaran Chakraborty into our discussion, but Uday broke the silence and said, “The picture in America is quite the reverse. There everyone will have to be original. This pressure is terrible. Your work mustn’t be similar to anyone else’s. All the time some fear breathes on your shoulder—have I been able to create something that has the stamp of being my own? Won’t it have any resemblance to someone else’s work?”

“So, does it mean, not here, not this, but something else…somewhere else…?”

Uday K. Dhar smiled and said, “That doesn’t mean whatever is being produced there is purely original. Not at all. But there is a difference in attitude. There is a difference in the point of view that you mentioned. The difference is in how you’ll maintain that dialogue with your own past, your own tradition. The larger picture is that in some place you accept tradition almost without question, while in some other place you constantly throw questions at it. You’ll have to decide what you want. For example, if the past maintains a status quo, it is to be seen how you tackle the situation.”

As Uday paused after speaking for a while, he was asked, “You too have to tackle it, don’t you? How do you do that?”

Uday glanced at his artwork. He said, “Do you know what it is? In truth, it is ‘Khajuraho meets Halloween’…That is to say many places and times are integrated in it. Right? I have kept a Khajuraho composition beside the strange, masked figures of America’s Halloween. There you’d usually find one male figure beside two female ones. I have changed that equation, here you have two men beside a feminine figure. Their faces hidden by masks…”

“Isn’t this mask too like a ‘comment’? Weaving the familiar with the unknown, a funny play on the idea of existence?”

Uday smiled, “You see, in the contours of the feminine form or in the larger sense in the overall posture of all the three figures, there’s a shadow of Bollywood because it is such an influence now that can’t be ignored.”

“Have you seen The Dirty Picture, a film that recently created a sensation in Bollywood?”

Uday said that he was aware of it.

“If someone calls this painting of yours a dirty picture? My god, what is this!”

The artist’s smile broadened. Smilingly he said, “That’s good. I would say, look at yourself. You’d see that there are many such things floating in us, remaining awake in us. Do we recognize them? Do we want to see how dialogues are created in the many nooks and crevices of our culture? It is easy to remain oblivious if you don’t want to see, but that doesn’t mean that this dialogue can be ignored.”

My conversation with Uday K. Dhar went for a long while more. The details would be irrelevant here. But let me mention that although he lives far away, he has an intimate link with himself. With his own roots.

If we could only find those roots!

“Plurality, plurality,” whispered Uday K. Dhar while sipping his coffee for the last time. Very much in the manner of Nibaran Chakraborty.



Photograph (in the magazine) by Debiprasad Sinha.

Translation of this text by Subhamay Ray (Kolkata, India).