By Prithvijeet Sinha
Art is often made out to be something unattainable, acquired strictly by virtue of good taste. To me that supposition has a very myopic idea of what actually constitutes art.
Art is spontaneous, sensual and immediately attractive to the naked eye simply because it is all around us in diverse forms, beginning with the canvas of nature.
From the first rays of sunlight to the final nocturnal lull of the moon, waxing and waning with our existence, a landscape is the first index of the omnipotent power of the hands that create. The stakes are just as natural when an influential figure who has provoked meaningful thoughts has her portrait occupy a space which we commit to our memory. Memory is to art, after all, what the intermingling of colours and shapes is to the structure of an artistic creation – even more than its form. Hence, beholding an artwork that inspires is a moment of personal reckoning with the feelings it evokes.
An artwork that has greatly impacted my artistic consciousness is ‘Mother Teresa–Goddess Of Peace’ by the indefatigable Maqbool Fida Hussain. Mr. Hussain is entrenched in the fabric of popular culture for his unmistakable, humbling style and use of colours eschewing any hint of beautification that sometimes becomes an accursed necessity in art.
His portrait of the benevolent social messiah is no different. Mother Teresa is someone who has graced his canvas in many iterations and the Goddess of Peace is one among the many he painted around the 1980s. As founder of Missionaries of Charity, Mother Teresa occupies a unique space in our cultural consciousness as we know it, caring for the neediest masses that society is quick to eliminate from the mainstream. That she was painted by another unassuming individual who was austerity personified made them equals. Mr. Hussain, on his part, dissociated his oeuvre from the elitist pretensions of galleries and terminologies of the ‘art world’, making art that touched hearts.
The artwork has Mother Teresa in the middle, in her trademark white sari with a blue border, faceless — an individual whose attire spelled a divorce from pretensions of the world. It is in perfect consonance with the painter who mostly walked bare feet and had not even a single iota of self-recognition about his position as an icon. He was an everyman. To him, it was a vocation but also a necessity to survive.
For others it is the 9 to 5 rule. For him, it was his art.
For Ms. Teresa too, it was personal duty that called for sacrifice of the ego. So, they were doing what they thought was essential in maintaining the order of who they were, in direct relation with an often imperfect world.
The central figure in the painting is surrounded by a young girl, a cow and a dove in flight holding olive tree leaves in its beak. The cow symbolises innate innocence and spiritual purity in concordance with the child while the bird signifies the efforts of people to uphold peace and effect constructive change, never shying away from the reality of poverty that millions endure.
The way her attire is spread out is as if she is holding the beleaguered world in her empathetic care (a baby in this case is on her lap) signals a last hope. She rises above the maternal role of primary caregiver alone. She is a universal figurehead, a genderless representative. That’s why her motives and actions translate so well through the brushstrokes of another. That’s the reason her faceless presence isn’t about fear but as a blank space meant to be filled with the image of any face that could set the same compassionate precedence as her.
Today, my evolution as a writer and poet owes its debts to that day when this artwork became wholly animated for me, creating a blueprint that continues to inspire and provoke thought. That’s the power of art– to create a space in memory and nudge us forward towards change, whether it’s a painter for the cause of artistic integrity and no monetary considerations, a messianic voice for the spiritual upliftment of the downtrodden or a writer preserving their collective legacies through his contemporary words.
The passion in these two people’s efforts to always strive in achieving integrity in service of the truth is soul-stirring. It is so easy to be swayed by conformity, even if it’s within the confines of an educated middle-class structure. The painting is a gateway to that natural state of mind which only creates and never jostles for accolades. I see that in myself.
Sincerity is a prized attribute which is often splayed wide open, to be attacked by a modern world where propagandas and muddled agendas defeat our simplicity of being. But people like Mother Teresa and Mr. Hussain show us the path where one walks the line, forging a map of individuality where materialism just cannot make a dent because the intent is to look at the truth of millions who cannot raise themselves from a cycle of grinding dispossession and exploitative tempers.
Art takes its imprints from the unvarnished truth. This artwork achieves that, illuminating all who dare to effect constructive actions and challenge conformity.
Prithvijeet Sinha has been prolifically publishing works of various hues in journals and magazines like Cafe Dissensus, Confluence, The Medley, Borderless, Wilda Morris’ Poetry Blog, Screen Queens, Rhetorica Quarterly, Lothlorien, Chamber Magazine, Livewire among others. He believes writing to be the true music of the soul.
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