By Prithvijeet Sinha
Dignity of expression is an underestimated phenomenon; in times like ours where everything has to be blurted out loud from the biggest amplifiers, subtlety has become a jaded mode of creative power. What can be understood in two words and understatement needn’t be stretched to a point of vulgar oversimplification through metaphors and symbolism anyway. The sorry state of affairs obviously then finds an outlet through the arts. Ideally, painting should capture the world as a beautiful sanctuary, where our place as heavenly creatures endowed with virtues galore and innate innocence, is sanctified. This it does in thousands of visual motifs. But painting also evinces an ample canvas on which our internal world of chaos finds an adequate representation. That is where ‘art’ finds its footing.
For me, one artwork that will always stand the test of time when it comes to representing our internal implosion affected by socio-cultural, political consequences is Edvard Munch’s ‘Scream’ (1893).
I don’t know when exactly I discovered it because it seems to bear such an omnipresent place in our cultural consciousness. However, to the best of my memory, my tenacious relationship with ‘Scream’ commenced more than a decade ago when I first set sight upon its hollowed out, skeletal figure, a personality who, it seemed, had placed us instantly in his/her shoes. Munch’s work thus has gone on to frame every moment that has blown the lid off societal hypocrisies and depravity, for this writer. It’s a scream that we all innately identify with because so much of our lives is spent repressing our self-expression, our sense of self-esteem and by extension, our rights. As our mental health, a culturally coded reality ignored throughout modern humanity’s materialistic stride, becomes a perennial victim of that repression, we yearn to speak. Recount our potential lost chances. Claim our minds, bodies and souls as our own. Retaliate at the status quo and in fair essence, scream. Scream at the void, at our preceding generations, at calloused authority.
If you ask me then personally, the painting’s stance of an individual left in the middle of nowhere, imploding with the gesture of putting his hands on his ears and crying out, melting with the weight of the world, is most likely to be identified with my journey till now. That literal and oftentimes implicit scream is attached to parts of my whole being where nothing of prejudice, repression or even plainly documented neglect from our adults and guardians should reside. Yet they do.
I scream when my talents as a writer are taken to be temperamental or above careful analysis, as only an individual feat. I scream when a writer’s sensitivity doesn’t translate to a real vocation in the eyes of the world. I scream when my sustained silences groan and moan for days on end, only to be met with a premise of being ‘physically weak’ on my part; when my insides churn with inflaming pain attributable to chronic stomach troubles and indigestion since that day in 2000 where I was cursed with a bout of jaundice. When the strength to write gets overpowered by my depressive disenchantments; when gender roles are used as a rapier in common discourses, I scream. I scream. I scream. Never audible enough to be heard. Always observing a kind of bourgeois tact that makes me come undone. I scream when the men tail me in moments of solitude at riverside parks, put hands on my body and refuse to acknowledge that there are asexuals out there who don’t crave the crassness of physical pleasure. Or even verbal grooming and cajoling.
I scream when the river gets dirty, filled with pollutants. The trees fall down. When a peaceful day is brutalised by the ancient prophecies of time; when concrete balls, lances of disease and traffic blasts produce a most grotesque symphony of the nature of the world, a preserve of noise, sound and fury signifying nothing especially as our mental states are poured out into doctors’ tables for consultations and fees, I scream. Gulping the air around me and melting with all the foregrounds and backgrounds this world can assist me with, to no avail, I get hollowed out.
Peace is a luxury to us mere mortals. Chaos is the lightning rod that governs us throughout. Since truth can never be shortchanged, Scream always haunts us with its presence, intimately involved in our implosions through the clogged networks of time and memory. I felt its echoes in Apichatpong Weerasethakul’sMemoria(2021), as Jessica, the protagonist, travelled along a network of vibrations emanating from aural worlds around her, dictated by the stillness of nature holding more than it dares to reveal; or, in that eight-minute unbroken piece de resistance in Dea Kulumbegashvili’s Beginning(2020) where her central figure drowns out the pandemonium of sexual defilement by laying her head on the ground, to keep herself sane and from death’s purview.
That scream is released in the final two minutes of the lyrics of Phoebe Bridgers’ breakout single ‘I Know The End’ (2020) where an apocalypse of the mind finds its literal projections compounded by rock guitars and drums, where the serenity of the preceding passages leads to an honest overflow, where aggression is supplanted by an exhausted sigh in the final coda. But also one, where silence is not an option. To me, Munch’s imprints let me reconcile with the fact that more than the politics of life and death as well as class, we are eternally doomed to imparting a facade of silence and repression to our ethos. It’s the inescapable truth and when bigotry such as the ones we encounter infects discourses, The Scream gags to be left out. It should, must be let out.
Prithvijeet Sinha, has built a prolific published corpus based on the intersection of poetry, cinema and culture. He hails from the cultural epicentre that is Lucknow, India.
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