Sunday, October 5, 2014

Art, Life and Chris Ofili

The New Yorker is a cup that just keeps on giveth.

Ofili's Turner Winner
Last Wednesday, it published a fabulous profile of Chris Ofili. And today, the New Yorker has dug up seven artist profiles from their archive, which specifically look at how their life and experiences have informed their art.

Chris Ofili is the British artist of the elephant dung fame. Of course, it is only when I read the article I learnt how much more than that he is. The writer visited him at his home in Trinidad, where to he has moved with his family since 2005, and built a profile by weaving his life story and career with little details of his current daily life.

What struck me was how much the British artist reminded me of Barack Obama. Here are the things they share in common: an absconding father, a strong mother, immense intelligence and self-confidence, and an ability to carry their blackness so lightly. Yes, they are black but they are so much more.

That is how I feel about being Indian. Yes, I am an Indian but I am so much more.

The work of any artist is intimately connected to his life, experiences and times. His race, sex, history, friends, surroundings, travels and his own take on these experiences is what defines his works. When that take is unique, the works can be astonishingly revealing. However, when an artists take on his life experiences is derivative - meaning, I am lesbian woman artist hence, I make this etc... I am an Indian artist, hence I make that etc... - the works become cliches.

Ofili is clearly a case of the former. His ethnicity, his Catholic upbringing, his travel through Africa, his love for hip hop, and his life in Trinidad: they all inform his works but what shines through is his relation to these experiences.

On the other hand, I feel that latter is the case with a number of Indian artists. The overt political commentary their works make about Indian life somehow doesn't leave enough room for them to explore their own position vis-a-vis the society they are commenting on.

So now my goal for the week is to read the seven profiles and use them to further my understanding of why I find overtly political Indian artists somehow unsatisfying. The one I am most looking forward to reading is Damien Hirst's.

No comments: