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20 FEATURE mid-day Sunday, May 6, 2018 | | | epaper.mid-day.


‘My representations
The journalist who accused
The skin is now have been erotic
and idealised at
times... But, I was
also resisting
erasure — so, in
Hastings of erectile dysfunction
politicially sound that sense, the work
is very political, and
very queer’
Sharmistha Ray, artist

soul. One never asks why we paint

A new book by American researcher Andrew Otis reveals the true events that led to
the creation of Hicky’s Bengal Gazette, South Asia’s first printed newspaper
Hicky’s immediate target was the
then Governor-General of India Warren
Hastings (1774–1785). The back-story, as
relayed in the book is that Marian,
After Ravi Jadhav’s Nude, a look at how contemporary Indian artists horses nude or the birds, so why not Hasting’s wife, had expressed her inter-
a human? est in supporting his press. “It was well
use the naked human figure as socio-political commentary The answer these days is a more known in Calcutta how much sway she
nuanced, often political one, but Ray [Marian] had over her husband. If all
BENITA FERNANDO “From an art perspective, the nude ing her naked body, rebelled against says that it was generally the Mod- went well, they [the investors] implied has a voyeuristic tendency, but the established ideas of beauty. “There ernists, including the artists of The that Marian could use her influence to
‘unclothed body’ moves away from was nothing subdued or decorative Bengal School, who took more risks let his newspaper be mailed for free
AS undoubtedly one of the most salacious voyeurism to reflection,” about that work; it was a true inves- in their depictions of the human through the post office...But in Hicky’s
controversial films this year, Ravi says Singh. Artists today, he contin- tigation of the female form. That body. The scenario has worsened mind no such help could come for free,”
Jadhav’s Nude has raised some seri- ues, are far more engaged with social said, the year 2000 onward, there from when Padamsee fought a court Otis writes in the book. The next day,
ous questions through what it and political concerns, their role with have been largely fragmented repre- case for his painting Lovers some six he went to Hastings’ Belvedere Estate,
shows and, inadvertently, through activism much more apparent. “Their sentations of the naked body,” says decades ago. Or, when Khurana was but as he began to approach the home,
what it chooses to stay silent about. practices are more driven by these Vincent Sunish, adding that many accused of provocation, mainly be- he “began to feel uneasy, like a selfish
At the heart of this Marathi film are concerns, so the pure nude hardly contemporary works open up the di- cause of displaying an “undesired” traitor who did not have the courage to
two poor women who sign up as ever exists. I would prefer to use the alogue of genders, where the body body form (in Europe, Bird stand up for his beliefs. Abruptly, at the
models for the nude study at one of phrase ‘the unclothed body’ for what may be both male and female, or nei- was better received, earning last minute, he turned around and left,”
India’s leading art colleges, Sir JJ we see in art practices today,” he says. ther, such as in Seema Kohli’s works. her recognition). he writes.
School of Art. As one the last insti- The difference in terminology is a Artist and curator Sharmistha Ray, A few top-tier art galleries in “Hastings didn’t do a very good job of
tutions in India where students significant one, and identifiable es- who lived in Mumbai for over a urban India, says Ray, are the hiding his crimes. When Hastings
work with live models, the practice pecially in performance art. In 2016, decade before moving back to New only spaces left for real dia- bribed Chief Justice Elijah Impey of the
meets with vehement protests. Naresh Kumar, a young Mumbai- York last year, cites Nalini Malani’s logues in contemporary art and Supreme Court of Bengal, he made it a
What’s interesting, amidst the case based artist, showed his work, Sto- representations of nudes and culture. “But, they too fear the matter of public record, by document-
that the students make for the nude, ries My Country Told Me, at Clark nakedness, and Rekha Rodwit- potential repercussions of ing the bribe in official Company
is that the women, Yamuna and her House Collective in Mumbai, tiya’s high stylised female crossing the line; and specifi- records. I think Hastings thought he
aunt Chandrakka, in their absolute Gwangju, Korea, and at Villa Vassili- nudes that embody her fem- cally, the threat of violent at- was the above the law,” says Otis, while
naiveté regarding art practices, eff, Paris. The work harkens back to inist politics as fine exam- tack,” she says, recalling two explaining why exposing Hastings had
raise the most significant questions. revolts by indigo farmers in pre-In- ples. She also recalls Abhay gallery exhibitions in Mumbai became a major goal of Hicky’s journal-
Yamuna asks — Why do art stu- dependent India, demanding fairer Maskara, the owner and di- from the recent past that in- istic endevaour.
dents paint nudes? practices regarding taxes, loans and rector of the erstwhile volved performance art and Warren Hastings’ Belvedere Estate, near the site of Hastings and Francis’ duel. Painted by William Prinsep (1838) What Otis found amusing was Hicky
The film urges us to consider the tenancy. Kumar covered parts of his Gallery Maskara, who deployed the “naked” female accusing Hastings of erectile dysfunc-
nude, and the discomfort of the aam body with industrial indigo for the started “the work of build- body as a catalyst: Tejal Shah’s JANE BORGES Determined to trace the true events tion. “It was just a pot shot. Hicky had
junta that surrounds it. It also urges performance. “The purpose of doing ing a gallery program that Between the Waves, at Project behind the making of Hicky’s newspa- written an article accusing Hastings of
us to consider how contemporary the piece naked is because when we championed controversial 88, in 2013; and Sonia Khu- per, Otis set out on a research journey, waging an illegal war that would end in
Indian art, no matter how diverse talk about farmers, we cannot but representations of the rana’s Fold/Unfold, at IN the history classroom, the story be- which began at the British Library in the deaths of thousands of lives, and at
and fragmented it might be, evokes look at their body. It is almost as if human body in contempo- Chemould Prescott Road in hind the making of South Asia’s first London in September 2011 — after he the end of the article, he added a line,
the naked body. politics impacts their bodies. Look at rary art — male, female 2017. “However, given the ex- printed newspaper, Hicky’s Bengal chanced upon a copy of Bengal Gazette as if almost an afterthought, that the
Gallerist Mortimer Chatterjee the Kisan March from Nashik to and queer — and the sub- plicit nature of Shah’s work, the Gazette, also known as the Original — and took him to as far as Kolkata — stress of the war had lowered Hast-
sums up that up until the 1940s, in Mumbai this year. We spoke a lot jects of sex and sexuality, exhibition wasn’t open to the Calcutta General Advertiser (1780-82), where Hicky started the paper — in ings’s libido. Hastings was the most
Mumbai, nude studies followed about their blistered hands and with promising artists general public. Perhaps it was has never been told with the same India, and Germany. powerful man in India, and Hicky had
portrayals laid out in Victorian-era feet,” says Kumar. Shown alongside like Shine Shivan and T a lost opportunity to further a passion its creator, Irishman James The result is a first-of-its-kind vol- the audacity to question his manhood!”
educational manuals, with JJ installations of farmers’ tools, Venkanna.” conversation about the body Augustus Hicky, had for the project. ume, Hicky’s Bengal Gazette: The Story Hicky often paid dearly. He was sen-
School as the most important centre the body, too, is an instrument. Ray’s practice, which and sexuality in the public Part of the reason could have been the of India’s First Newspaper (Westland tenced to jail for three years, but re-
for training students. “The nude His naked body, says the artist, is includes paintings and domain, but can you re- scarce representation of Hicky in text- Books, Amazon), which offers a com- fused to give up printing the
body first really became eroticised his material. other media, has works ally blame galleries for books, where his contribution to the pelling addition to the history of sub- newspaper. “The Supreme Court of
around the early 1940s. From the that embody the female exercising caution?” Indian press has mostly been reduced continental journalism. Bengal had to issue a special order seiz-
late 1940s onwards, the nude body Neither female nor male nude. “My representations says Ray. to a few sentences, if at all. Set in the late 18th century Calcutta, ing his press to stop him,” he says.
became weaponised, so to speak, in The idea of studying the human body of women, have, thus far, But Hicky had the most interesting Otis’ book, which he undertook as part It’s for this reason and more that Otis
the work of FN Souza (such as the for academic purposes, says curator been of intimate partners,” she story, says Washington DC-based of a scholarship, chronicles Hicky’s de- feels that Hicky played a crucial role in
frank full frontal nudity of his self- and art historian Lina Vincent Sun- says. “These representations researcher Andrew Otis. “He was a man cision to establish a newspaper to lay organising dissent against the Com-
portrait from 1948). The male gaze ish, is purely a system by which stu- have been erotic and idealised at who worked his way out of debtors’ bare the murky underside of the Eng- pany. “Hicky pioneered a generation of
is certainly noticeable around this dents realistically portray form, as times, but the point was to be able prison, founded a printing press and lish East India Company. journalists in India. One of Hicky’s as-
time,” he says. By the mid to late they would study a landscape or still to document a personal and human started the first newspaper in India “When I first came across Hicky, I sistants became the printer for the first
1960s, in Baroda, the nude body was life. What may be academically and experience of loving, and to do that The front page of Hicky’s Bengal from almost nothing. And then, having thought he might be a paranoiac. In illustrated book in Bengali, Annada
handled by artists such as Bhupen anatomically correct, however, could in a way that was tender, and po- Gazette, 28 April, 1781. worked his way up from nothing, he one issue of his newspaper he wrote Mangal, published by Ganga Kishore
Khakhar to express ideas of be placed at a lower artistic value in etic. But, I was also, very con- PIC COURTESY/THE UNIVERSITY sacrificed everything for an ideal — the that there was an assassination at- Bhattacharji. Bhattacharji was the edi-
sexuality. “Increasingly, then, the contemporary times, she argues. sciously, resisting erasure — so, in OF HEIDELBERG freedom of the press. He stood up to a tempt on his life. At first I didn’t believe tor of one of the first Bengali newspa-
nude becomes used metaphori- At the turn of the century, there that sense, the work is very politi- power-hungry regime bent on con- it. But as I came to learn more about the pers, the Bengal Gazette.”
cally,” he says. were those like Sonia Khurana, says cal, and very queer,” she explains. quering India and tried to expose its British East India Company, I came to But to say that he may have influ-
In 2016, DAG Modern’s three- Vincent Sunish. Khurana, who is corruption. That was impressive. Just learn that his exaggerations were enced the rebellion that was to come in
storey building in Kala Ghoda hosted based out of New Delhi, had created Body under threat imagine the tenacity of a person who maybe not so much exaggerations after the next century, could be incorrect.
a large exhibition of works under the a short video, titled Bird, in 1999. In In Nude, there is a scene in which could do all that. Hicky was not just a all. The Company was brutal in its re- “He argued that British subjects had
title The Naked and the Nude: The this video, the artist stood naked on an MF Husain-inspired character historical figure,” says Otis. pression of dissent,” he says. fundamental rights. Some thought it
body in Indian modern art. Through a pedestal, as if in an attempt to take explains to Yamuna, as she models meant everyone, British and Indians
250 sculptures and paintings, curator flight. The work raised questions for him, that he paints nudes be- alike. Others thought it meant
Kishore Singh was able to distinguish about womanhood, and, by present- cause he wishes to unearth the ‘Hicky pioneered a generation of only Britishers. Hicky never
the ways in which Indian Modernists clearly stated his opinion. He
engaged with the bare body. There
journalists in India. One of Hicky’s was a radical in that he
was an untitled work by KH Ara, ‘From the late 1940s onwards, the nude assistants became the printer for wanted to change how
known as one of the first British India was governed.
Indian artists to use the female body became weaponised...The male the first illustrated book in Bengali, But did he want a revolution
Hicky’s paper was critical of Warren
nude as a subject, FN Souza’s Woman
in a Corset, and a nude by
gaze is certainly noticeable around Hastings (1732-1818), then Governor
Annada Mangal, published by where Indians would have
equal rights with British?
Akbar Padamsee. this time’ Mortimer Chatterjee, gallerist PHOTO IMAGING/UDAY MOHITE General of India. PIC/GETTY IMAGES Ganga Kishore Bhattacharji’ Andrew Otis Maybe not,” he says.

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