A crucial thing which people online often forget is that they belong to a microcosm of human society which is restricted to accounts they follow online – and accounts they choose to “shout out”.
I acknowledge this firsthand before making my arguments. I am also wary of criticism since these arguments are not entirely my personal experience, but a result of existing online as a “sh**poster” and making observations.
However, I feel confident in concluding that we have been hit by an epidemic of unconscious art, especially because of social media. No matter what platform you go to, art has become a ‘virasat’, or inheritance, of only a few individuals who belong to a society which refuses to examine itself. It firmly upholds legacy through misrepresentation and erasure. It refuses to acknowledge the continuation of a legacy at the cost of using narratives of people and cultures that are thriving and resisting conformity.
A current example of this was brought to my attention by artist and feminist, Aqui Thami. For months before the Netflix release, she has been speaking online about misrepresentation in the movie Axone, by employing actors who do not come from Nepali or Khasi communities.
“Sayani just makes a caricature of us,” she says.
The movie has been cross promoted on many influencer handles and has taken the fancy of allies who are writing about the ‘beauty’ of seeing diverse faces on screen. But these commentators are painfully shorthanded on their understanding of indigenous communities in today’s times. I observe artists like Aqui employing their voice through comments, messages and posts, where they often go unheard, and yet I see them knocking on doors.
I have also been seeing many posts about the need for a Dalit Art Movement from Bahujan artists. I wonder why this call can not be louder. Let’s all get behind this movement, it sounds great to me.
There are many wonderful pages and people online who talk about human experiences from a personal place – there is an uplifting consciousness in their art. There are so many voices on the internet which need to be heard but get drowned out by the loud machinery of mainstream media, which is being fuelled by supremacist ideologies and colonial languages. So then it is even more upsetting to see the supposedly “independent” and “underground” spaces uphold this within art spaces in India.
I feel it is important to understand and recognise that this is how art subverts our imaginations and therefore our lives. Art is a thriving language of expression which perpetuates ideas. Questioning established systems through art means to fight against a monolith of established knowledge, which assumes we are all one and the same. Therefore dismantling it requires a much mocked, but not deeply understood term – diversity.
At this point in India I believe, art has not been decentralised from this central monolith of knowledge that is often referred to as “brahmanical patriarchy”. On social media too, this machinery continues to promote platforms which provide opportunities to family and friends. We’re not just hastily, actively removing people who can’t speak English well, or who don’t have relevant education credentials from within our networks – we are eliminating people who don’t have expressions that are considered ‘normal’ or ‘good’.
Young Indians decide their personal and professional associations based on the same biases which have been practiced for generations in their families and social ecosystems. This is because these biases have confirmed their ideas of what constitutes ‘good’. Having a certain family, upbringing, education and job gives them a confirmation of someone’s worth. We don’t seek ways in which we can see beyond our perception of ‘pedigree’.
We continue to co-relate ‘aesthetic’ with ‘artistic’ and equate ‘mentality’ with ‘mental health’ of an artist. We refuse to see nuance, we refuse to create ways to not just accommodate, but welcome non-conformity.
Unlike popular art, reality constitutes constant non-conformity by individuals who see a difference in society’s ideology and their truth. Individuals who may not look and behave ‘normally’ but aren’t less entitled to a philosophical and financial autonomy. Individuals who may not have a ‘standard’ lifestyle but are deeply knowledgeable about their communities.
This is incredibly important to acknowledge because we need to actively correct casteist and ableist practices from Indian society. And even as consumers of art, we need to acknowledge our responsibility in overthrowing an exclusionary system of expression to welcome non-conformist individuals.
Society doesn’t just outcast, but punishes non-conformity. All our systems and structures are designed around certain ‘normals’ which are considered basic requirements to join a circle. This goes deeper than adherence to hierarchies and heterosexuality, which are commonly spoken about. Conforming is accepting how a human being’s ideal existence should be, what a good life looks like. Just imagine every Indian trope and see it’s representation. It is disheartening how much we’ve taken camaraderie in social circles to the level of cult. And definitely in the entertainment sector, but even in corporate and government, people with a ‘sellable’ image are favoured for jobs.
They’ve got more followers on social media, people want to promote their work and name, they have faster growth in their careers at a young age. They’re more popular online, they’re more successful, they have more opportunities.
On the other hand we see this type of fame, when pushed on to a few, disrupts the lives of artists who are prone to emotionality. We like to hear of their breakdowns and then wonder, what could possibly make them unhappy? We really overlook our collective responsibility in protecting artists. Simultaneously, this is also how art in Indian culture stays tied to a few people and not that many new ideas.
In my mind, the questions we need to ask are – what progress, or even profit, are we making by continuing down a familiar path with familiar people having familiar thoughts? Why is this familiarity sometimes literally ‘familial’? And what is it about the unsettling opposition of non-conformity that discomforts us?
Overall, there is a huge pool of government school students and independent, traditional media artists in India who are not getting a platform because they are not approached. And there is also no clear guideline on how they can get featured or get a referral. All this is because many platforms are not curating based on discovering artists and talent, but simply on whatever is available to them, which is their own friends. They don’t really understand art but they definitely understand marketing.
So sure, there are so many brave young people who are actively changing the world with their conscious voice. But we can be doing so much better for each other, if the rest of the “intelligent observers” act on what they hear and jump the fence.
Sumedha writes to highlight the need for non-conformity and for practical politics free of labels. She is also a certified cat lady.
Featured image credit: Gustavo Centurian/Unsplash