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Ways of Seeing

From mid-August to September, the road snaking out of our locality was transformed into a site of creativity. On a stretch of pavement, figures of the goddess Durga gradually took shape in the sure hands of artisans in anticipation of the Puja season – from basic bamboo structures to bodies of straw held in place with jute strings, and layered with clay. There they were, the many Durgas, with proud breasts and strong arms, slim waists and rounded hips, and unselfconscious stance. One day, it suddenly occurred to me that each time I glimpsed those figures, what I saw was Durga in the making; not once did I think of them as “nude” figures of a goddess, as an over-two-decade-old riotous mode of art appreciation would have us believe.

The fact is, my way of seeing is not uniquely individual. It is part of a “specific cultural look” that has breathed life into Indian tradition, or traditions, as iconic artist, designer and photographer Dashrath Patel put it so aptly in the 1990s. That was a period when all discussions on contemporary art, culture and tradition were beginning to be held hostage to the yardstick of “intent to offend religious sentiments by painting nude figures of goddesses”, as applied by Hindutva proponents, whose main target of ire was the painter M F Husain for his “nude” drawing of the goddess Saraswati.

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