Jatin Das is shocked and angry. The colossal steel installation he helped build in Bhilai has been dumped as garbage. The eminent painter is one of the few who believes in changing the mindsets where art is concerned and emphasises that he is connected to his roots all too firmly. Amidst his scattered brushes and canvas, the septuagenarian spoke at length about the loss, his idea of art and current projects, in his idiosyncratic restless self.
Hindustan Times: The iconic installation in Bhilai, called the Flight of Steel has been removed from Murga Chowk in order to build the flyover and the installation was dumped at the zoo. What do you have to say about that?
Jatin Das: First of all, I am a painter and I also do sculpture sometimes. Bhilai Steel Plant had once invited me for an exhibition, where they said 'why don't you do something for us'. I went around the steel plant and I thought 'let's do a steel sculpture'. This was 16 years ago in 1996. So, they were fantastic to me. They gave me a big house, a cook, a butler etc. A group of officers and I went around the city in search of a location, then I pin pointed that this was the best location. So it was land and location specific. I got four thousand Chinese palms done around it, the pavement ...everything I got done. I designed, sketched and made the installation. Since 16 years I had not gone there.
Just end of February, I was invited to Khairagarh University of Art. I wrote an e-mail saying that since I hadn't been there in 16 years I would like to see my installation and if there is any restoration required we can discuss it. And there was no reply!
Then a young artist took a picture of the dismantled installation and brought it to Khairahgarh. So I was like 'My God'. So I went to Bhilai and I saw there was absolutely nothing there. Then I saw a bridge being constructed. Then a chowkidar told me that it's dumped at the zoo. I went to the zoo and I found out and I was shocked! Moreover, it was painted in various colours also.
Is there a lot of anger for what has been done to your art work especially an artwork of a celebrated artist like yourself?
Yes, if this could happen to me then others…they will just tear their work. One is ignorance and second is indifference! This is the first steel plant of our country, government's own. If it is in a public place, it is a public property…it means public art collection.
I circulated a note in the press, I also gave it to the BSP authority, and till date I haven't heard back. No telephone, nothing from them. The authorities told the press that since they paid me they don't need any permission.
Hindustan Times: Who do you blame for this?
Jatin Das: People have no idea. It's the fault of the government's that they have not made it public. People don't know what is copyright. People should know that a public figure cannot be disfigured or dismantled. I had done a big mural in the Parliament, eleven years ago. Do you think they can destroy it? Can they destroy a Gandhiji statue? Can they destroy mosques or temples? No, because they know it will become a political issue. What about the protection of art?
We are becoming a very commercial society in our country. I have seen thousands of trees on the roadside being chopped off. Look at our forests - gone. Our antiquity, our sense of historicity. It all comes from this insensitive society. Our animals are disappearing, our flora and fauna…everything is gone!
Hindustan Times: The BSP authorities continue to say that the installation was not dumped and that it was moved carefully to Maitree Bagh. Please comment.
Jatin Das: A simple thing is that if they wanted to paint it they should have consulted me, if they wanted to remove it, to save their own skin they should have said 'let's telephone Jatin Das!' Instead they just decided to do it on their own... how? Who the hell are they?
Tell me one thing, if you buy a painting today, can you do anything to it tomorrow? The maximum you can do is resell it.
Hindustan Times: Do you want to do something about it in order to stop anything like this from happening again?
Jatin Das: How much can I do alone? There should be a collective effort. There should be an artist's forum - for social security, for legality etc. The idea is not just compensation and apology. The idea is that people should realize and repent in the society. It should be taught in schools. We have a Urban Art Commission in our country, we should have these laws that should be announced in public.
Hindustan Times: It is sad, after you received Padma Bhushan on March 1, in the same month your iconic art piece was treated with such disrespect.
Jatin Das: Yes, in the same month this happened, quite ironic. I have written to the Prime Minister, President and Vice President. I have even got a reply. Innumerable, thousands of rejoinders have come from America, Europe, India, writers, artists. They were very supportive, everybody said that this should be condemned. So, the question is have we become insensitive people in a great country?
Hindustan Times: Delhi High Court has given you an injunction which will prevent BSP from providing further loss to your sculpture. Is this of partial relief for you?
Jatin Das: Listen, if you destroy my painting, tear it off and then give me money. Toh kya hoga? If somebody kills your child and then say I'll give you money for that. It's like that! It's my art work! It belongs to them but they have no right to disfigure or destroy. It could have been very simple if they had phoned me and invited me to go there and do it. It's not only them, many people have done it…not only to me but to other artists. Publishers are very particular. They protect the copyrights of the authors very well. Our Lalit Kala Academy should protect, we do not have a painters forum! What do we do?
Talking about the world of art, what do you have to say about the art market today?
I have been painting since 54 years. I am completely devoted to my work. I don't do anything commercial; I am not in the market place. And I don't give my work for auction. An artist is not supposed to give work for auction. Everything is money-driven today and I am not in the game.
Hindustan Times: Where do you think is India on the world map as far as art is concerned?
Jatin Das: India has its own art. Today, young artists want to be internationally known by hook or crook. They are making their websites…you know my own website I have seen only once. I have not seen anyone's website till today. I don't touch computer. It's done by somebody else.
Hindustan Times: What inspires you to draw? Can you tell us something about your work?
Jatin Das: My dedication. I believe in working and not selling. I keep my ideas, my values and my ethics intact. I sell much less than many people as I don't market my work.
I have done a lot of murals and sculptures. One can't do murals sitting in a studio. It is done at a large scale. I have done sculptures in Israel also.
Hindustan Times: What does your daughter, Nandita Das say about your work?
Jatin Das: My daughter respects my work. I respect her work because we are committed to our work. We are not doing it for name, fame or money.
Tell us something about your current projects? What are you working on?
One of my projects is the Pankha collection. I have a large collection and it is one of the largest private collections in the world. Now we are going to do a museum in Delhi. Then I am doing a museum in Bhubaneswar where I have a huge collection of antiquity, toys, handloom, handicraft etc. They are all from Egypt, Africa, China and Japan. It's all gone to Bhubaneswar.
Other artists' reaction
Satish Gujral: I believe that in normal case removing an artist’s work from the place of its execution is highly objectionable more so in the case of an artist of Jatin Das stature.
Of course civic needs like building a flyover have their own importance but in such case the artist should be consulted and the work may be reinstalled at an equally important location.
Meenakshi Sharma: Every piece of art is like a child and it's painful to see your child being ill-treated. As an artist, I feel if one can't respect art don't insult it. On one hand he was given Padma Bhushan and on the other such disrespect for him.
Mannju Karmakar: I am shocked to know this. This is ignorance od public and very shameful for us. There is lack of asthetic sense in people. I beleive we are not progressing in the field of art.