Just think of pastoral paintings and the images that first come to mind are the beautiful green and ripe wheat fields painted by Vincent van Gogh (1853-1890). These works express the intense relationship the artist has with rural toil, be it the farmer scattering seeds or the woman reaping millet. “I feel a certain indebtedness [to the world] and... out of gratitude, want to leave some souvenir in the shape of drawings or pictures - not made to please a certain taste in art, but to express a sincere feeling,” said the Dutch post-Impressionist painter.
Passion is found in the peasant paintings by Bengal artists, be it Kolkata-schooled Nandalal Bose (1882-1966) sketching the tillers of the soil or Dhaka’s famous artist Zainul Abedin (1914-1976) whose poignant portrayal of the Bengal famine moves the heart. Coming to Punjab and contemporary art, the only painter who has internalised and brought alive on canvas the story of the fields of the bread basket is Chandigarh-based Malkit Singh. All this comes to mind in context of a one-day artists’ camp held at Sukhna Lake in which 17 painters were invited by Dialogue Highway to paint the farm crisis of Punjab. Agriculture expert and activist Devinder Sharma organised the camp.
“Punjab now occupies the second slot in farmer suicides, trailing Maharashtra by a whisker. The tragedy on the farm, perhaps it is better to call it a crisis, is therefore deepening with every passing day,” says Sharma. He adds that the artists were invited to paint on the theme with a view to sensitise people and the paintings will be exhibited in Delhi and Mumbai.
Well-intentioned no doubt, but thematic art events have become an instant tokenism and do attract attention but they do little for the quality of art which should come from the artist’s soul. This is something to ponder over not just in the context of ‘Artists for Farmers’ but other themes too, be it gender or environment.