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No man's land for art?

Is underground art losing its identity to populist culture or is it just redefining itself around mainstream ideologies?

brunch Updated: Jun 16, 2012 12:34 IST
Amrah Ashraf
Amrah Ashraf
Hindustan Times

My love for the 'underground' started on a whim. In a desperate attempt to call chalk cheese, and yet make sense, I figured why not take refuge in 'Everything Alternative.' This way you don't have to be politically correct and can get away with slightly pretentious behaviour with a casual shrug of the shoulder. But all that changed last year when I came across the No Man's Art exhibition. A pop-up exhibition at an undisclosed venue (till the last day)caught every art lover's imagination while leaving the 'underground' tyrants confused over its intention. A pop gallery displaying absolutely stunning clicks by kids in Dharavi. How is that underground?

Kids from Dharavi at No Man's Art exhibition at Byculla, Mumbai

Obviously uttering exhibition and underground in the same breath is an oxymoron in itself but No Man's Art, in its own way, redefined that. It falls in the underground, alternative realm but is exhibitionist in its outlook. And why shouldn't they? Pop-up galleries, guerilla galleries and blitz galleries don't necessarily have to be underground. During their exhibition last year in Mumbai, one could see how an underground arty affair has its roots in organised chaos and was not lowbrow at all. There was nothing caustic or impish about it - much like what is expected out of a pop up gallery. Oddly enough, there was a sense of humanism. Yes, it was held in a rundown mill in Byculla but it was a far cry from a shady dungeon that one would expect. And the people did not look like they were just out of a Klu Klux Klan meeting.

Populist? Are we!

And that is the new definition of 'underground' movements, if I can be liberal enough to call it one. Gone are the days when everything underground was seen as anti-social and rebellious. Underground movements - especially in art - are becoming increasingly populist. While I seem to be enjoying this detour, many critics feel that this will only lead to trite work. They feel that it mirrors the emptiness of mass culture and offers instant gratification instead of an alternative. Jonathan Jones once wrote in The Art&Design Blog of The Guardian: It means people who once thought Maggi Hambling a bit of a character now think Tracey Emin a good laugh. It's a great analogy but is obviously skewed.

One way or the other, there is something happening down there - good or bad? That is up to one's interpretation.

Amrah Ashraf is highly predictable and run-of-the-mill. This is her attempt at being lowbrow, yet again!

First Published: Mar 16, 2012 18:57 IST