Artist’s Statement The Stamp of Life
The Stamp of Life is my newest creation: Once again, I bring my experiences to you by means of art — paintings, sculpture, and installation. “Stamp” means an administrative seal of approval. It has been used since the time when kings ruled and it continues to be used until today. The way we perceive power has changed today, so has the “stamp” that symbolizes the power vested in it. This change has also affected the relationship between the rulers and their subjects, the people. In a large part of the world, the rulers are no longer called rulers but administrators. In the present democratic system, administration is represented by a political party or a coalition of several parties. Similarly the subjects are no longer identified by subjects, but people, public or a group of people.
My newest creation, “Stamp of Life” employs as background the “stamps or seals” used in the past 60-100 years in India. Revenue stamps used by the kings of Bikaner, Jaipur, Bundi, Udaipur, Tonk, Shrikrishnagarh, Alwar and Bhopal have been used as the foundation in this series. These estates or principalities never got along well. This is represented in their use of languages as well. The revenue stamps from these estates are in a variety of languages, including the popular and not so popular ones. Besides Sanskrit, Farsi, Urdu and Arabic, Rajasthani language’s profound form “Banika” has also been used. It is written in Rajasthani language, using ‘modiya’ or ‘muradia’ script. In the era of estates or rule by kings, Stamp served as an administrative approval of any task related to administrative departments and/or courts of law. Based on the task, revenue was charged for the stamp at the rates of 2, 4, 6 and 8 aanaas. During those times, each department was headed by a minister who was directly associated with resolving the public’s issues and his final responsibility was to the King.
While I was doing my creative thinking for a new series in the last few years, these stamps attracted my attention as a possible subject to explore via the medium of art. Old hand-made paper and block printing, impressions of human thumbs and fingers, various languages written by various hands initiated/a creative process in my head. I was most attracted by their age old human expressions; stamps were a timeless art piece in themselves.
I have also worked on the “original stamps” of the estate-age, but I had always wanted to take them out of that tiny form and into a large form, on a large canvas. It is the artist in me and the artist’s curiosity that has been hungry to explore such a subject on canvas. I am no more than a means or a link between the stamps and this creation through which this exploration is done. The creations knew what they wanted to be and they kept flowing through my hands.
As an artist, I do not want to analyze, but if someone were to ask what these creations mean to me, I would say this: They are the voice of the “common man”, of his dreams, aspirations, and desperations and also of his disappointments, of the unfulfilled dreams. The common man appears in different forms in these creations: He appears busy in accumulating things of his everyday utility; he is also looking for peace of mind; he is also smiling, looking into his future, seeing his dreams materialize. No matter what work this common man does, he is constantly working toward providing the basic necessities for his family, of roti (food), kapda (clothing), and….. and enough?
In a way, I do not see any change between the olden estates and the present democratic governments. The subjects of the estate age are today’s public or people and they pay taxes instead of “lagan”. The only change has been in the terminology that is used. We still pay various taxes and we still use “revenue stamps”. Administrative Stamps or seals of approval of the past only cost a few aannas, those of the present cost anywhere between 10 to thousands and millions of rupees. This price hike also tells the story of inflation.
When I started working on this series, I was very troubled by the concept of ‘then’ and ‘now’. But as I moved ahead with these creations and with the creative process, ‘then’ and ‘now’ became very simple as something that can be seen every day and in everyone’s life. This difference between ‘then’ and ‘now’ became so clear and I saw it in the contemporary human existence? In her/his thoughts, emotions, behavior; in the entire society’s collective behavior.
The series “Stamp of Life” symbolizes karmanyata, to perform your task or karma in life with complete honesty, dedication and passion. This is the only true path in life. Karma is the real background of human existence and thus it is only when you are constantly engaged in your karma, that you feel true contentment. You are so engrossed in your task, karma, that you forget everything else and even the fruits of the task you are engaged in become irrelevant. It is only the KARMA that is your absolute right. This is of prime importance, the source and the life-spirit of your existence. In fact, the desire for the fruits of a task is discouraged in Gita:
Karmanye Vadhikaraste, Ma phaleshou kada chana, (The Bhagwad Gita)
This series comprises some sculptures and an installation as well. The sculptures represent a television dish antenna with wood and metal. Television is the universal spy in today’s materialistic and consumerist society that has completely changed the human society. Television is present 24/7 in the service of humans. There is something in it for every age-group and you can access it at any time. The installation that is part of this series uses mirrors and art. While the mirror curtain is on one side, the paintings are on the other side. Perhaps, the mirrors might provide a glimpse of the beauty that lies within and is concealed by the outside.
I believe in this: To enjoy the simple joys of my family, friends and those that are around me and not drown these joys in the busy life of today. As I write this, I am reminded of these lines from the Hindi poet, Kumar Ambuj:
Mein guzar chuki behtar cheezon ko
vartamaan mein ghatit karna cahta hoon
bhavishya ko asunder itihaas se bachana chahta hoon
mein kapas ko naga nahi dekhna chahata
aur gehu ko bhookh se bacahna chahata hoon
mein har jagah insaan ka dakhal chahta hoon
I want to preserve the best in the past for the present and save the future from the worst in the past?