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Dalit Aesthetics and Art

Krishna Swamy Dara

Edited by Gary Michael Tartakov
Oxford University Press, New Delhi, 2014, pp. 297, Rs. 1495.00


It is a common perception that Art and Disadvantage do not go together. The disadvantaged do not have the time for Art or any such creative activity. The pursuit of creative activity is a privilege for the advantaged or those who have the resources and the time to learn and practise their art.  In the Indian context, Art is also deeply linked with the notions of superiority both spiritual and material. Notions like talent, merit, hardwork, sincerity and perseverance are all attributes of the higher classes or castes. In case lower castes or classes display the above attributes then it is a mistake or an aberration. In the politics of music there are distinctions made between the Apollonian and the Dionysian. The binary classical/folk embody these qualities. One often notices that in high society music performances, folk music is often relegated to the end as a relaxation; a sequel to some serious and heavy ragas. In a similar fashion, within the world of contemporary visual arts one can see the hierarchical distinctions between high art and low art. What is Art? When does a piece of work get the status of Art? What is/should be the purpose of Art?  All these questions have been much debated and discussed in art and intellectual circles to the point that they have become stale. The book under review attempts to foreground dalit aesthetics by attempting to seek answer to the above question by adding another one. It asks the question: what is the social dimension of Art? Does it have any emancipatory or  a subversive role?  How do dalits perceive art? What constitutes dalit art? How does a dalit transfigure the common spaces? The book is an edited volume in which most (10 out of 13) of the articles are written by Gary Michael Tartakov.  Tartakov claims that he has been in search of ‘Dalit Art’ for about a decade. In an important article reprinted in the book titled ‘Dalit Painting Seen from the Outside’  Tartakov engages with the important issue of the relationship between  ‘Identity’ and ‘Art’.  How does one delineate dalit art from non-dalit art  is a big concern in this article.  Should dalit art be produced by dalits only or can it also be produce by non-dalits? The author begins to answer by arguing that it is important and ‘useful’ to know the source of the the artwork i.e., ...

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