Published in Afterall: A Journal of Art, Context and Enquiry, Issue 36, (Summer 2014), pp. 40-53

As soon as I desire I ask to be considered. I am not merely here and now, sealed into thingness. I am for somewhere else and for something else. I demand that notice be taken of my negating activity?in so far as I peruse something other than life; insofar as I do battle for the creation of a human world - that is a world of reciprocal recognitions. [1]

- Frantz Fanon

As I sit down to write this paper on K.P. Krishnakumar and the brief history of the Indian Radical Painters and Sculptors Association, popularly referred to as the Radical Group, I think of Marina Abramovic´’s performance Cleaning the Mirror (1975), in which she sits scrubbing a skeleton with soap solution. On my part, it calls for an excavation: of a time and place far away, in both a historical and emotional sense. It is a vexing task for an outsider like me, an upper-middle-class woman from the north of India (two significant categories in what we are going to talk about); it is nothing but painful, to say the least. Whatever I write cannot be outside of caricature, so perhaps it is best that I caricature myself, to start with.

A silence of more than twenty years suggests the magnitude of the catastrophe. Suicide is not a place one willingly visits; there is no pleasure involved. It is the most unhomely place of the abject, the place where all dialogue stops and only questions remain. Krishnakumar chose it, in late December 1989, when all his attempts at structuring his life and his political consciousness had failed, as a final triumphant and tragic gesture.

Earlier that month, and following the Art Camp at Alapad, [2] members of the Group bitterly criticised where the collective was heading in a calamitous series of meetings. All the latent contradictions within the Group erupted violently, and a decision was taken to disband and freeze activity for one year was a fatal shock for Krishnakumar; with his leadership in question, he ranted and raged against this humiliation.

(Curiously and uncannily, 1989 historically marked the collapse of old-stylecommunist idealism in the dateline of the world.)

‘...what is abject, on the contrary, the jettisoned object, is radically excluded and draws me toward the place where meaning collapses [...] It lies outside, beyond the set and does not agree to the latter’s rules of the game [...] it beseeches a discharge, a convulsion, a crying out. To each ego its object, to each superego its abject.’ [3]

Krishnakumar could have walked away, in the silence of a Zen scholar/ monk (something not so far from his consciousness). But to suggest that would be to forget that he suffered from palpable symptoms of anxiety - manic depression and stomach ulcers - in his last years, and was too proud to reveal or treat this seriously. It would also ignore how utterly sincere he was about the intoxicating idea of revolutionary praxis as the anchoring necessity in his life. It was his singular brilliance and passion that were able to transform his own struggle - pulling his friends along - into a meteoric moment: a gesture that despite its brevity continues to impact the discourse on contemporary Indian art in thorny, subversive ways is itself is vindication, and a tribute to him.

‘It also requires a shift of attention from the political as a pedagogical ideological practice to politics as the stressed necessity of everyday life - politics as a performativity...’ [4]

Issues can be dealt with and theorised more easily when they don’t touch your life on the inside defines what Krishnakumar in his persona and his politics enunciated, both from within and outside the Radical Group. It was not his charm and charisma (those othering bourgeois descriptors that seek to pluck him out as the hero from the crowd) so much as his tragic love (in the absence of real reciprocal love) that allowed for transference of ‘presence’ to his class brothers and comrades that remains unique.

‘Is the language of theory merely another power ploy of the culturally privileged Western elite to produce a discourse of the Other that reinforces its own power- knowledge equation?’ [5]

Even if he always complained that his friends were not ready, that they were too weak to really undertake the historical task, and even if he wanted to quit and pursue his own ambitions, he could not.

‘ This then is the first definition of the tragic hero: he is a man confined, a man who cannot get out without dying, his limit is his privilege, captivity his distinction.’ [6]

In this paper I am using a structure of quotation and commentary, not following a chronological but rather a surreal method, letting the mind dig up material as if from the unconscious. Happy for the liberating value of the found (text) fragment, in a montage with the ancient form of the commentary, towards a dialectics that can help break down myths, I hope to reveal the concrete. I aim to connect to Benjamin’s own fondness for collecting quotations, using these as questions, and commenting alongside them in a kind of dialogue as reflection.

Endless conversation with my friend C.K. Rajan in the years since Krishnakumar's suicide (and subsequent collapse of the Group) has helped me to look at this catastrophe from as many angles as possible, like a Cubist. And nothing has aided me more than reading Benjamin, precisely for his peculiar, quasi-romantic call for solidarity with the revolutionary struggle of the proletariat, as the barometer of a progressive intellectual attitude.

So, emblematically and paradoxically, I open this section about the Radical Group with a quotation from Benjamin’s essay on Moscow.

‘Admittedly, the only real guarantee of a correct understanding is to have chosen your position before you came. In Russia above all, you can only see if you have already decided ... But someone who wishes to decide “on the basis of facts” will find no basis in the facts.’ [7]

‘However little one may know Russia, what one learns is to observe and judge Europe with the conscious knowledge of what is going on in Russia is the first benefit to the intelligent European in Russia.’[8]

Let us look at a brief history of the Group, all of whose members, with the exception of me, came from Kerala, a small coastal state at the southwest tip of the Indian subcontinent with a high rate of literacy. Marxism was a habitual daily diet of its youth and intelligentsia, with Marxist governments periodically elected there. Conservative official Marxism was perpetually put under a microscope in the 1970s and 80s, under the influence of the revolutionary ideological position of the Communist Party of India (Marxist- Leninist) and other affiliated groups.

As young art students, Krishnakumar andhisfriends-AlexMathew,K.M.Madhusudhanan, K.R. Karunakaran and K. Reghunathan (who would all join the Radical Group) and others such as Surendran Nair, N.N. Rimzon and Jeevan omas - were plugged into this atmosphere, constantly debating correct political and artistic attitudes and denouncing reactionary ones.

They fought for rights to a better education while studying at the Trivandrum College of Art, and with the declaration of Emergency in 1975 they began participating in street protests through political posters and other actions.

The problematic relationship between art and politics became a passionate concern. Art could no longer remain apolitical: it needed to address conditions of marginality and oppression along with the existential dilemma of the individual. Linguistically and emotionally, interwar German Expressionism captured their imagination as a bridge to the faraway world of international art.

The seed of the Radical Group’s founding in 1987 lay in this youthful, non-alienated comrade-time - what Derrida calls a ‘Politics of Friendship’,[9] where the full, adult realities of capitalism (individuality, competition, professional success and marriage) had yet not entered.

At that time in India, revolutionary energy and Leninism proved more compelling than did the negotiated terrain of Marxism within the folds of parliamentary democracy. Coming from the lower- middle and working classes, material conditions connected the group’s members to the conditions of the peasant and the proletariat in ways more immediate and real than petit bourgeois routes of empathy and solidarity.

‘Indeed what distinguishes the Bolshevik, the Russian communist, from his Western comrade is this unconditional readiness for mobilisation. The material basis of his existence is so slender that he is prepared, year in and year out, to decamp.’ [10]

This is what marked their intervention within the discourse of the visual arts in India in the late 1980s empowered idea of the margin, speaking for itself, challenging the discursive hegemony at the centre. This challenge was raised against the cultural politics of the South-North axis, and it placed class struggle at the fulcrum of cultural history. This is why the ‘Questions and Dialogue’ manifesto, released during the Radical Group’s first collective exhibition at the Baroda Faculty of Fine Arts in March 1987, was received like an anarchist bomb. [11]

‘Must the project of our Liberationist aesthetics be forever part of a totalising Utopian vision of Being and History that seeks to transcend the contradictions and ambivalences that constitute the very structure of human subjectivity and its systems of cultural representation?’ [12]

‘Is our only way out of such dualism (oppressor-oppressed/centre-periphery/ negative-positive) the espousal of an implacable oppositionality or the invention of an originary counter-myth of radical purity?’ [13]

Alongside the attractions of Marxism as an ideology of liberation, art was equally and primarily a proposition towards freedom. Right from the beginning, in their choice of artistic affiliations, they reached out beyond subcontinental art history to universal coordinates within high modernism. A new and radical art was the aspiration: a ‘good’ (in a Gramscian sense) and ‘full’ (Krishnakumar’s favourite adjective) intellectual life was the dream!

The idea of a formal group did not exist in the beginning. After completing studies in Trivandrum, Krishnakumar and his friends ventured out to Shantiniketan and Baroda, important centres for art education in the north of India. Outside their comfort zones and away from their vital social networks, they felt, perhaps for the first time, the alienating effects of the bourgeois education system. Shantiniketan, ostensibly Tagore’s liberal university, seemed premodern and quasi-feudal, and Krishnakumar, who was studying there, struggled with authority figures who disapproved of his anarchist tendencies. He made portraits of new acquaintances in plaster and cement and numerous drawings in India ink, and continued to read furiously. He established a dialogue - albeit not a smooth one - with the daunting figure of K.G. Subramanyan and a friendship with Sarbari Roy Chowdhury. He was educating himself, reflecting, testing the waters.

He began writing letters to friends in Baroda and Kerala to keep a conversation going - a practice he was to continue as long as he lived. It provided him an immediate outlet for his thoughts on events, people, books and ideas. Spontaneous in tone while finely crafted, they carry an extraordinary attention to language; they are significant documents of his restless genius.

Meanwhile his friends Mathew and Madhushudhanan, studying at Baroda, had made greater progress. They were on the path of individuality, mixing narrative with their existentially loaded expressionism.

After finishing studies at Shantiniketan, Krishnakumar joined them, first at the Kanoria Centre for Arts in Ahmedabad, and then at Baroda.

In the early 1980s the Baroda Faculty of Fine Arts was an informal laboratory for a new interrogation of the ‘modern’ within contemporary Indian art. Within a postcolonial frame of an authentic location there was a concerted linguistic and geographic search for roots. An argument was mounted - via visiting professor Timothy Hyman’s ideas in support of British narrative painting, [14] Kumar Sahani’s work on epic narration [15] and Geeta Kapur’s defence of her colleagues’ paintings in the ‘Place for People’ [16] exhibition - that challenged the artist J. Swaminathan and his influential ideas of a particular material and mystical, almost-Gandhian form of modernism, which attempted to connect the consciousness of the village to the urban. We can read the discursive terrain in the visual arts at the time as a ground of hegemonic contestations of multiple strains of modernisms within contemporary Indian art.

As students and young artists in Baroda, we were right in the middle of this discursive churning. It’s important to mention this because in articulating another strain of modernism, the Radical Group, prematurely and unwittingly, entered this phenomenology of a hegemonic contestation. They had neither the economic nor structural means to sustain themselves or their critique on a longer basis, and so their intervention remained a gesture.

In 1986, Krishnakumar was preparing for an international show to be held in Geneva. [17] Already he had a sense of his intellectual prowess and talent as an artist, and was increasingly drawn to the idea of a political group as a necessary form for survival and struggle against the hegemony of bourgeois ideology in the north. Madhushudhanan, his close friend and comrade, was his only accomplice in envisioning the idea of the Radical Group as an artist’s union for such a task.

By 1987, Krishnakumar set up a studio in Barodaandwasplanninganexhibition atthegallery inside the Faculty of Fine Arts to formally announce the idea of the Radical Group. His classmate-comrades- Mathew, Madhushudhanan, Reghuna- than and Karunakaran - along with an older painter, K. Prabhakaran, formed its core. Younger artists from the Trivandrum College of Art - C. Pradeep, V.N. Jyothi Basu, C.K. Rajan, T.K. Hareendran and D. Alexander - were also invited to join is young set had organised an artists’ camp in a fishing village, culminating in the exhibition ‘Painters with Fishermen’ (1985) at the Trivandrum student centre; its radical mix of political understanding, comradeship and artistic ambition was something Krishnakumar admired and envied. He wanted the Radical Group to become the nucleus for such a Marxist attempt to connect art with politics.

Discussions, mostly in Malayalam, took place each evening at the tea shop outside the Fine Art Faculty, extending on to dinner, which Krishnakumar would cook. He was the leader and ideologue: someone who magnetised the informal proceedings.

The Indian Radical Painters and Sculptors Association announced its presence with the manifesto ‘Questions and Dialogue’ (which I wrote) at the opening of the exhibition in Baroda in March 1987. Calling for an alternative ‘philosophy of praxis’, it rejected and critiqued the practices of the mainstream is went down badly with the painters of the narrative movement, and heated arguments broke out during the exhibition. is was the first and last exhibition of the group in the north.

‘It is this reversal of the power structure that makes life here so heavy with content. It is as complete in itself and rich in events, as poor, and in the same breath as full of prospects as a gold digger’s life on the Klondike. [...] True, a certain intoxication can result, so that a life without meetings and committees, debates, resolutions and votes (and all these are wars or at least manoeuvres of the will to power) can no longer be imagined.’ [18]

Born in Kuttippuram, a small town in the Malappuram district of Kerala, Krishnakumar was distantly related to Edasseri Govindan Nair, an important radical Malayalam poet of the 1960s. He was interested in Nair’s legacy -in the poetic gesture and use of mythical imagery. Literature was always an important source of inspiration, as a means to step outside the limitations of a provincial situation. Krishnakumar started with all the naïve romance attached to being an artist - he would say: ‘I was a Picasso at sixteen...’, and he secretly identified with the libidinous creative energy in the Spanish painter. Kerala was at the forefront of the project of translating twentieth- century literature into local languages (here, Malayalam), so for Krishnakumar world literature was available in the mother tongue. Meanwhile the vibrant film-society culture in Kerala exposed him to the marvels of world cinema.

‘Goethe suggests that the possibility of a world literature arises from the cultural confusion wrought by terrible wars and mutual conflicts.’ [19]

A deep conflict was present in the minds of the young intellectuals in Kerala - typical of petit bourgeois existence lived within the simulacra, in a Baudrillardian sense. Between the fascinating world of modernity out there and the insular world of their location and its particularities, there was an abyss.

These were the contradictions Krishnakumar lived out in his life and work. If we look at the drawings from 1982-83, when he was at Trivandrum and Shantiniketan, we notice that everything is articulated through the immediacy of a virile masculine self, o en a beast-man hybrid. If I read a type of abjection in this, in the early 1980s this was probably more a feeling of lack in terms of class, race and sexual difference. These drawings also contain many elements of form and figure that appear in later sculptures such as Vasco da Gama (1984), Boy Listening (1985; since destroyed) and Flowers and Revolution (1989). In some instances, even the distortions in his later clay modelling can be read within these drawings.

Krishnakumar created wild drawings reminiscent of German Expressionism. There was a state of emergency in a Benjaminian sense in everything that he did (in the catalogue essay I wrote for the ‘Seven Young Sculptors’ show, organised by Vivan Sundaram in 1985, I called this, with my limited understanding,?a ‘frenzy’), [20] as if he was blasting ‘homogenous empty time’ or ‘the continuum of history’ [21] from the inside - inscribing himself within it in the act of making art.

‘ The borderline work of culture demands an encounter with “newness” that?is not part of the continuum of past and present. It creates the sense of the new as an insurgent act of cultural translation.’ [22]

The drawn line was Krishnakumar’s primary tool, and he exploited what a brush dipped in ink could do. Fine lines, thick, quick lines, smudges, silhouettes were as if sculpted on paper. With primitive means, he constructed a world in which machines, plants and animals, men and women, provincial and urban landscapes, studio and domestic interiors existed in an emotional miasma of a ‘contra- modernity’. [23] Human dramas unfolded here, within this unhomely world, as on a proscenium. In one drawing, a sentence written in Malayalam reads: ‘Friend, we have to be vigilant, because you won’t know when your eyes are going to be gouged out.’ ‘Such cultures of a postcolonial contra- modernity may be contingent to modernity, discontinuous or in contention with it, resistant to its oppressive assimilationist technologies; but they also deploy the cultural hybridity of their borderline conditions to “translate” and therefore reinscribe the social imaginary of both metropolis and modernity.’ [24]

The sculptural portraits he made through- out the early 1980s still modelled the face and figure in the tradition of Rodin and Ramkinkar Baij; they were then painted over with enamel in primary colours, applied as flat geometric shapes. His attempt to bury the academic ghost through the anarchist act of painting on traditionally modelled forms resulted in a strange mix of cubism and expressionism.

However, in 1984, while making the sculpture Vasco da Gama at an artist camp in Goa, he made a breakthrough, moving towards the anarchic work he is best known for. He achieved a fusion of self with history and art history, using ordinary poor materials like cloth, plaster and enamel; dramatic distortion in the modelling of the (seated) figure; primary colours and agitated marks; and worked on a monumental, public scale. Vasco da Gama has an angular, bearded face, and his right arm raises a cloth sail, recalling the famous image from Sergei Eisenstein’s film Ivan the Terrible of Ivan waiting for the procession to invite him back to Moscow figure’s other arm holds a shell, a crystal mirror intowhichhegazes.HisworksignalledKrishnakumar’s arrival as the brilliant bad boy on the contemporary Indian art scene of the 1980s.

Everything that he had done until then came together in this work: the spontaneity and freedom of combining disparate materials, the linking of survival strategies to poetic impulses (visible in the street life in India) and the disregard for academic niceties. Sculptures like Boy Listening and Midday Dream (1985) connect with Basquiat (although Krishnakumar didn't know his work), with popular folk toys from the subcontinent with modernist angst via expressionism and with a postmodern, postcolonial agency. They carry no local colour as a marker of identity, and speak clearly and directly to every location: regional, national and international. We need to examine this position more closely.

After the publication of Edward Said’s Orientalism in 1978, postcolonial discourse erupted within US academic institutions. Orientalism, Said theorised, was the stereotyping lens through which imperialism and neo-imperialism ideologically viewed the ‘other’ to serve their immediate interests. And this, he said, had nothing to do with reality and aspirations (both cultural and political) in actual locations, which were far more complex and bound to history and change. [25]

Krishnakumar attempted to activate such a radical consciousness in his work. In recognising and resisting ideological conquest, he set in motion the urgency and agency of the margin, which aimed not only at declaring itself, but also staking its claim on the highest spheres of thought. Authenticity did not interest him, for it seemed to fix the subject within history, and involved guilt of some sort, rather than aspiration.

I am particularly interested in?the value he placed on universalising constructs as a paradoxical site of revolutionary praxis. Local colour and identity politics - even if they are sites of resistance - become categories that allow for consumption of the other within the master-and-slave framework of capitalist neo-imperialism.

Sculptures from the mid-1980s, such as Thief and Rhinoceros (both 1985), recast his self into dark, dangerous, antisocial characters. These are not the glorious figures of labour, as in the modernist sculpture of Ramkinkar Baij or in the discourse of the left. They are edgy, naked, sexual, cunning, proletarian figures, connected to Bertolt Brecht and Jean Genet, as well as to the types Krishnakumar knew from his own milieu. His choices clearly indicate his distaste for petit bourgeois sentimentality. Thief declares racial presence in the way his body is painted a dark rust-red; political presence in his diagonally raised arm; sexual presence in his naked stance; and sensual presence in the clay’s modelling. Certainly Rodin’s Balzac, étude de nu (Balzac, Nude, 1892-93) is a reference, but Thief also seizes the moment for a repressed radicality to emerge. Rhinoceros stretches this subversiveness further. It connects Eugène Ionesco’s play to Picasso’s body structure to the blue body and yellow dhoti of Krishna - and all this to a street performer! In Krishnakumar’s Brechtian burlesque, the figure named Rhinoceros rides a makeshi cart for transporting goods and raises his hand in a gesture mimicking a gun, his thumb also becoming the rhinoceros’s horn. It’s all there: the black humour, the little- big self, the intellectual rigour and the local, religious lineage, which, rather than becoming spiritually sublimating, is asserted sexually.

‘...the Constructivists, Suprematists, Abstractivists, who under wartime communism put their graphic propaganda at the service of the Revolution, have long since been dismissed. Today only banal clarity is demanded.’ [26]

In Boatman (1986-87), we see a highly materialist sculpture that fuses the means of production, signalled via the fishing boat, with the body of the fisherman. Made from the same fleshy substance, the boat forms the lower part of the figure’s body; its lower arm and hand metamorphose into an unfinished, animalistic lump that, while recalling Francis Bacon’s anatomical distortions, is the oar with which the fisherman rows. There is a propelling energy in the gesture that poetically and ambiguously extends into space, transforming it into a meta-gesture, or a metaphysics of the gesture figure’s dark skin is the colour of wood that has lain in the waters for a long time. In the fusion of such disparate elements an archetype is reached: no sentimentality or illustration attends the political in this universal figure of labour.

Young Man Listening (1986-87), a sculpture of a man below a yellow tree, seeks something else: classicism and affirmative purity in the connection between man and nature. A poetic element emerges, which was not present earlier, in the way one hand extends out into space as if it were dancing tree, even if bare, signals a potentiality for harmony, celebrating the peasantry.

Even for Krishnakumar it was not easy to sustain his early level of subversiveness. It seems, looking back at his work, that the ‘radical’ is not a practice to be chased, or even a pure interior condition to safeguard. It is elusive, and sparks in a moment of crisis (as Benjamin noted), to critically alter the landscape within its sphere of action. Historically it generates revolutions in the macro-sphere when the history of repression has reached a critical point, and where the organisation of the masses and its leadership can seize the moment. In the micro-individual sphere it produces formal breakthroughs, as chance and necessity come together to change situations or systems irreversibly.

‘Formal controversies still played a not inconsiderable part at the time of the civil war. Now they have fallen silent. Today it is official doctrine that subject matter,not form, decides the revolutionary or counter-revolutionary attitude of a work.’ [27] I must point out that all Krishnakumar’s key works were done before the Radical Group was formalised. Earlier, as an informal group, there was greater camaraderie, solidarity and debate around issues of art and politics. With formalisation and exclusivity premised on slippery grounds and reactionary aesthetics, one by one the group began to lose its artists until Krishnakumar’s authority became absolute around a set of followers.

As we look at the later work he did, it becomes clear that instead of energising him, the group deflated him. He ended up repeating himself. The little blue Boatman II (1988) is a caricature of the earlier one. An adolescent sexual gesture places him sarcastically in the middle of male dystopia, revealing the repressed gender equations within Kerala. Another later sculpture, MIG 28 (1988), is a mere shadow of Young Man Listening. The poetic hand thatwespokeaboutearliernowmerely measuresand mimes a fish or a fighter aircraft while shielding his nudity.

Where was that place of fullness and freedom that he wanted?

One of the very late works shows an e ort to revive the earlier anarchic spirit. Flowers and Revolution is an architectural structure - a Cubist-Constructivist form - amidst foliage constructed out of wire cloth and resin. A red sphere sits on a small platform: dreaming revolution. In its raw simplicity and materiality, and within a mythology of revolutionary struggles, this work can be a celebration of a dream, even a dream too far. As a lone revolutionary it was Krishnakumar’s curtain call.

The Radical Group was not a cultural wing of any ultra-le party, and it had no financial support mechanism in place. Lacking a strategy for survival, the sincerity of the attachment to revolutionary idealism seems like an anachronism today. For a while a few members sold family land, but when these resources dried up, Krishnakumar turned to the hordes of literate, Marxist, directionless youth in need of a daily fix of revolutionary rhetoric for survival. In this trade-o he was trapped in their nostalgic dream.

It must be acknowledged that Krishnakumar could have made a pact with the devil, like Mephistopheles did. Had he chosen to peruse the individual path of his talent, adjusting with art-market demands, he might have been a shooting star! The success of the group exhibition ‘Alekhya Darsan’ in Europe in 1987 was poised to catapult him into international recognition, and we know that he had secretly worked for this. But ill luck - that Benjaminian hunchback - knocked at his door. Fire broke out in the exhibition, burning down all the work. He was back to square one.

Having alienated his (bourgeois) friends in the north - especially Vivan Sundaram, Bhupen Khakkar and Rekha Rodwittiya - who had helped him in the critical years, he had nowhere to go, and hardly any money to survive. He returned to his family in Kuttippuram, and to the Radical Group.

‘...for propaganda purposes, a grotesque image of the bourgeois type is constructed. In reality the image is o en merely ridiculous, the discipline and competence of the adversary being overlooked.

In this distorted view of the bourgeois, a nationalist moment is present.’ [28]

A large group exhibition, including works by group members and other friends from Kerala, was organised in the town hall in Calicut in 1988: ‘Artists Against a Reactionary Aesthetic Sensibility’. Given its public location and populist slant, a record number of young intellectuals and local people visited the show. Another artistic praxis was set in motion in the local sphere, and Krishnakumar worked ceaselessly to transform this moment into a movement.

The possibility of an alternative revolutionary praxis was now a survival need that had to be transformed into a triumph. It became for Krishnakumar a form of redemption - after having seduced the bourgeois imagination as the bad boy- but also meant martyrdom. The return to Kerala was a sacrificial offering of himself to revolutionary idealism.

I remember a clay work Krishnakumar was doing at the time of his suicide: the biggest work he had ever done. At a time when there was not enough energy to think or money to live with a minimum of decency - let alone make a plaster mould - six or seven male figures arose like catastrophic towers. If he surrendered the narcissism of the vital self, it was to?the emptiness of the horde.

‘ Things must go wrong for the petit bourgeois. His situation is Kafka’s. But whereas the type of petit-bourgeois current today - that is, the fascist - decides in the face of this situation to exert his iron, indomitable will, Kafka hardly resists; he is wise. Where the fascist imposes heroism, he poses questions.’ [29]

An earlier version of this essay was presented at the seminar ‘Questions & Dialogues: A Radical Manifesto', organised by the Office for Contemporary Art Norway and CoLab Art & Architecture at the School of Art and Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi on 16 January 2010.


[1] Frantz Fanon, Black Skin, White Masks (1952, trans. Richard Philcox), New York: Grove Press, 2007, quoted in Homi K. Bhabha, The Location of Culture, London and New York: Routledge, 1994, p.8.

[2] The Radical Group held an art workshop and camp in a small village named Alapad, in the Thrissur district of Kerala, in early December 1989. They worked on paintings and sculptures along with local art students. Villagers participated in discussions that focused on ideas of art and modernity, and slides of pre-Renaissance paintings and René Magritte’s work were shown. Group members collected donations from visitors.

[3] Julia Kristeva, Powers of Horror: An Essay on Abjection (trans. Leon S. Roudiez), New York: Columbia University Press, 1982, p.2.

[4] H.K. Bhabha, The Location of Culture, op. cit., p.15.

[5] Ibid., pp.20—21.

[6] Roland Barthes, ‘On Racine’, Barthes: Selected Writings (ed. Susan Sontag), New York: Fontana/Collins, 1982, p.174.

[7] Walter Benjamin, ‘Moscow’ (trans. Edmund F.N. Jephcott), Reflections: Essays, Aphorisms, Autobiographical Writings (ed. Peter Demetz), New York: Schocken Books, 1986, pp.97—98.

[8] Ibid., p.98.

[9] See Jacques Derrida, Politics of Friendship (trans. George Collins), London: Verso Books, 2005.

[10] W. Benjamin, ‘Moscow’, op. cit., pp.97—98.

[11] ‘Questions and Dialogue’ is a manifesto I wrote as a spokesperson for the Radical Group.

[12] H.K. Bhabha, The Location of Culture, op. cit., p.19.

[13] Ibid.

[14] Timothy Hyman was a visiting professor at the Faculty of Fine Arts in Baroda in 1981. He gave a series ?of lectures on R.B. Kitaj, Peter de Francia and Pierre Bonnard, arguing for a return to narrative painting.

[15] Kumar Shahani, eminent film-maker and scholar, presented a paper in Baroda in 1981, speaking of ?the archetype and epic modes of narration. A student of Ritwik Ghatak, Kumar’s ideas came from his ?study of Ghatak’s films.

[16] The exhibition ‘Place for People’ at the Jehangir Art Gallery in Bombay (9—15 November 1981) and Rabindra Bhavan in New Delhi (21 November—3 December 1981), which Geeta Kapur helped organise, included Bhupen Khakhar, Gulam Mohammed Sheikh, Jogen Chowdhury, Vivan Sundaram, Nalini Malani and Sudhir Patwardhan.

[17] The group exhibition ‘Alekhya Darsan’ was curated by C. Raman Schlemmer at the Centre d’art Contemporain, Geneva and travelled to Abbaye Royale, Fontevraud.

[18] W. Benjamin, ‘1927’, Reflections, op. cit., pp.116—17.

[19] H.K. Bhabha, The Location of Culture, op. cit., p.11.

[20] Anita Dube, Seven Young Sculptors (exh. cat.), New Delhi: Rabindra Bhavan, 1985, unpaginated.

[21] W. Benjamin, ‘Theses on the Philosophy of History’ (1940), Illuminations: Essays and Reflections (ed. Hannah Arendt, trans. Harry Zohn), New York: Harcourt, 1968, p.263.

[22] H.K. Bhabha, The Location of Culture, op. cit., p.11.

[23] Ibid., p.6.

[24] Ibid.

[25] See Edward W. Said, Orientalism (1978), New York: Penguin, 2003.

[26] W. Benjamin, ‘1927’, op. cit., p.121.

[27] Ibid., p.120.

[28] Ibid., p.116.

[29] W. Benjamin, ‘Conversations with Brecht’, Reflections, op. cit., p.209.
Published in Afterall: A Journal of Art, Context and Enquiry, Issue 36, (Summer 2014), pp. 40-53
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