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Mohandas K. Gandhi has been described as ‘an artist of non-violence,’ crafting as he did a set of practices ofthe self and politics that earned him the mantle of Mahatma, ‘the great soul.’ His philosophy and praxis ofsatyagraha, non-violent civil disobedience, has been analysed extensively. But is satyagraha also an aestheticregime, with practices akin to a work of art? Is Gandhi, then, an artist of disobedience?
Sumathi Ramaswamy explores these questions with the help of India’s modern and contemporary artists whohave over the past century sought out the Mahatma as their muse and invested in him across a wide range ofmedia from painting and sculpture to video installation and digital production. At a time when Gandhi is ahallowed but hollow presence, why have they lavished so much attention on him? A hundred and fifty yearsafter his birth, Gandhi is hyper visible across the Indian landscape from tea stalls and government offices tomuseums and galleries. This is ironical given that the Mahatma appeared to have had little time for the visualarts or for artists for that matter. Yet fascinatingly, the visual artist has emerged as Gandhi’s conscience-keeper,reminding others of the meaning of the Mahatma in his own time and today. In so doing, these artists alsoreveal why this most disobedient of ‘modern’ icons has grabbed their attention, resulting in a veritable art ofdisobedience as an homage to one of the twentieth century’s great prophets of disobedience.
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