On 12th December 2014, about two years after the Delhi Rape Incident, BBC online was trending “Indian ‘Banksy’ behind provocative graffiti”. Of course, most people missed the part where clearly BBC was having a go at the culture of meaningless imitation – “a clever mash-up of western pop culture with Indian icons”. However, with the ongoing Kochi art biennale promising “whorled explorations” in the world of art: the GuessWho’s have definitely pigged in a poke for the world of graffiti.
Before we get to art analysis, and whether it is correct to compare our local anonymous GuessWho (also to be referred as “Bansi” or the flute), to the most popular anonymous graffiti artist in the world “Banksy”, it is important to read an interview they did earlier with us.
What we learnt from the interview is that they are inordinately sarcastic and proud! And comparing their words and works, one cannot help but wonder whether the works of graffiti artists are pictures that ought to have an iconic representation, or not.
Depending on the current battles of perceived aesthetics and symbolism between artists, critics and propagandists, one can analyse if the nature of representation would threaten to cause trouble for a unified aesthetics or be a confusion in any philosophical examination. The Guess Who’s pointed out “Art on the street is indented to have social implications”, let’s see if this can be answered by comparing our local Bansi’s art to the international Banksy’s political and philosophical outbursts.
There is Always Hope, Banksy graffiti, 2007
A little girl loses her heart shaped red balloon to the direction of the wind. Symbolisation of that balloon is love, hope, and innocence. There is a small quote following the image that says, “There is always hope”. Whether Banksy tried to re-create the same effect as the anti-nuclear protest song “99 Red Balloons” with his 1 red balloon of hope, we’ll never know. But there is surely a message to his graffiti, a hope for a better future.
Guess Who’s (our local Bansi’s) Mona Lisa.
The graffiti shows an Indian village belle, with Da Vinci’s Mona Lisa face, carrying drinking water in a mud container balanced on her head. In a country where voyeurism and objectifying a woman’s body is a national hobby, and patriarchy only allows women to serve under certain conditions such as house-work and remaining within four walls; about two years after the Delhi Rape Incident, we are not so sure that Guess Who is sending out the right message here. If their anonymity means, “Let the images talk”. Their images are definitely not “talking-the-right-talk”.
Our Indian Bansi’s most daring – Kiss ‘em All
The graffiti is in response to the sociological movement “kiss of love”, where the current generation Indian feminists and youth are fighting for their right to be able to display public affection, without being lynched by Hinduist moral police: These moral police claim that it is the western culture that is bringing in homosexuality and obscenity such as kissing in India.
The two characters shown in Guess Who’s graffiti are Shikari Shambu and Appi Hippi – in one and Dakini and Kuttoosan from a comic called Mayavi – in the other, where they are dressed in American superhero costumes, smooching. To an art critique the message that it gives – after ramming our brains to find any message at all – was this: two Indian cartoon characters decided to get dressed in American superhero costumes to smooch in public; Ha-Ha-Ha at Western culture – let’s not have it here. Therefore, shun “Kiss of Love”.
However, the one on Shikari Shambu and Appi Hippi almost touches the same sentiments as Banksy’s Kissing Coppers, yet it lacks clarity. It is safe to say that it is extremely confusing for the greater mass of Indian commoners, certainly not being exposed to comics. Again, our Indian Bansi has a target demographic of comic book educated Indians, excluding the hardworking commoners – too busy making a living, too tired to read a book and too poor to afford comics.
In order to reach out to each and every Indian, including the less educated ones – wouldn’t it be clearer as a message if, two bigot Brahmins were depicted kissing each other? Or two Muslim girls, rebelling? Or maybe wheat-pasting a black and white depiction of redesigned Khajuraho sculptures?
It brings us to the next question – there’s the straight couple, the gay couple, but what happened to the rest?
Banksy’s Kissing Coppers, 2004
The work shows two male policemen engaging in a passionate kiss. Here Banksy had trodden upon a sensitive subject of gay-rights and presented an attack on homophobia. The piece was removed and sent to America for an auction in 2011.
Apart from the fact that Banksy’s mural sells for £450,000, and that he has managed to keep his anonymity for more than two decades – Banksy’s graffiti strikes a chord with a larger demographic, regardless of their age and social standing. Reason? He has mastered blunt usage of messages within an art form that he has singlehandedly made popular amongst both – elevated and less elevated masses, all over the world. Banksy’s art – speaks for itself, making his anonymity stand out, as his art becomes a philosophical and political spokesperson against capitalism, war, theism, totalitarianism and fascism. We are not so sure that ‘GuessWho’ even understands the implications of such schisms, for surely their “art-work” failed to show it. Thus, before making sensational statements like “Who the hell is Banksy?” and “Let the images talk” and self-contradictory answers to our questions – are you considering social implications of any sort and what are the social implications of your art – they should actually consider to “go fishing” for some art-ed.
About their attempt at the Swiss born Dadaism? “The irony is that what is considered radical today will be mainstream(ing) tomorrow… Graffiti too (in the west especially) is becoming like that.” Let’s hope that they will understand the meaning of “abstraction” and learn the proper use of graphics in their graffiti, in-order-to shun societal dogmas, before they spiral down further into the world of meaningless kitsch-art and graffiti. GuessWho might have the talent, but most definitely lack the skills and knowledge required to be an artist.