Monday, May 05, 2008

An Ambedkarite artist challenges the brahmanical hegemony

Art as the form of political protest : A Dalit artist challenge brahmanical hegemony

By Vidya Bhushan Rawat

Every time Savi Savarkar wanted to exhibit his paintings at the Ravindra Bhawan at the Lalit Kala Academy, Delhi, the hidden agenda of the Hindutva ensured that he does not get space for his paintings. After many efforts he got permission to exhibit those wonderful paintings which are actually Ambedkar’s statements against brahmanical social order. As I write this, Savarakar’s paintings are in the last days of their exhibitions. When a friend suggested that we should go see Savarkar’s paintings at Ravindra Bhavan, the first thought that came in mind ( and that is our ignorance level about Dalit art) was Vir Savarkar. I felt, this friend was joking. May be Sangh Parivar has put some paintings but he confirmed to me about Savi Savarkar, a man from Maharastra and his wonderful work. Savi Savarkar fought many battle because of his caste and his paintings have challenged the brahmanical hegemony.

After visiting his painting exhibition, I remain spell bound and thank to our friend for opening me a new front of art. I am not an art critique yet always found that despite India’s art work were the creations of Dalit Bahujans, we never saw art as a mean of protest. Even when the Dalits created and constructed Indian art whether it is Madhubani paintings or elsewhere, they confined themselves with in the parameters of the brahmanical value system or their gods and goddesses. Art was mostly ‘godly’ which is actually unlikely of being a Dalit as God never really came for the rescue of Dalits particularly in India.

When one goes through those paintings in complete Ambedkarite thoughts, it gives us enough hope that Modern art will now have to cope with the fiercely competitive Dalit protests which were not there earlier. Brahmins have always been shown as pious, poor but honest in all our art form. But thankfully, the first time, one can see how notorious they look when you see the painting ‘ Brahmin and Ganga’, oil on canvass-2006. Its interesting how Savi has used the most famous sacred river Ganga being used by the Brahmins to uphold their traditions. And this is an important factor even today that for the growth of brahmancal values, they have used every form whether it is nature or now science.

In the past, artists have made Devdasi paintings for purely arts sake, appreciating their beauty, curves and hair but Savarkar paints many forms of Devdasis. He is not satisfied with terming them as woman but look beyond that. Devdasi’s are victim of the caste system. The way he has described and painted them exposing the cultural values and big mutths which had Devdasis is worthy of mentioning here.

Artists always involved in not only introspections but also expertise themselves with comparative studies. One of the sketches made in 2002 named as Fish and Blue Face are a comparative study of Chippas tribal in Mexico with that of the Dalits in India. Both says Savarkar, work hard and are mentally strong, despite the fact that their bodies are overburdened with work and to him that the hands and legs work but body disappear.

Narrating an event which forced him to make ‘ Woman out of woman’, Savarkar says how he got frustrated when he saw the life experience of Joginis. He felt helpless that time. How paradoxical it is that Brahmin have sex with Devdasis but bring his own water to drink. Can there be any other system which is hippocratic, racist and abusive in nature?
Says Savi, when Devdasis come to the street even there the people make her pregnant. It is a story which can make any ‘thinking’ person mad and frustrated. And that has reflected in the paintings where the naked face of Brahminism is exposed.

There are so many paintings and for an art lover they are a complete treat to observe. For a lay person like me, it is the intensity which is attractive. The colors that he chose to depict and the face of the Brahmanism which is not only intrusive but also intimidating are the real protests.

In fact, Gujarat-2002 was a blot on the face of democracy. Artists were against the communal carnage. We saw many exhibitions at the secular platform decrying the goons of Hindutva and lamenting on the decline of our ‘golden’ past. The Hindutva goons also attacked exhibitions of M.F. Hussain, who they claimed to denigrate the Hindu gods and goddesses. What makes Savi Savarkar different from others is his unambiguous war against Brahmanism. He portrays Gujarat carnage not exactly in terms of RSS verses the Muslims but in terms of Brahmanical intimidations and farce. Savi saw the majority of Muslims being attacked as hailing the Dalit community and hence the bias against them was more than being against an ordinary Muslim. Thus, his paintings have exposed that Gujarat violence was not just a communal carnage unleashed by the Sangh Parivar and their different offshoots but the brahmanical intimidations and annihilation of the Dalits and people like them. The most important factor of Savi’s artistic expression is expose of an order build and developed by Manu that degraded men not on the basis of their castes but also gender. And therefore, as an artist, he has not confined himself to the issue of caste violence but has shown more concern on the condition of women. He makes it clear how women are victim of caste prejudices, patriarchical system and religious values. Not only this, he is able to show how during the so-called communal violence in Gujarat, it is the women who face the victimization from the forces of the brahmanical social order.

It’s very rare to find such political statement through art. Savi Savarkar is going to exhibit his paintings in Paris soon. But before he could do that, all those who value art as freedom of expression and choice must support his cause. After much financial hardship Savi Savarkar was able to exhibit his works at the Ravindar Bhavan. All those who value art and feel that art has a political statement against brahmanical values and bramindom must survive and grow, should visit Savi’s exhibition and support the cause. One hope that you would be able to see this extraordinary man’s passion for the civilized society as demonstrated in Dr Ambedkar’s writing. It is therefore refreshing to see that art which had been a domain of brahmanical values, has now found Ambedkarite protest in the form of Savi’s imagination and expressions. And one must appreciate his work for that. One hope that many more artists from Dalit-Bahujan communities would learn and adopt this form of art against the brahmanical value system and hopefully they would be able to project and portray the real face of Dalit vision, which means freedom of expression, freedom of choice and a society based on equality of human being without any prejudice against women.

Savi’s work would be there at Ravindra Bhavan, Lalit Kala Academy till May 8th, 2008. Those of you who wish to know more about his work can visit his website at and he can be contacted at

1 comment:

vrdarla said...

excellent essay