Deepti as Pushpamala

To draw is a verb, more than a noun, in the visual cultural representation of India. Despite the historic uncertainties of its origin in the Indian art context, its relevance with political independence is deeply etched. The new nation’s political will was to act (as a verb, like ‘to draw’) and taking stock of its past a la Coomaraswamy among others which was itself an act of drawing a rich, past construct, unique and specific to Bharathvarsha. Nehru’s five year plan and the cultural policies and politics drew a lot of framework for such an attempt to draw our own cultural map.*1*

It was inevitable for the word ‘draw’ to contain a word that compulsorily preceded or followed, analogous to our representational politics which required to draw from the past and re-draw a cultural ambience, of a nationalist kind. ‘Draw’ing divides cultural and violence in this sense. The ability to draw more than what it represents, defines the dilemma of art education, even to this day, by and large. The acts of drawings in the neo-realism of Mumbai (Atul Dodiya and the like) involved an act of drawing more than what the colonial gurus had intended to; and had been contested, from within representational drawings.


Due to today’s hypertext and excessive technological aid, the meaning of ‘to draw’ has been shifted from the hand to a mouse, literally. Hence the age old dictum of ‘hand-to-mouth’ has been drastically transported to ‘hand-to-mouse’, wherein the hand, symbolic of manual labour, lost its prominence of equality and equanimity. The shift from the times of industrial to the technological was also a shift from democratic opportunity to the politics of unequal sharing of cultural representational spaces; as well as the anatomy of the birth of a certain hierarchy was hence drawn.

The immediate feel of the context around the work has been withheld or erased, in order to draw equality with the global trends, by and large. ‘Drawing’ and ‘erasure’ have become synonymous to trial and error method of appropriating glocalisation (global plus localisation). Thus the phrase – to draw – have been drawing flakes from opposition parties within the circle of cultural representations since often it takes self-contradictory positions! If ‘to draw’ is tradition, to withdraw from the past could be avant-garde, if such generalisations can be pardoned (shifting theoretic positions between the defining activities of Bengal Santiniketan Renaissance and the Progressive Art Group in art can be drawn as a stark example to illustrate this)!

Nothing can easily compensate the essence of the phrase ‘to draw’, because there is something more to draw beyond what it has been miss-equated with: the rendering skill. Drawing skill is something which kills, not because of its misinterpretation but skill’s claim to solely own drawing and confine it within the bounds of aesthetics. In other words, the definitive meaning of the word that follows ‘to draw’, plays spoilsport to suggestive ambiguity of what precedes it! ‘How to draw?’ and ‘to draw meaning’ represents a whole gamut of visual grammars on either side of Indian independence, in this sense.



In fact this has paved way to formulate the idea that whatever is drawn – an idea, a skill, a technique – ends up in being/becoming an object! In the popular understanding of ‘drawing object’, which is the essence of art teaching, there is an attempt to shift certain characters from the first word to the second, which serves both incomplete!


This is where the contradiction of artistic ‘practice’ is generated, you draw to make an object; and making of an object is through drawing!  The irony (of making drawing) is by and large because of segregating and safeguarding the visual aesthetics from its political will. The language is emptied of the politics of its visual inheritance!

One of the socio-political reasons as to why ‘to draw’ is relevant in the Indian context of visual representation is the link that exists between modern art and Indian political independence. ‘To draw’ in the context of independent India turned out to be a nationalistic project of ownership, to disown the predominance of the overwhelming foreign and alien influences of representations. Realistically drawn objects — painted portraits, sculpturally rendered full figures and graphical landscapes — were theoretically drawn towards and out of clichéd cultural debris. However, by and large, what is drawntoday in art classes and convention of traditional studios have done a Volta face. The ‘drawn’ and ‘derived’ meaning and experiences are overlooked. In other words, realism has been redrawn to mean what they did not intend as a colonial project of hierarchy of white over dark.

To draw has matured from a hand skill to a thought process in the name of the articulative power of representation. Conceptual art has been drawn into the premise of genuine art, at the cost of the conventional. Between the measurable rendering to the predictable concept, what is drawn is what is ‘thought’ (turned into what is ‘taught’) to be a protest to the conventional!

The stress on ‘to draw’ within the agencies and among the agents of art also aims at redefining its own structure and hence its own parameters. To draw the common man (note the apolitical gender specificity) to art activities addresses its (‘to draw’ phrases’) own agenda of refuting realism in certain ways! A rendering technique (to draw) becomes a populist agenda, a desire to include the popular into the sacred or profanes premise. Hence interestingly, currently, ‘to draw’ has been subject to schizophrenia; and has become the main theme of the nationalist schizophrenia.

To draw, an English phrase, became the catch phrase when a pan-national discourse began to contain Indian art in the mid-20th century. If one keeps in mind the way ‘created visual artrepresentations’ have been named and addressed over throughout twentieth century (artwork, work-of-art, text, a print, litho – the implication of manual labour within the terminology becomes obvious)*2*,the politics of neo-colonial anxiety becomes more obvious. Many might refute to draw their (and others’) attention towards such minor linguistic underpinning of the draft of visual discourses, yet such refutation might be rejections. It is humanly impossible for a single human being to draw and wear the mantle of a pan-Indian authority over visual discourses for this very reason: to draw a common language of writing, that too an Indian language, while re-drawing, re-phrasing and re-tracing the historicity of Indian visual culture. To draw is to articulate (appropriations) not yield (to skill)!//


*1* This write-up originates with the belief in the relation between words and nationalism, owing to an immediate colonial past. Hence ‘to draw’, more than anything, should be able to draw our attention to the inevitable association between English and Indian visual culture.

*2* Which gives an clear picture of the anatomy of the influence of Marx and his ism upon the naming ceremony of image-representations. Further, if one notices the inherent parody in Marxist/Leftist/Socialist writers contribution triggered by the Capitalist, the ironies of linguistic sophistication in the time of political turmoil becomes more glaring. This article is an attempt to draw our own, an Indian terminology, for such a scrutiny!//