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An icon of peace and non-violence inspires creative minds
•A magnificent memorial to the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr in Washington, D.C has just been thrown open to public in tribute to the great civil rights activist, who drew inspiration from Mahatma Gandhi.

•An International Film Series at Grayslake in the U.S. state of Illinois screens a blockbuster Hindi movie ‘Lage Raho Munna Bhai’ (2006) about a rowdy goon who tries to win the heart of a pretty radio host by following in the footsteps of the Mahatma.

•“Gandhi's quotes greatly inspire me. I remember as a child reading many quotes that had an impact on me,” recounts popular Bollywood star Dia Mirza in a recent interview.

•Art exhibitions, debates, Indian film festival and dramas celebrate the first India Month, this month to mark the relation between India and the Dutch city apart from opening up of the Gandhi House on October 2, his birth anniversary, to showcase the diversity of Indian culture.•A new series by celebrated international artist Atul Dodiya portrays a young boy who meets Gandhi in a kind of fantasy. The two talk as he asks the Father of the Nation spontaneous questions.

Mahatma Gandhi, his astounding legacy and his philosophy has inspired many of the world’s most influential political leaders, freedom fighters as well as social activists like Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela who fought for equality on the path Ahimsa (non-violence) and Satyagraha (persuasion of truth). The great man dedicated his entire life to the cause of discovering truth and freeing his fellow countrymen from the chains of slavery. His fight for peace inspired many international icons like John Lennon.

It has influenced many artists across generations, keen to re-contextualize his message of peace and tolerance. ‘Freedom to March Rediscovering Gandhi through Dandi’, a major group show just held at London’s Nehru Centre is a testimony to this. The showcase has moved to The Gandhi Memorial Center, Washington DC. Over a period of one year, many of India’s top contemporary artists traversed the same path that Gandhiji took to better grasp his role in contemporary Indian history and also in shaping up of the Indian socio-cultural fabric. Many of them camped in villages en route Dandi. The works resonate with what they thought on their way to Dandi and how it relates to contemporary India.

Previously hosted at Lalit Kala Akademi and IGNCA (Delhi) courtesy Ojas Art, it celebrates this monumental event through the works including installations, video art, sculptures, photographs, and paintings by A. Ramachandran, Alok Bal, Atul Dodiya, Jagannath Panda, KG Subramanyan, Hindol Brahmbhatt, Manjunath Kamath, KS Radhakrishnan, Prasad Raghavan, TV Santosh and Murali Cheroot, among others. It was on March 12, 1930 that Gandhi left the Sabarmati Ashram in Ahmedabad for Dandi, launching a non-violent campaign against the British salt tax. The march turned out to be a major symbolic act in India’s tumultuous political history.

Anubhav Nath along with Johny M.L. has curated the exhibition, with an implied thought that political resistance, urbanization and violence are the three primary influences steering contemporary reality art in India. As a political icon, the Mahatma shares a direct relation with the three aspects. His contribution to India, his philosophy and several aspects of his persona have been interpreted by the participating artists.

Last year, ‘Who has seen Gandhi?’ courtesy Tangerine Art, Bangalore at Gallery Kynkyny posed a question whether he was a pedestalized icon? An untouchable myth or a father who has been disowned, but celebrated through sterile ritual references by the state? In similar such artistic initiative, A group show, ‘Detour’, courtesy Mumbai based Chemould Prescott a couple of years ago, featured photographers Ravi Agarwal, Sonia Jabbar, Samar Jodha, Dayanita Singh and Ram Rahman whose work revolved around Gandhi’s movement for freedom. It commemorated the centennial of his seminal work ‘Hind Swaraj’ (1909). A curatorial note by Ranjit Hoskote had explained: " By turns illuminating, exasperating and inspiring, these utopian and redemptive writings remind us that ‘nationalism’ was not a single script; that the India these thinkers envisioned was, and will always be, a work in progress.”

Significantly, Mahatma Gandhi did share an active association with India’s leading artists. Nandalal Bose was invited by him do the paintings at the Haripura Congress (1937-38). Among the many noteworthy contemporary names, deeply touched by Gandhiji’s message is that of artist Jitish Kallat. His ‘Public Notice 2’ recalls the Mahatma’s historic speech on the eve of the epic Salt March. In it, the fervent speech is dissected and recreated as a thought-provoking installation at a key point in India’s history through some 4,500 bone-shaped letters. Each letter of this alphabet, like a misplaced relic, holds up the image of violence even as its collective chorus makes a plea for peace to a world plagued with aggression. They are positioned on thin colored shelves to attain effect of a rediscovered artifact, suggesting as if Gandhi’s voice returns, akin to a relic from the past, to call for peace and harmony. Blurred and often forgotten with the passage of time, the historical words are fore-grounded.

The speech is held up as an apparatus for the purpose of grading our feats as well as follies as nations, and also as humankind.

On the other hand, ‘White Ghost and Red Carpet’ by Bose Krishnamachari as part of his solo in Dubai last year was sort of a re-presentation. The artist was quoted as saying: “With small scale wars and calamities as the backdrop, every leader today is trying to tell things to people. One can hear the cacophony of statements by the world leaders in this sculptural installation. Mahatma Gandhi is a metaphorical expression of the artist’s own self in a diminutive form, against Gandhiji’s monumental portrait.”

Among the younger-generation artists, Hindol Brahmbhatt has worked on several diptychs and triptychs that locate the relevance of the Father of the Nation and his philosophy in current context. He is pained by hollowness that surrounds the ritual of remembering the Mahatma. Several of his creations juxtapose images of war, violence and strife with the Mahatma pushed to the background that heightens the sense of irony.

Mahatma Gandhi’s life and thoughts continue to inspire and influence the sensitive contemporary artists, prompting them to creatively analyze his contribution to India's Independence and to contemporary society.