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October 2013

Parentheses on Truth, Beauty and Humanity

London welcomed thousands of art lovers to the city this past weekend with exciting art fairs and exhibitions leading up to the ever-present ‘Frieze London’. However, this year I decided to take a different approach to understanding multiple art forms. Intrigued by its synopsis, I attended a performance by Goshka Macuga in collaboration with Ansuman Biswas as part of the fascinating exhibition Tagore’s Universal Allegories. The live event was a musical interpretation, based on the legendary conversation between Tagore and Einstein.  The discussion questions philosophy, consciousness, beauty, art and science and perhaps the combination of them all.

The performance was held within Rivington Place’s main ground floor exhibition space, surrounded by works by Anna Boghiguian. Immediately the scenery had a very real essence. The setting was both intimate and extremely vibrant since it has an inviting window, which allowed for the public to be involved.  Biswas talked upon the core of the conversation and announced that he and a Cellist, Hannah Marshall, will be listening to the discussion via earpieces, creating the music through improvisation.

The piece began with Biswas channeling Tagore with the Estraj (an Indian Instrument) and Marshall emulating Einstein with the Cello. You could feel the exchange of intelligence and the intensity of energy between the two instruments. They complimented one another, yet also juxtaposed (much like the depth of the conversation). An interesting change of Indian instruments from the Estraj to the PanArt, I feel, was a symbolic representation of the transition from the subject of Eastern to Western music. The introduction of the PanArt gave the performance a more melodic, contemporary feel.  The pace and rhythm became much more energetic as the communication strengthened.

Goshka Macuga introduces the event

In my opinion the core of significance throughout this performance was the theory of translation. The power of exchange between the outside (public), the transcript (via ear piece) and the delivery of music was remarkable. The performance became a cyclical conversation. I began to ponder upon the concept of relationships; the relationship we have with one another. The bond of humanity is far more dominant than we could ever imagine. We share more similarities than differences. Therefore, vocality and exchange of foresight is imperative.

The wondrous factor about music is that it is a subjective experience. One can take and leave what they want from a vibration. That is the beauty of it. Through this impactful conversation, both Einstein and Tagore capture the fundamental notion of ‘questioning’. Questioning a higher power, seeking knowledge and gaining an inner truth. This divine live display of internal education and external rhythm was a stunning ode to their legacy.

Ansuman Biswas performs again this Thursday 24 October in Reading Between the Lines, an interactive talk drawing together the many strands of Tagore’s legacy into a recommendation for action. Biswas will talk, sing, and play a variety of musical instruments, leading people through an active process of meditation, contemplation and vocalisation.

By Alicia Melanie

Alicia Melanie is a Fine Art student at Middlesex University whose interests include art, culture and travel. Read more blog posts by Melanie on her own blog, The Visual Life.

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Tagore Archive: the letter renouncing his knighthood

by Paddy Chatterton, Iniva’s Head of Development

“The time has come when badges of honour make our shame glaring in their incongruous context of humiliation, and I for my part wish to stand, shorn of all special distinctions, by the side of my country men.”

So wrote Rabindranath Tagore in 1919 to Lord Chelmsford, Viceroy of India, as he explained his reasons for renouncing the knighthood that had been awarded him by Britain some 4 years earlier. The event that had spurred him to this decision was, by all accounts, a ruthlessly violent reaction by the British Army to a small uprising (Tagore refers to them as “local disturbances”) in the Punjab.

You can read the full letter as part of the special Tagore archive in the education space at Rivington Place for our current exhibition, Tagore’s Universal Allegories. It is without doubt one of the most beautiful, distraught, poetic and enraged texts I have ever read. Another example,

the very least that I can do for my country is to take all consequences upon myself in giving voice to the protest of the millions of my countrymen, surprised into a dumb anguish of terror”.

One can only imagine how Lord Chelmsford felt when he read the letter. It would have taken someone with an insanely inflated sense of righteousness and patriotism not to have felt remorse.

The letter leads me to think about the choice people make to renounce or refuse knighthoods, CBEs and the like. Tagore was not the first person to hand back his knighthood but he was the first from Asia (and maybe the only?). Such a form of protest, particularly from someone from ‘the colonies’, would no doubt have been seen as a hugely significant event for its time.

In comparison, Danny Boyle recently indicated that he would refuse a knighthood in recognition of his role in the Olympics because it “just doesn’t feel right”- no particular reason, just would rather not. Over the years we have had a surprisingly large number of  politicians, poets, philosophers and rock stars hand back their OBEs, MBEs and Sirhoods. John Lennon famously used the reason that his song Cold Turkey was falling down the charts. Dorris Lessing thought it a little too ironic to accept an honour from an institution she had spent her life attacking. David Bowie, French & Saunders, JG Ballard, L.S Lowry (wins the award for most honours turned down- 5 in total) – the list is almost endless…

What is surprising to me is how few of these people have declined or returned awards in direct response to a specific event or outrage. Most have taken the decision for very personal and practical reasons, rather than as a political act. Only a few have used renouncement as a form of specific political protest. Why should this be? We as a nation are not averse to making political statements and we are not so enthralled to the monarchy that we would not dare! Perhaps we believe that the act of accepting a knighthood in the first instance takes away the impact of then returning it; that the ‘badges of honour make our shame’ and we relinquish the right to criticise the establishment we so happily joined.

Either way, the more I read Tagore’s statement, the more I am affected by the outraged clarity of his argument. This is not a man choosing to respond; he is compelled to write his letter, unable to sanction any alternative. It is this that makes it so fascinating a text.

Exhibition Tagore’s Universal Allegories continues until 23 November 2013

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