‘The written word no longer has the kind of attraction that it once had,” Professor Dr. Vinay Lal said when asked about the choice of visual media for his new book ‘Insurgency and The Artist’, which explores art contemporary to India’s freedom struggle. However, he said the reason for writing the book was to look at “how artists at that time were imagining the freedom struggle”.
In conversation with ABP Live, he spoke about several aspects — from the representation of Gandhi and Laxmi Bai to how the art produced during the time not only represented a political image but also helped in shaping India’s freedom struggle.
How Artists Represented Different Views
Asked how artists who produced art during the time accommodated and represented the varied ideologies of icons like Subhas Chandra Bose, Mahatme Gandhi, and Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj and even put them in the same frame despite the different ideologies, Prof Lal said this only suggests that the artists had space for everyone in the national narrative.
“The same printmaker who is making the print of Gandhi may also be making the print for Bhagat Singh, Bose, Lajpat Rai, Bal Gangadhar Tilak, whoever the case may be. This suggests to us that these artists, with whatever their own personal views could have been, understood that there was space for each one of these patriots in the national narrative,” he said.
Citing an example of a print that showed Maharana Pratap and Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj on either side with the life story of Subhas Bose inscribed in the words Jai Hind in the middle, he said: “The printmaker in someways is placing Subhas Bose in the lineage of Maharana Pratap, Shivaji and sometimes even Prithviraj Chauhan. So the argument being made here is that contrary to the British representation of India as a country where there were no men or that they were effeminate, it is being suggested that we actually had a martial past and now we have to recover that martial past and we have to make people aware of this.”
However, he also said that this was not necessarily a critique of Gandhi, “because the printmaker may be saying that there are different ways in which we can try to advocate for freedom and all of these ways complement each other.”
In the interview, Prof Lal also addressed the issue of the loss of credibility of history when historians are openly taking sides and why Rani Laxmi Bai was called the ‘Only Man of the Indian Mutiny’. Watch the full interview here.