With the recent exhibition in Rome of the Colombian artist Botero, of works based on his disgust at the human rights violations in the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, one is reminded of the long tradition in our own art of protest against inhumanity. The first to come into the firing range of our modern artists were the colonial British who were treated to two volumes of satirical drawings by Gaganendranath Tagore even before World War I ended. But he was not the only one. I have seen a beautiful Santhal pot-chitra now in the collection of Priya Paul of tortures being inflicted on Santhals by Britishers and their memsahibs. It is interesting that just as both depraved men and women of the USA had an equal share in torturing helpless prisoners in Iraq, the Santhal drawing shows the same thing happening to tribals at the hands of both British men and women. What both remind us of is the fact that defending an empire is a dehumanizing process that affects men and women alike. And artists resist them as they cannot afford to be dehumanized or art would not survive. Such art generally commands better prices as it involves sentiments central to the creative process.
The battle against dehumanization is constant in art. Gaganendranath's drawings lampooning British Raj were followed up by Chittaprasad's 'People's War' series and of the Telengana struggle. We also have his studies of the Bengal famine, of which we have an extraordinary work by Ram Kinkar