Q: One of my professors at University in Delhi said that the difference between Eastern art and Western art, meaning literature as well, was that the Indian artist, in following a tradition, was making work for the audience, to please his audience. Whereas Western art was an expression of an individual experience.
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AK : I don’t think that’s true at all. Because there are good artists and bad artists, or not-so-good artists. This kind of East-West stuff is rubbish. I mean, for me, being an Indian artist is not important. What is interesting is that there have been a significant number, since the mid-19th century—everyone from Van Gogh to Picasso—of European artists who have been able to look East. Van Gogh was hugely influenced by Japanese prints. Evidently, Matisse was, and Picasso by African art. They’ve been able to look to the other world and make that part of the Western tradition. It’s never happened the other way around. Not significantly, other than Tagore, who we think of as one shining example, but it’s almost never happened. I think there’s actually a prejudice there. I don’t think it’s allowed to happen which is why it doesn’t happen. Every time there is some move by an Eastern artist, or a non-European artist making something which uses some kind of Western idiom or some combination of the two, it’s always seen as influenced. This is a way of putting things down. It’s only recently, really recently, Salman Rushdie and others now, are beginning to deal with something which allows for a real opening up of both traditions. Traditional art, Eastern or Western, can’t happen any more. What’s got to happen is something else. Folk art really only happens in very closed societies, like the work of Tibetan monks, folk art, or tribal art, in India or in Africa, in closed circumstances. I think that’s a battle that really has to be fought hard.
It’s something I’m trying to do myself, in making my work more than stones with holes in them. How does one bring in all sorts of other things which aren’t represented by the matter that’s there?