Lucien poudras paints. So do a host of Indian painters and artists. When they graduate from painting billboards and hoardings for films they paint portraits of actresses. What the French artist Poudras has done is recreate his village in his paintings (see 'The environment needs painters, too', Down To Earth , May 31, 1999).
Through the canvass the younger generation can today see what a village used to look like in pre-industrial France, recording the systems of land management that sustained the rural ecology through the ages. Poudras' art goes beyond the artists' expression of his own reactions to the contemporary world. It tries to reconcile the old society and its systems with the new.
No artist in urban India is trying to do the same. Perhaps there is no market in India for these paintings. Which is surprising. The literati in India never tires of mouthing pious platitudes regarding how environmentally friendly the lifestyle of the Indian villager was. Tradition has been praised for having nurtured many a wonder, whether it be cultivation techniques, or water harvesting systems or irrigation techniques.
No paintings of the same exist. There is no way the young urban generation can even visualise what a village looked like in pre-industrial India. That the government has not been bothered about preserving traditional systems through the art forms is hardly surprising. But what keeps the country's intelligentsia and its artists from preserving the invaluable glimpses of the country's past. Armchair revivalists wax eloquent about India's rich cultural heritage. They never get tired of recalling the good old days when the rural society existed in harmony with nature. But hardly anybody tries to recreate that past through art as Poudras had done.
There may be an artist tucked away in some part of this huge country who may have done work comparable to Poudras'. But it is too much to hope that India's 'mainstream' art establishment will recognise these gems and give them the place they deserve in not just the art galleries and museums but schools and colleges. Can we have our own Poudrases? And if we already have them, will the media and the art critics look beyond the handful of well-circulated names and seek these artists out?