Rodin in Calcutta
There was an exhibition of Rodin plaster casts in Calcutta in 1983. There were huge queues of people waiting to see the exhibition. This has been referred by people, with some pride, as symbolising the "unique" aesthetic sensibility of Calcuttans / Bengalis.
Actually I have a different take on the Rodin exhibition, and have for long had in my head the idea of an essay called "Rodin in Calcutta", on art and society, or on society and aesthetics.
Sadly, all those who queued up to see the Rodin (replicas), or all those Indian tourists who, while in Paris, perhaps on one of those "ten cities in ten days" tours, visit the Louvre - why? For what? What relation does this bear to the rest of their life and activities?
Do they visit other painting or scuplture exhibitions of local or Indian artists in galleries or museums in Calcutta or elsewhere in India?
Does their artistic sensibility express itself in their individual or social lives? Does their artistic or aesthetic sensibility extend to other aspects of urban life - such as not urinating in public places? Or occasionally sparing a thought (in between shedding tears at exquisite renditions of Rabindrasangeet or marching and shouting resounding slogans against global imperialism) for the sanitary conditions in Calcutta's bastis?
Perhaps what's unique is they are literate enough to indulge in event, spectacle, sensation, been-there, seen-that smugness, which people in other places in India don't care for. But so what? Someone who never had any relation to art or lots of other things "aesthetic", went to see Rodin in Calcutta, and then carried on with his usual life. How different is he or she from someone in another part of India, who never heard of Rodin, or never cared to see his works?
Yes, it does show something different, but is that difference carried through, individually and collectively to something edifying for all? I doubt it. Maybe one or a few such individuals were enabled to awaken to something new and different, and begin an engagement in "art" & "aesthetics"!