AT the very end of his life, when in the throes of death, Goya realized he should have painted art for itself, not carry on with the play act or remain a grandiloquent puppet of the Spanish elite and monarchy. His clientele were ego maniacal soi-disant lovers of art, more specifically, systematic distorters of Art, and/or users of it to flaunt their capital. Although he did paint recognized masterpieces, like the Black Duchess and the Clothed Maja, it is, with and when, we saw the emergence of the dark realism of Goya, that the world did finally get a precursor to the forthcoming modernist art. A movement that would hit Europe with a craze many years later. So Goya’s genius elevated him to the status of post-modern painter malgré lui.
In Mauritius, the Art scene is simply inexistant, our Goya has not yet appeared, or did he already appear, but lives in a village somewhere untouched by our great Art connoisseurs? After 20 years away, I come back to see more of the same names that I had read in the press years ago. The so-called artistic movement never existed, so if it did not exist, why could it even happen? Adding insult to injury, I became increasing appalled to see an elite group of people introducing Porlwi by Nature to the Public, as a great artistic extravaganza, planning to mix technology with creative space, even claiming to be inspired by time well spent with Amazonian tribes.
They seem to be talking about buzz words, such as technology, Art space, creative space, to a cynical and frustrated country struggling since 2014. This is why some have been proposing the State to officially recognize a minimum wage of Rs 13,000 and a minimum transitional wage of Rs 10,000. Good luck with that everyone!
I listened to the grand artist extolling the virtues of the extravaganza Porlwi week and dreamt I was in the audience to ask: What technology? For whom? What Art? For whom? In his most refined Notes from Prison, it was Gramsci (and later Walter Benjamin as inheritor) who asked about the value of art in the age of mechanical reproduction.
Benjamin’s book, The Work of Art in the Age of Industry, is an essay of cultural criticism which proposes that the aura of a work of art is devalued by mechanical reproduction. The subject and themes of the essay have much influenced the fields of art history and architectural theory, and cultural studies and media theory.
OBLIVIOUS OF STRUGGLES
How would have Benjamin reacted to the flimsy Porlwi by Light/Nature pseudo artists? He would have said that art in Mauritius is superficially thrown at the public by the elites (we know who) as du grand art. These same so-called art pioneers, who are perfectly oblivious of the daily struggles on the island, about poverty in our cités, rampant corruption, environmental fiascos happening or waiting to happen, instead stay well focused on their apparently sound artistic volition to ‘cultivate’ Mauritians.
How can art from benevolent elites in Mauritius be ever taken seriously if it is has zero connectivity with real issues in the country? I would much prefer to see art by disenfranchised women (often beaten) and men in the cités of Mauritius, art by activists genuinely fighting for environmental causes, art by disenfranchised minorities like the handicapped, or from NGO workers daily breathing the frustration of pushing their causes to a selectively deaf mainstream media, rather than from a group of bien nourri and bien loti rich kids talking to us about interfaces of technology and art, and their travels to Brazil. Please spare us the last laugh. They look so out of tune with the real Mauritius.
I will obviously not go to any Porlwi events because it is devoid of soul. It is as Benjamin would say, “even the most perfect reproduction of a work of art is lacking in one element: its presence in time and space, its unique existence at the place where it happens to be”.
Porlwi by Light, or day, or dusk and dawn, is lacking in one critical element, and that is, authenticity. It is devoid of any connectivity with true artists and their representations. And those true artists are simply the common Mauritian men and women reflecting their pain, as art.
The events as designed (by and for) the exclusive aesthetic enjoyment of an elite class, are disconnected with la chose de l’art itself. We know why Malcolm de Chazal was never venerated by many in Mauritius. The answer is they never understood his art or never even tried. The great John Berger would have the very last word in the struggle to see authentic art in Mauritius, he would say, “for the first time ever, images of art have become ephemeral, ubiquitous, insubstantial, available, valueless, free…”, for lacking the aura of the original work of art.