Gandhi`s Tolstoy Farm interpreted on canvas

New Delhi: The Tolstoy Farm set up by Mahatma Gandhi in South Africa as a model of community living is the theme of at least 50 visual interpretations by 17 leading artists.

"Tolstoy Farm: Exhibition of Utopia", which was inaugurated at the Lalit Kala Akademi Wednesday, reflects the subjective and creative analysis of the philosophies of Gandhi, Leo Tolstoy and Nelson Mandela.

In the early 20th century, the humble farm was the fount of satyagraha or the peaceful resistance movement for Indians in South Africa and a century later, it became inspiration for African National Congress leader Nelson Mandela, who also wrote about it.

Located outside Johannesburg in South Africa, the farm is today a part of a brick-making company.

For most of the artists at the exhibition, Tolstoy Farm is a utopia and symbol that envisaged an ideal post-colonial life in South Africa.

The participants, including Bharti Kher, Aditya Pande, Akshay Rathore, Anita Dube, Aprita Singh, Riyas Komu, Gigi Sacria, Jagannath Panda, Manjunath Kamath and several other leading names in contemporary art, have drawn their own versions of the farm as a ideal community home for people of every colour and collective consciousness in an array of media, ranging from digital art to installations and conventional genres.

Artist Gigi Scaria has created a miniature image of the Tolstoy Farm in a composition `Fly Over`, in digital print and archival paper.

The homestead is illuminated by two criss-crossing shafts of light.

Artist K.P. Peji allows his imagination to fly in an oil composition of Gandhi walking on the sea shore amid a crowd of sun-bathers, coloured tourists, a camera man, police and a flock of migratory birds. The birds curiously resemble Gandhi as they fly in droves over the sea.

The showacase is colourful and thought provoking, with a variety of interpretations of the farm as a symbol of unity in diversity.

Curator Gayatri Sinha, a noted art critic, says the exhibition tries to paint in colours "Gandhi, Tolstoy and Mandela as thinkers who changed the way the world perceived incarceration, freedom, caste and apartheid, capital and labour, independence and colonialism."

"At the same time, it addresses the idea of utopia, both personal and private. As social polity becomes more complex, how does the artist interpret the principles of community, utopia and radical positions? How does he deal with the consequences of success and failure?

"Again, in a shifting world order, as India now acquires land in South Africa for commercial farming, or emerges as part of the BASIC (Brazil, South Africa, India, China) or BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India, China) countries, how do we view the new circuits of economies and power," Sinha said at the exhibition.

In the 1890s, when Mahatma Gandhi was thrown off a train at Pietermaritzburg in South Africa, it triggered a chain of events that changed the political power balance of the world.

Hermann Kallenbach, Gandhi`s South African architect friend, donated a piece of land where Gandhi, in 1910, conceived of the idea of a shared utopia.

Tolstoy Farm later inspired Sabarmati Ashram in Gujarat on Gandhi`s return to India.

The exhibition, inaugurated by union Culture Minister Kumari Selja, was presented by the Seven Arts Gallery.


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