Editorial Note: The Arts of War (17 Spring)

A painting in the Mewari miniature style by Sahibdin, a 17th century painter, depicting the war that Ram waged to rescue his wife Sita from Lanka, as described in the Ramayana.

Dear Reader,

The world is at war. From Syria to Iraq, India to Pakistan, the world is now at a stage where conflict has become the new normal. From the beginning of time, conflict has given society the most profound and celebrated art. Thus, it is only apt that this issue be dedicated to the arts of war.

Art is as responsible for starting war as it is for sustaining it and ending it. It has the ability to significantly alter public perceptions of war, and to sustain mass movements for and against aggression and violence.

When Francisco Goya rendered his heart-wrenching series The Disasters of War, and Jacques Callot created The Miseries of War, little did they know the impact their recognition of the hardships that civilians and soldiers face in war alike. A significant part of previous artwork served to glorify the idea of war, and to euphemise the horrors of it. War is no a gentleman’s game, rather, a game of life and death. Art was an important part of the Napoleonic propaganda machine, where the neoclassical tradition of history and battle painting was adapted to represent contemporary events and present a version of ‘truth’ that suited narratives that the Empire intended to promote.

Moving eastwards from the western tradition, we come across remarkable works of art in India that talk about war. Indian literary and artistic history has constantly featured the theme of conflict in a prominent manner. Like the Iliad and the Aeneid, the two most renowned Indian epics talk about different types of war. The Ramayana’s rising action arises from a war that Rama wages to save his wife from the abductor, the King of Lanka, Ravana. The Mahabharata, the largest epic ever written, focuses on fratricide and war between the Kaurava and Pandava brothers. It is no coincidence that two of Hinduism’s most prominent epics talk of injustice and war.

India has a rich history of being at war. At no point in time was the nation, as it stands today, a single country. Composed of a few major kingdoms, and hundreds of smaller principalities, war was a common occurrence. The role of art in these conflicts can not be mistaken, whether it is the poetry or the murals commissioned by royals of all power levels. Art, oftentimes, acts as a bridge between the wishful imagination often served to us as Indian history, and the truth of what happened.

Regardless of the position that artwork takes on the justness of conflict, it can safely be ascertained that art is integral to conversations about war. By depicting “the iconography of suffering,” as Susan Sontag mentions in her book Regarding the Pain of Others, and exploring its larger implications through art, this issue of the magazine hopes to sensitise its readers about war and death. We present art and artists as an entry point into something that is almost fundamental to human life- war.

The Creative Process team wishes that the reader examine these works and critiques closely, and think of the larger implications that these works and stories occupy in the master narratives that are being marketed today. The world is changing, and it is at war. But we must also know what it means.

If you feel like you want to talk to us about any of the articles, or want to correspond and initiate a conversation with the TMAC team, email us at letters@themumbaiartcollective.com, and we will be happy to carry it forward.

Warm Regards,

Ishaan Jajodia.
Editor, The Creative Process.