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Art and Expression During the Times of War and Conflict

Visual by Akruthi Akula

On a recent podcast, Anurag Minus Verma and the guest speaker- Bakery Prasad, both of them being influential and emerging artists, were talking about their respective experiences at creating art and their shared experiences of the sociopolitical ecosystem by the virtue of belonging to the DBA community and how it impacts and inspires their work. At one point in the flow of the conversation, it was discussed how India in the last few decades, has failed to produce the kind of powerful, impeccable, memorable art that holds the capacity to influence the way something is perceived. And that is because life changing art is synonymous with revolution.

English Philosopher R.G Collingwood attempted to vaguely divide art into two categories:

‘Amusement Art’ and ‘Magic Art’. Amusement art acts like a protective blanket, an escape from the real world and its problems. Whereas, Magic art causes discomfort and compels one to break their shell, and acknowledge suffering, inspiring them to fight it.

India’s war of independence and the partition happen to be one of the most horrific experiences for the people of the country. Although, it is interesting to note how art and expression was at its peaks during the turmoil. Musical plays, exhibitions, book meets were put on to be enjoyed by the British officials and the Upper class-Upper caste Indians and their families. Tamashas were organised in the rural areas and watched by even those who were hit the worst in the process. These are examples of ‘Amusement Art’ because during the times of dispute, these expressions provided relief.

On the other hand, there have also been many young artists who stewed revolution through their work. Bombay Progressive Artists' Group was founded in 1947 as a reaction to the tumult of the partition. Their members consisted of the Begetters of Modern Indian Art like M.F Hussain, S.H Raza, who expressed the shared ache and agony through contemporary painting techniques. The paintings were criticised and the painters were attacked by Hindu Nationalists for highlighting the side that was left raw and wounded post partition. Contemporary Indian and Pakistani literature happen to be one of the greatest and most reliable records of India’s War of Independence and the Partition. Political Poets and writers like Faiz Ahmed Faiz, Amrita Pritam, Manto, Nida Fazli (to name a few) contributed with some of the most hauntingly beautiful pieces that focus on the other side of Independence and what was eternally lost by the people on both ends of the border.

“Mujh Se Pehli Si Mohabbat” by Faiz is a personal favourite. In the first read, the poem is usually interpreted as a lover’s plight at being separated from their beloved due to commitments to their community, but the beauty of the poem lies in its duality which allows Faiz to latently talk about the partition and how the lives and relationship shared by people of the two countries had been perpetually stained.

Rock n’ Roll, Jazz and hip-hop that have taken over the art and entertainment industry today are genres of music created by the stigmatised youth of the black community situated in America as a reaction to the white idea of the Black’s incapacity to fit into the “sophisticated”, “polished”, aka- European forms of music. In fact, ghetto/marginalised folk art has been the voice of the discredited ones in the events of suppression across all countries and cultures. Due to the intent of the artists and its impact on people, the expressions discussed above incline towards the category of “Magic Art”, if we are to go by Collingwood’s definition.

Some art is difficult to compartmentalise due to the duplexity of their relevance that emerged with time. “The Diary of a Young Girl” was a journal written by a 14 year old Jew witness of the holocaust who used to creatively pen down her and the family’s quotidian encounters over household chores, food, resources, little anecdotes on both fights and celebrations and their lives in totality that turned upside down due to the Second World War. Writing the journal might’ve been Anne’s indulgence in Amusement Art, but reading it today as one of the most popular memoirs of the Holocaust and its monstrosities makes it seem more prominently as Magic Art.

Defining something satisfies the technicalities of the subject, making it easier to contain them into words. But beyond a certain extent, that cannot be expected out of art. Art is fluid. It cannot be circumscribed within the boundaries of language, neither can it be silenced. Art becomes the medium of communication when the voices are stifled. Which is also why, whenever people are up against a despotic, totalitarian regime, their active artists are amongst the first ones to be taken into custody. Albert Einstein once stated, “The Revolution introduced me to art, and in turn, art introduced me to the Revolution”. According to The Republic, Plato has often mocked art as “representational” and “imitative”, as a false knowledge of reality. He considered it dangerous and promoted its ubiquitous prohibition. While it’s true that Plato is strongly criticised for his disapproval of art, what can be collectively agreed upon is the fact that his disapproval in its sentiment was actually an acknowledgment of how powerful art can potentially be.


References :

  1. Anurag Minus Verma Podcast- Episode 11

  2. R.G Collingwood - Amusement Art and Magic Art

  3. Bombay Progessive Artist’s Group Archives

  4. Diary of a Young Girl- Anne Frank

  5. “The Revolution introduced me to art, and in turn, art introduced me to art”- Albert Einstein

  6. Republic- Plato

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