Analysing a Spectacle: Durga Puja and the Possibilities of a Temporal Art Form

Monday, 11 July 2016: 09:30
Location: Hörsaal 14 (Juridicum)
Oral Presentation
Saswati BHATTACHARYA, Lady Shri Ram College for Women, India
Durga Puja in Bengal underwent a change in the late 1980s and early 90s with the advent of ‘Theme pujas’. This paper seeks to establish that though “Theme Durga Puja” as a spectacle, a “controlled visual production” has opened up the possibilities of artistic creativity in public space, it has also opened up the questions of the contestation and cooperation of several distinct groups; of the artist, the producer and the owners, and the consumers of art, each trying to define the meaning of art. Various forms, types and technologies have been introduced in the making of the idol and the installation of a pandal that involves not only the traditional idol-maker but also a host of other professionals, from structural engineers to event managers.  What is more unique is perhaps the question of why it garners such contestations and interests given the temporary nature of this art, a life cycle of only 4-5 days. Despite its fleeting presence in public space “Theme pujas” brings in the need to understand the relationship between producers and consumers of art, the meanings that the artists may strive to create and the perception of this art among the ordinary viewers.  The involvement of Corporate Sponsors, media professionals, movie actors, creates a complex public phenomenon where capitalist market and commodification, social hierarchy, cultural forms and people all come together to challenge definitions of popular art and popular culture. The popularity of such installations in public space opens up a debate on the relationship between art and popular culture, and the questions of domination and reproduction. The paper aims to explore three important questions of relationship of art and the publics, relationship of artists and the owner, relationship between artist and the capitalist market by relying on critical theory and cultural studies perspectives.