Human Flower Project
Tuesday, October 03, 2006
WW Gandhi Do?
Inspired by a new movie, protesters in India pour on the flowers.
Petals in homage:
would he approve?
Photo: The Age
Yesterday was the birthday of Mohandas Gandhi, leader of India’s independence movement and a genius of non-violent action. He was assassinated by a Hindu extremist in January 1948. Today, Gandhi’s life and work reach millions of contemporary Indians only through the prisms and echoes of multimedia—most recently a Bollywood comedy called Lage Raho Munnabhai.
From what we’ve read of the film, it’s the story of a DJ and fraud. Mistaken for a historian by one wide-eyed listener, he encounters the ghost of the spiritual leader while cramming at the library to impress his female fan. You can guess what happens. Or can you? Perhaps you can’t figure where flowers come in.
Later in the story, a land-grabber tries to displace a bunch of elderly men from an old age home, and our naive heroine, having been instructed in non-violence, asks the people of radioland to shower the venal developer with flowers, which they do.
Since the movie’s release, Gandhigiri (a new generation of Gandhi followers) around India have been mimicking the story to get their way. Last week in Lucknow, Gandigiri who objected to a liquor store doing business near a Hindu temple passed out flowers to police and to the store owner, hoping to dislodge him. When a local magistrate ruled against the protesters’ request for a public demonstration near the store, the group countered with loads and loads of flowers, delivered to the official’s home. The Times of India reported, “Around 200 Gandhigiri activists marched off peacefully towards the residence of (magistrate) Janardan Baranwal. Accompanied with over a dozen women, singing bhajans, they laid flowers on the stairs up to the first floor flat of Baranwal.” Some sang, and “others sat outside urging him to come out and take a flower.” Quite an unsettling serenade, it appears not to have worked.
The group made a public statement paying tribute to the movie: “We are thankful to actor Sanjay Dutt who has shown us the unique Gandhian path to register our protest, in the same manner as he chose to fight injustice in the film.” Zowie, folks! Shades (or would that be flickers?) of Baudrillard. (We might note for similarly minded movie-buffs, that wasn’t actually Moses you saw, but Charlton Heston, a spokesman for the National Rifle Association.)
In Bangalore, the movie inspired a similar non-violent action versus a tenant (an interesting inversion of the film plot). A city school has bought neighboring property in order to expand, but thus far the business next door has not vacated the building. Said teacher and Gandhigiri leader Benazeer Baig, “I watched the movie two weeks ago, and the next day I took my students and walked right into (the general manager’s) office. Since he wasn’t there, his colleagues convinced me to return after a week, and assured me that they would shift soon.”
A week later, the company still hadn’t moved. So “for four days, (the teacher) has been conducting classes in his office, and each student has been handing out flowers and cards to him…. ‘I plan to continue this until the company gives in,’ she said.”
Gandhi removing a garland, date and location unknown
These non-violent protests may follow the spirit of Gandhi’s philosophy, but certainly not the letter. In a land of flower rites and garlands, Gandhi was noticeably flower-free, preferring just a walking stick and the loin cloth he adopted in 1921, to identify himself with India’s poor. “Everybody is eager to garland my photos,” he said. “But nobody wants to follow my advice.”
Asked for his opinion of films, the leader responded tersely: “Cinema is a sinful technology.”
We have recently been reading Joseph Campbell on the subject of culture, which he defines at one point as “misinterpretation.” These floral demonstrations across India suggest that’s true, as does the popularity of “Lage Raho Munna Bhai,” to the extent (large!) that it’s being understood as representing Mohandas Gandhi.
“Despite protests the film in general has been well received. Audiences say they are happy for a movie the whole family can watch together and which, without being too preachy, shares Gandhi’s philosophy.” Here are more reactions to the film and Gandhi Lite.
Monday, October 02, 2006
Every Garden Needs a Nose
A proboscis and lips have been lurking at La Fontaine des Médicis.
Water Mobile Venus by Lotta Hannerz
at La Fontaine des Médicis, Sept. 2006
Le Jardin du Luxembourg, Paris
Photo: Julie Ardery
The Parisians, so confidant in their taste, enjoy dolloping old monuments with new ones—the boldest example being I.M. Pei’s pyramid at the Louvre.
We came upon another piece of art a la mode last month at the Medici Fountain inside Le Jardin du Luxembourg. In the green pool, a woman’s gorgeous nose, lips and chin rose up like an island. We heard a few titters but for the most part, visitors, like the mallards, just took it all comfortably in—a cool, amusing retreat from la vie quotidienne.
The piece, we have since learned, is called Water Mobile Venus, a work by Lotta Hannerz of Stockholm, Sweden. Hannerz installed the garden features herself in May, a treat for Luco visitors throughout the summer.
The Medici Fountain, deeply shaded by plane trees, is beautiful in a rather gloomy way. Its permanent sculpture, a 19th century work by Ottin, depicts the giant Polyphemus sneaking up on lovers Acis and Galatea. Ovid tells us that the jealous giant will soon drive the lovely Galatea into the sea and crush her sweetheart to death with a boulder. “Gather ye rosebuds while ye may….”
Hannerz’s sculpture brings welcome light and humor to this spot, her “water mobile” exhaling many sorts of suggestions: of the intrusive Polyphemus, of classical relics (and other Venus parts scattered about the city), of oraficial nature, and the garden’s fragrances. In all seasons, gardens wake up a sleepy nose with narcissus, grass clippings, lavender and fallen leaves.
“There is something compelling about the sound of a fountain in a deserted place. It murmurs about what things do when no one watches them. It is the hearing of an unheard sound.” So wrote Iris Murdoch in Under the Net, a novel where a young man goes looking for a lost love in Paris, principally at this very fountain. The same compelling aspect is true of scent when you come upon it in a garden—a reminder of immensity and richness beyond one’s own capacity for experience.
If you missed the experience of Hannerz’s sculpture at La Fontaine des Médicis (it was removed, we think, September 24) you can still see an exhibition of her new work at Galerie Claudine Papillon through October 14.