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Mayor sings the blues

Paromita VohraA fountain has caused a bit of a splash in the town of Hayange, in northern France. France has a one per cent allocation for art programme since 1951 wherein one-hundredth of the public construction budget of the country goes towards commissioning or acquiring public art projects. Under this project the municipality of Hayange had commissioned a stonework sculpture by an artist called Alain Mila, which makes up the fountain. Last week the town’s new mayor, Englemann decided, without consulting the artist, that the sculpture should be re-painted in a colour he liked, which in this case was blue.

Of course, there are many shades of blue in the world. And, as one newspaper reported, this particular shade of blue, was “suspiciously close to the logo of the National Front, a far-right party in France.” No prizes for guessing, the esteemed mayor is a member of the party in question. Also no prizes for guessing that the sculpture had been commissioned by his predecessor who belonged to the Socialist Party.

A stonework sculpture
A stonework sculpture by artist Alain Mila in Hayange, in northern France. Pic/AFP

In a country (lucky people) that seems to take art seriously, this caused some amount of consternation. It violates every principle of artistic respect, ethics and actually, plain common sense. For his part Mayor Englemann couldn’t see the problem. “We wanted to lighten up the city centre,” he said. “Everybody thinks [Mila’s] fountain is horrible. If he wants to buy it back, we are happy to sell it to him, and we will remove the blue.”

Now, the mayor may be right, that a lot of people hate the fountain. But he is almost definitely wrong when he says that “everybody” hates the fountain because he can’t know this unless he speaks to everybody. But I wonder if he could bear that.

Comparing before and after pictures of the fountain, my feeling was: pre-National Front blue, the fountain was not to my taste, but I could see that it conformed to certain aesthetic principles that someone else would like. As for the blue mood it found itself in: it looked like an Indian government building. Sorry no prizes for guessing why either.

This Mayor has behaved with intriguing petulance. So great is his desire to violate and stamp out something outside his world view, to paint it the colour representing his ideology, as dogs piss to mark their territory — that it has not occurred to him that actually he has the power to simply commission another sculpture more to his taste. A better, beautiful one, since he has opinions on beauty. But does he have opinions on beauty or only a desire to declare his opponent’s idea of beauty, ugly?

When political parties score points like this, it is clear that they are more interested in destroying proof of the other’s existence, stamping out all dissent and ensuring that every thing in the culture conforms to their personal ideological taste and individual cosmology. For the people, this political neurosis only means that things are going to get ugly. You only have to look at that sculpture painted blue to know what I mean.

It is rare for everyone to universally like one piece of work. The diversity of art and scholarship in any society is proof of that society’s emotional health. Heterogeneity shows we are confident, not destabilised by a different viewpoint or taste. Homogeneity of art, culture and scholarship mean we are so blinded by insecurity, and constantly want everything to confirm our prejudices, sing our praises. Beauty lies in the eye of the beholder and there are as many beauties as there are eyes. Without that, we are as good as blind.

Paromita Vohra is an award-winning Mumbai-based filmmaker, writer and curator working with fiction and non-fiction. Reach her at www.parodevi.com.

The views expressed in this column are the individual’s and don’t represent those of the paper.

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