OUTREACH Vol. III No. 1 April – June 1995

One of the major academic programmes of the Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA) relates to exploring artistic manifestations emanating from man’s primary sense perceptions. The programmes of Adi Drsya (primeval sight) and Adi Sravya (primeval sound) have initiated several projects in the visual and performing arts.

Rock art forms a crucial component of the Adi Drsya programme, but Adi Drsya is not equal to prehistoric rock art. The IGNCA conceptual plan aims to open the doors to the realization that rock art is pure and absolute and hence capable of dispensing great experience beyond its original culture and time.

Any conceptual plan is always provisional in the sense that it is only a hypothesis to be tested. A good theory of rock art is a model gallery devised by a meaningful correlation between the construction of concepts and the interpretation of designs. While a new theory is always an extension of the previous one, its crucial confirmation lies in the disapproval of the method that survives. If the existing method is found inconsistent with the concept, it has to be abandoned or modified. The IGNCA rock art research programme will seek to test this generality.

The first and the foremost task of the IGNCA Rock Art Gallery is to raise a data bank and to provide an infrastructural facilities. The seven steps so far taken and to be taken in this regard are: Compilation of cross-cultural bibliographical information on rock art within and outside India; Collection of water-colour reproductions, photographs, slides and other visual texts on rock art; Field studies leading to the discovery of new rock art sites in India; Computerization of visual and textual data, allowing efficient storage and retrieval possibilities and high resolution (such as CD-Rom or video-discs); Work station complete with equipment of all potential users and facility for interactive, user-friendly programme for cross-cultural data-scan and study; Developing an expert system through in-house research as an aid for the users carrying out higher studies; and Network with other centres of display and research work on rock art. Cultural institutions with primary data on rock art will be provided a network.

As rock art is a relatively young discipline, various avenues of growth are being explored and its research is being carried out in a universal context. Studies have been conducted in the Kumaon Hills in Central Himalaya, Jhiri in Central India, and Kerala in South India. A major field project has been launched, within the Indo-French CEP, in collaboration with Michael Lorblanchet.

Under the aegis of UNESCO, a workshop on “Development and application of expert systems in lifestyle studies” was organized in 1991. The focal point was ES developed jointly by a subject specialist of rock art and a knowledge engineer, with a view to exploring the impact and applicability of the AI techniques to cross-cultural studies.

With UNESCO’s support a global conference on rock art was held in 1993, where scholars from sixteen countries had gathered to present their findings. The first of its kind in Asia, this conference held nine sessions, thematically organized : understanding rock art in a universal frame; country report; cross-cultural comparison; environment, management, conservation and documentation; classification, chronology and standardization; consideration of context;form, content and interpretation; artificial intelligence and rock art research; and the world gallery of rock art.

Following the Global Conference, the exhibition Mrga (Dear: Early Images) was designed in 1993 in collaboration with Angelo Fossati, an Italian specialist in rock art. The exhibition focused on the comprehension of Nature and life through line – and – colour in time and space. It revealed the continuity of the deer motif in Indian and European rock art tradition.

Rock art, in one sense, is an orphan. Those who produced it are no longer alive to defend their works or world view. But there are cultures such as India where the primal vision persists, and there are also places such as Australia and Africa where rock art is still a living pursuit. These traditions may give a clue to the original datum of rock art, as also its meaning and purpose.

Explanation in rock art studies is confined, largely, to innatism or essentialism (“art for art’s sake”) and functionalism. Radical or Marxist anthropologists may draw upon the socio-economic levels of hunter-gatherer societies. There is an increasing wealth of evidence concerning interdependence between infrastructure and superstructure. More often than not, the ideological superstructure remains intact while the economic infrastructure is irreversably altered.

It is not my intention to point out the inadequacies of these theoretical positions. But I wish to emphasize that cultural conception of time and history is diverse. In some cultures, such as China and Indonesia, there is no formal codification of temporal dimensions – past, present, future – in a system of verbal tenses. The Indian conception of time is described as the interiorization and transcending of time. In everyday language the word for past and future is the same (i.e. Kala), by which one makes sense of an experience of the cyclical order of time (Kåla). This shows that the division between prehistory and history, past, present and future, is opaque. Considering the diversity of form and the manifold concept of time there is no good reason to restrict the understanding of rock art in terms of linear time, marking it out by fixed points of time in history. The same view can be taken with regard to assumptions and explanations in art.

The fundamental approach of the IGNCA in all its work is multi-disciplinary, multi-dimensional, multi-directional, multi-layering, and multi-meaning within the systemic cultural whole. As Kapila Vatsyayan, in one of her recent writings has pointed out: “The interpenetration of levels of meaning within a concept and between concepts will have the fineness of a sharp needle and the fludity of a drop of water or oil on an absorbent surface. Thus the process of threading the needle and the expansion of the point, the drop, the bindu”. The essence of many if not all domain of rock art can be expressed in terms of such cultural interpretation of a symbolic system.

Baidyanath Saraswati


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