The fifty-fifth cup of nun chai

24.06.11

“You’re politicising me through this cup of tea.” Despite agreeing to participate in advance Anthony was provocative and uncomfortable throughout our conversation, “These cups of tea carry with them a political story I don’t really want to be a part of.” Anthony never asked anything about Kashmir. Each time I tried to bring Kashmir to the centre of our conversation, I could feel him limiting the information he took in. He knew the basic premise of our meeting, but deflected any opportunity that arose to know more. With an almost defiant level of commitment he warned, “You will not receive an emotional response from me.”

Anthony is an artist and he has also taught art. He was not interested in speaking about Kashmir, but rather in questioning how Cups of nun chai was indeed ‘Art’ at all. I found this topic quite uninteresting. “There is a tension here, between the politics and the art of what you are trying to do. They don’t fit together easily.” I didn’t agree. For me there was no discernible distinction between politics and art, although much of modernity’s energy has been spent trying to separate the two. The tension Anthony spoke of formed around his own subjectivity, and mine around my own.

Despite my best attempts to broaden the discussion, Anthony continually returned to the question of the aesthetic form. I wondered if this was because it was a topic Anthony felt comfortable with. He asked, “What is your definition of art? Where are the parameters of what art is and is not?” Anthony went on to describe what he thought made for good and bad art, while I gently resisted his push to define. I tried to explain that I am not interested in ‘artworks’ as objects or things, but in the idea of how ‘art-works’ in the social sphere. Definitions are slippery. They arise through subjectivities that are as diverse as they are fleeting. Art is like this too, unstable and in motion at its best.

“To me this process of having tea in the name of art for the loss of life in a place I don’t know much about, is more interesting than the event it is rooted in.” I wondered if this was because the ‘event’ for Anthony was distant, abstract, something unknown. “Have you read The Postcolonial Gaze by Edward Said? I can’t move beyond a kind of shallow western empathy. I won’t move beyond it.” It was this final comment from Anthony that made me feel his respect for Kashmir came in the unusual shape of his refusal. It lay in being aware of the limits of his own capacity to know or understand—an inability to move beyond the confines of his own experience as a white western male.

Finally Anthony asked, “Why Kashmir?”

And I responded, “Why not Kashmir?”

 

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