10 December 2005

Art and suburbia

“Ah, Suburbia. Reviled and idealized. Strived for and loathed. Ridiculed and praised. Suburbia is many things to many people and has become an icon of modern living. Whether it is cookie cutter homes or ‘cook-outs’ in the summer, bikes on the lawn or the ‘Stepford Wives’. Whether you find the modern-day ‘Utopia’ serious, amusing or just plain absurd, turn your eye towards Suburbia, its landscapes and inhabitants, and show us what you see.”
[Prospectus: EBSQ Self Representing Artists’ show ‘Suburbia’]

I’m a product of the suburbia. Most of my life I’ve lived in the suburbs – that peripheral place that is frowned upon by the inner city population. This is particularly true of Mumbai, where the inner city is confined to downtown ‘South Mumbai’. I don’t mind this suburban segregation or nomenclature. It, kind of, describes who I am. You see, traditionally, suburbs were those clusters of people who lived outside the fortified city walls, away from the main centres of commerce and the high-life. Today, this is still true. What I find most interesting about suburbia is not its alternative city-like communities and its commerce, but the fact that it represents an entirely unique individualistic culture of people and their aspirations.

Having lived in several suburbs of cities in India and a few of them abroad, I had a longing to find out what suburbia really meant. This culture of suburbia, these aspirations of the people living there, are they unique to a specific city or region of the world? Or, is there something universal in the concept of suburbia?

When I turned to Australia (where I’ve spent several years of my childhood), a country known for its suburban culture, its suburban aesthetic, I found an interesting interpretation from an artist’s point of view. Howard Arkley (1951–1999), who exploded the banality of suburbia in his hallucinatory airbrushed paintings, once said in a 1994 interview to Leo Edelstein:

“Because we’re actually – you know, we’re talking about the international global village, everyone’s the same, but when it actually starts to appear, that you could be here and you could be in California and this street could be anywhere in the world, then people have a problem – they want this uniqueness, they want this special quality, but the thing is if they looked harder they would actually find that it is unique… It’s unique in the same way that a tree’s a tree and dirt’s dirt, but for the particular artist who can perceive something special, then it becomes something else. Well, everything out there is exactly the same – a road’s a road and a paling fence is a paling fence but...”

But, does this answer my questions? Maybe yes. Let me think this over.

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