“So Many Busts”: The Dilemmas of Being Turned into Statue


Using a material culture approach, and building upon a beautiful work created by Mumbai-based artist Atul Dodiya in 2011, I reflect on the overwhelming penchant for the creation of statues of Gandhi, the most among India’s political leaders to be so “honored.” And this is the case not just in India but also across the world where many a statue has been installed as the official gift of the Government of India.  It is worth reflecting on this phenomenon at a time when across the world, as a result of varying projects for critically reckoning with difficult inherited pasts, statues of (big) men are being defaced, hauled away, or destroyed, as the heroic stories they emblematize come apart as well.  How might Gandhi respond to such developments, especially since his statues are themselves increasingly vulnerable to such reckonings? On the one hand, as the putative father of the Indian nation, his image – protected officially by various laws on the books such as the Emblems and Names (Prevention of Improper Use) Act, 1950 – is ubiquitous to the point of being banal.  On the other, rival father-figures have frequently threatened his hold on the Indian imagination, including and especially the Dalit social justice leader B. R. Ambedkar whose statues as well offer a critical counterpoint for action and reflection to Gandhi’s.   Caught between the politics of devotion and the ethics of dissent, the Gandhi statue epitomizes in our time the challenge of being and belonging in a complex multi-layered nation such as India that this presentation seeks to explore.

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