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Debashish Bezbaruah
Date of Publish: 2016-10-22

War and peace


Ignorant Armies Clash by Night, the title of a work of art, echoes the last line from a famous poem Dover Beach by 19th-century English poet Matthew Arnold. Although there have been various interpretations, the metaphor in this very line is unmistakeable: the darkness of ignorance leads people to fight against each other, only to get killed by their own kind. It speaks of the futility of war and the threat they pose to humanity.

This is also the theme of the work in question, which finds a place in the Majdanek Museum, Poland, among its exclusive art collections. The artist is none other than our very own, Noni Borpuzari.

The Majdanek Museum, located to the southeast of the Polish city of Lublin, has a dark history behind it. During the German occupation of Poland during World War II, Majdanek was made a Nazi concentration and extermination camp, where cruelty against humanity reached its nadir. It was an epitome of untold suffering of over 5,00,000 prisoners of war drawn from over 28 countries, mostly Jews and Soviets, and massacre of 3,60,000 of them, who would either be gunned down or be stashed into a gas chamber where they would suffocate to death. Others starved to death, many died of disease and torture. The smoke billowing from the chimneys of the Majdanek crematoria reminded tens of thousands of surviving prisoners what the future held for them.

Their ordeal ended when the Soviet Red Army liberated Majdanek on July 23, 1944, days after the Nazis had already evacuated the camp. By autumn of that year, in what constitutes one of the first attempts to document the Nazi war crimes in eastern Europe, a special Polish-Soviet commission decided to research the Hitlerite crimes against humanity and the camp site was preserved as a museum. Three years later, by a decree of the Polish Parliament, it became a monument of martyrology and in 1965, became the National Museum of Poland.

Thus, from being a death factory of monstrous dimensions, Majdanek became a symbol of struggle and martyrdom, of unity and brotherhood.

At this very place, for the last several decades, the museum has been organising an art event every three years, where artists from all over the globe gather and take part in creative activities. The museum collects contemporary art on war and martyrdom themes through organisation of international art exhibitions and keeps them as its assets. The art collections from time to time are taken to different parts of the world for display. While reminding people of the scale of cruelty during the Holocaust, the collections also point to the present-day relevance, alluding to the contemporary tensions like terrorism, xenophobia, hatred, environmental destruction and the spectre of nuclear conflicts through works of art.

Art does not have a magic wand to solve social, political or environmental problems. Art does however illuminate the innermost recesses of human soul. The triennial event organised by Majdanek Museum, through art, also brings to the fore Man’s sanest side that proves why Man can still claim to be human. Thus, it constitutes a homage to all those who were unfortunate victims of the most gruesome episode of human history. It’s an expression of solidarity with those who were refused the right to life, reaffirming the highest values of humanity – respect for life and honourable existence – and the fact that it is goodness that ultimately prevails and overcomes the evil.

Thoughtfully titled, Borpuzari’s work, too, speaks of the plight of humanity in an oppressive world. Its uncomplicated composition contains a human face imprisoned behind bars, with large, expressive eyes, the upper part of which has a reddish tinge, and the lower part shades of blue-grey. With the colours representing fear and sorrow, violence and despondency, the work, an etching, conforms to what the museum epitomises and the very spirit that lies behind its distinguished collection.

The presence of a part of Borpuzari’s oeuvre among the permanent collections (registered number PMM-1-2-325) of this historic museum does not merely constitute another feather to the artist’s cap. The symbolism and significance attached to the museum makes it a matter of pride for the entire cultural world of Assam.

Debashish Bezbaruah

( Debashish Bezbaruah is a Guwahati-based art critic, painter and translator )


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