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Art & Culture: An Identity Card Of A Nation

The turn of the 20th and the 21st century is a very interesting period for humankind. On the one hand, there is a growing internationalist tendency which makes us look for common values and universal culture. On the other hand, the centrifugal tendencies lead to the revival of new forms of nationalism and national identity. Integrative tendencies are an unquestioned fact of every aspect of societal life. In this case, Art & Culture make an appearance as the centrifugal tendency and national identity.

Culture is a set of shared attitudes, values, goals and practices that define a group of people, such as the people of a particular region. Culture includes elements that characterise a particular peoples’ way of life. Present-day Anthropologists use the term to refer to the universal human capacity to classify experiences and to encode and communicate them symbolically. This may be considered as the integral element to get a visual or intangible identity of a community or a particular nation like India.

Indian flag
Art is often used as a vehicle for national identity.

The word culture is derived from the Latin root cultura or cultus meaning to “inhabit, cultivate, or “honour. According to the Merriam Webster Dictionary, “Culture is a way of thinking, behaving, or working that exists in a place or organisation.” In general, culture refers to human activity; different definitions of culture reflect different theories for understanding or criteria for valuing human activity. 

Art is the vast subdivision of culture composed of many creative endeavours and disciplines. The arts encompass visual arts, literary arts and the performing arts. It influences society by changing opinions, instilling values and translating experiences across space and time. 

Research has shown that Art affects the fundamental sense of self. Art in this sense is communication; it allows people from different cultures and different times to communicate with each other via images, sounds and stories. It is often used as a vehicle for national identity. It can give voice to the politically or socially disenfranchised. A song, film or novel can rouse emotions in those who encounter it, inspiring them to revive the sense of change and, in a broader side, it calls for unity and ultimately leads to the sense of nationalism.

In many cases, it is often considered that nationalism, in general, comes into existence in the aesthetic consciousness. It calls for the revival of the inherited national heritage which is forgotten or ditched somewhere between events or time. 

Art is essentially grounded speculations upon an emotional/corporeal community or nation. In most cases, nationalist sentiment remains within the realm of self-consciousness because nationalism is ultimately a feeling of common identity not based entirely upon rational or intellectual reasoning. 

Art is an aptly suited medium to describe this aesthetic consciousness of nationalism. As a result, the tangible object such as the bordered nation-state or a work of art plays a central role in establishing a national identity and produces a tangible expression of the intangible community or nationalist sentiment. In other words, artistic representation and visual culture facilitate the creation of a sense of community and are aptly suited to describe and interpret nationalist sentiment within the nation.

However, in today’s world, it’s often considered that with the globalisation and the liberalisation processes, the inherited culture of a nation is getting diminished or not given utmost focus upon. The new generation isn’t accepting the inherited culture of a community or a nation as their national identity or a token of their existence as a community. However, it somehow remains as a cosmopolitan element tying up the roots of the community with the newer generation, as a medium of communication. 

It’s often seen in the forms of songs, films, plays and different indigenous instruments. However, these too have fallen into the cycle of modernisation to an extent and ultimately lose its significance as the identity of a nation or community. Though the “folklore” reduces its significance, with the digital platforms, these are reviving and promoting innovatively to give a sense of the roots of one’s culture to the newer generations.

unity india
With the inclusion of various communities into the mainstream and with the synthesis of the foreign and indigenous elements, our nation took a secular form.

In the book Social Identity Theory, it’s said that people determine their identity based on who they are not and what makes them different from others. In the usual circumstances, in this capacity, they rely on stereotypes about their community and that of others. To achieve this positive identity, groups will tend to compare themselves positively with contrasting out-groups. In this case, inherited Art & Culture contains the core element with which people can relate to and find dear to them. It helps them to make an identity of their own, based on the common cultural values and aesthetics. 

When we look for the example of Poland during WWII, though it was dominated by the Nazis, it didn’t leave its national identity as Polish rather tried to revive it after getting freedom. Same happened to the countries which were under the vicious colonisation process.

As a case study, we can look upon the case of India, where Art & Culture truly defines its values and ideals that are imbibing in its very essence. For instance, earlier, Hindu temples, customs and rituals displayed its age-old traditions and ideals upon which the nation was known. Later, the inclusions of various communities into the mainstream and with the synthesis of the foreign and indigenous elements, it took a secular form. And, now all these make the very identity of India as a secular nation in both cultural and national identity.

By examining the development of artistic discourse in the definition of the intangible national community of India, the particularity of the Indian people is taken into account, producing a truer image of India as a nation. Because art and visual culture, in general, indicate a collective identity and create an imagined community, the reactions of Indian artists to the introduction of Western aesthetic ideals during the colonial period and into the present create an artistic discourse which mirrors the overall political situation of the country. 

The nature and evolution of the artistic contact between national and foreign influences in India mirror the efforts of the administrative state in establishing a sense of nationalism among the individual citizens of the country.

Art not only creates unity among individuals but also tangibly indicates an intangible community. In Hegelian philosophy, art is the idea as shaped forward into reality and as having advanced to immediate unity and correspondence with this reality. In Hegel’s view, art realises historical processes and ideas in a tangible form.

By viewing art as a tangible indicator of the larger historical process, the history of a nation is interpreted through the creative process that entails an individual reaction to historical events. Hence, nationalism is ultimately a feeling of common identity not based entirely upon rational or intellectual reasoning, art is an aptly suited medium to describe this aesthetic consciousness of nationalism. 

As a result, the tangible object such as the bordered nation-state or a work of art plays a central role in establishing a national identity. It produces a tangible expression of the intangible community or nationalist sentiment.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform Change.org, demanding that the Government of Assam install
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