‘Art without an appreciative audience is incomplete’

By Shailja Chandra

The year 2020 marks the remarkable journey of 45 years in music and many other arts for Avijit Sarkar. As we celebrate and acknowledge this stunning milestone, Shailja Chandra talks to him to go over the highs and lows of his artistic journey, his views on the role of art and the new footprints that he will be treading in the future

Avijit Sarkar wears many hats—musician, composer, illustrator, cartoonist, writer, poet, puppeteer, philanthropist and a polymath from Sydney, Australia. He was awarded the Australia Day Award 2020 (by the City of Parramatta) for his contributions to Arts and Culture. Avijit has been endorsed by the Australian Performing Rights Association as a music composer. He has written two books so far and his other literary works have been published in many international anthologies. Recently he was awarded the Golden Vase award by TSL (The Significant League—an international group of authors, poets, academics, publishers and critics) for excellence in satire and humour.

Avijit is the director Natraj Academy in Sydney that he established 12 years ago to train and encourage new music talents in our communities. Today all proceeds from his creative pursuits are donated to medical research and charity in Australia. In a career spanning over four decades,

Avijit has left his footprint in every form of creativity in Australia.

Forty-five years is a lifetime in itself, but in art-years, it carries even more value, weight, and significance. How many art-lives have you lived in these 45 years?

A creative person has many lives and I have lived a few too. However, it has been difficult for me to settle down into one of these lives… I keep on moving and re-inventing myself. A 45-year lifetime in arts is definitely a little more than a “normal” life because each art-form that I have indulged in, has taken its pound of flesh from me. Therefore, looking back, I feel that “art-years” can hardly be measured in normal years.

Share with us the longings of your artistic soul that persuades you to continue trialling new forms of art.

I have a major problem…. my mind rarely rests! Moreover, I truly believe that ‘being satisfied’ is the bane of creativity. I am never satisfied with what I create, be in music, literature, theater or painting. Therefore, I keep on looking for more avenues of creativity. My search for the tools of creativity should have stopped years ago, but it seems to be unending.

Sydney has been the birthplace of most of your creations, how do you relate to this soil? What may have your journey looked like in a different country or continent?

Australia is an extraordinary country and I say this after travelling to every corner of the world. This country has given me (and many others) more opportunities in the arts that I could imagine getting in any other country. In any other country, my journey would have been very difficult. I would still have pulled through for quite some years but living through 45 years of arts, would have been extremely hard. It would not have been the same. I am thankful for this country where hard work does get you opportunities and success.

On a day to day basis, what is your connection with art in general and in particular with music (the art closest to your heart I believe)?

I have now come to a phase in life where I am able to create a lot of stuff in my mind. Whether I am composing music, designing the structure of a cartoon or working on a plot for a story, most of it is done before I touch my keyboard, my brush or my pen. In that sense, I am constantly in touch with various art forms every single day. However, I do dissociate myself with the arts—specifically when I am travelling overseas. As far as music goes, after each concert, I do not touch music or sing for at least two days.

In the current times of rampant fear, hate and war-mongering, what role, in your view, should art play?

Every form of art is a language of peace, love, and compassion. It is also probably one of the most potent forces that can be deployed against the current atmosphere of fear and hate across the world. Artists have a big role to play and should use their skills to achieve this end. As for me, I make use of my paintings, cartoons, stories, poems and essays to do this. My cartoons tell the truth under the guise of humour while my paintings sometimes emit a sense of fear and foreboding about the events across the world and the future, as do my stories and poems. I am sure that with some of my creations, I do put many people (of a particular type) on notice!

In these years, how has art shaped you?

Art has allowed me to understand and reach out to various strata of society and humanity. In my young days when the going was extremely tough on the financial front, I had promised myself to give back to society if I ever had the resources. I have also learned all forms of art under very difficult circumstances. Today, my creativity has given me the means to give back to society. Most of the profits raised from my creative ventures, go to medical research and other charitable causes in Australia. I have always believed in Maya Angelou’s statement “When you learn, teach. When you get, give.” In fact, one of the reasons that I established Natraj Academy was to provide an easy-to-afford platform for people interested in the performing and the fine arts. Art has shaped me to be more compassionate, more generous and above all, it has made me very humble. Yes—art has definitely created a much better version of me.

In your 45 years’ work in the many forms of art, what trends have you seen in arts that is truly heartening and troubling?

Probably one of the most heartening trends that I have seen in the arts is the happiness that it brings to the artist on the completion of a creative process. Art without an appreciative audience is always incomplete. On the personal front, that has been most heartening. However, the trend that has troubled me since my young days is the prevalence of mental illnesses among creatives—depression, anxiety, suicidal tendencies. Statistically, the high occurrences of these things among creative minds is truly phenomenal.

I think social media is an extraordinary phenomenon in the modern era. If used judiciously, it can be one of the most powerful tools for marketing, social interaction, business and personal endeavours. I believe that it is imperative to adopt technology, else the world will leave you behind. I use technology to its maximum benefit in everything that I indulge in—music, art, literature. It has made my life easy and, with the help of technology, I have been able to create things that I could only dream of in the past.

Who inspires you?

I have often said and written that without patronage, art will be crippled. I have been constantly inspired by my wife Palu who has urged me to keep on creating without boundaries. Without her patronage, I would truly have been a lost soul. My daughter Annie, on the other hand, has been an inspiration to me in other ways. She inspires me because she encourages me under a strict eye for criticism. She makes me realise that art without criticism becomes mundane. Other than them, I always inspired by artistically gifted souls who are also set an example in humility.

If you were to pick the top three highlights of your journey, what would they be?

The first highlight was, of course, the day when I was picked up by a producer (while in my teens) to sing professionally and in the process, become a professional musician. When I moved to Australia, I had no inkling about the future of my music. I had all but given up on music. The second memorable moment was, therefore, the one when I was invited to sing here for the first time. That moment set the foundation for the next 30 years. My final moment of glory was when the City of Parramatta honoured me this year, with the Australia Day award for my contributions to arts and culture.

The one thing I would go back and change is my participation in the academic field. I have had a fairly good academic career, having completed my Masters in pure mathematics. My ambition to complete my Ph.D. in time-space theory was cut short due to financial hardships. I only wish that I could go back and change all that so that I could have completed my doctorate in mathematics.

Well, you can still finish that Ph.D., but that will take you away from your creative projects—talking about that, tell us about your upcoming projects?

I have a few projects in the pipeline. First of all, I want to produce my short plays here in Sydney—in an innovative manner, moving away from traditional styles. The other project is to have an exhibition of my paintings and other creations and possibly use this occasion to bring painting, music and literature under one roof. There is another one in the offing, where I intend to record some of my original compositions with some emerging voices in Sydney. Finally, this year, I definitely have to do to a celebratory concert for my 45 years on stage!

What advice would you give to aspiring artists?

The first thing that I will say to all aspiring artists—musicians, singers, writers, poets, actors—is that the business of arts and entertainment is arguably one of the most difficult ones. Every curtain-drop could be your last. If one is doing it for money, then be very careful. The success rate in the arts and music industry is arguably the lowest among any other profession. However, having said that, I also need to remind all artists that there is one thing that forms the very foundation of creativity. And that is hard work. Aspiring artists need to work hard, very hard every single day during their initial years. They also need to remember that there is virtually no end to the learning process. Like any other subject where you want to succeed, consider yourself to be a student till your last breath.

Dr Shailja Chandra is an architect, a sustainability consultant and an educator—passionate about environment and sustainability. She is a radio commentator at Voice of India, FM89.7. Through the Indian radio segment, Voice of India—Monika Geetmala, Shailja actively engages with the Indian-Australian community on various matters relevant to India and Australia, including issues of social, environmental, cultural and political importance, and on human nature, and life in general. Shailja is also a writer—she is currently finalising her first book which delves into the poetic works of Gulzar, one of the most eminent and celebrated poets of India.

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