Ronojoy Dam, Creative Director at VICE, on his parents’ portraits of Rabindranath Tagore and Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose
GB Tell me why you chose these pictures.
RD This is a pair of portraits on the wall of my parents’ living room in east London. They are of two prominent Bengali figures, the poet Rabindranath Tagore and the Indian revolutionary Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose. They remind me of who I am and where I’m from: of family, of home, of history, of belief. And more so, of the idea of what these mean. I think an idea can be as beautiful as something you can hold. Both these portraits are second-hand, and were separately given to my parents in trust and goodwill in search of a new home. They gave them the prize position in the house. There’s something beautiful in giving something a second chance, a second life.
GB Do you think you’d still find them beautiful if you knew nothing about who they were?
RD Yes, because I think there is an honour, an honesty and a humility to them. They are very simple and true. And there’s real beauty in that. What they stand for makes them even more so.
GB Does beauty usually involve an intellectual element for you?
RD No. I find no difference between a line of poetry, a chord or a face. The senses aren’t intellectual. What you feel isn’t intellectual. But there can be great beauty in giving thought to something, giving it context and removing a simple materialism.
GB George Orwell said that at 50, every man has the face he deserves. Is there any truth in this?
RD George Orwell also wrote, “What can the England of 1940 have in common with the England of 1840? But then, what have you in common with the child of five whose photograph your mother keeps on the mantelpiece? Nothing, except you happen to be the same person.” Both these portraits are towards the end of their respective lives. Tagore lived nearly twice as long as Netaji. However, both possess faces in these pictures that are unassuming of the accomplishments and lives that they led. I think that at 50, every man has the soul he deserves.
GB They were both important leaders – but very different in personality, with one being a politician advocating the use of force against the British – and one being a great poet and songwriter. Does this reflect two sides of your own character in any way
RD They have been called labels such as ‘mystic’, ‘terrorist’, ‘leader’ and ‘teacher’. Both were vehemently proud of their Bengali roots yet held strongly secular ideals, and Bose’s beliefs could be seen as a precursor to Malcolm X’s ‘By any means necessary’ speech. There is definitely something in the fragmented nature and the contrast between what the two share and what divides them that I relate to. That war and peace can sit side by side. And that in the end there are things that are greater than flesh and blood.
GB What makes something worthy of the word Beauty to you?
RD If it makes you feel alive. And helps you “rage, rage against the dying of the light.”