In an increasingly connected world, which interacts on the internet, new ways of experiencing fine art are turning out to be through images with funny captions.
The internet is an interesting space, where knowledge and patterns of learning are continuously being redefined. In terms of information accessibility, there is a large target audience. Social media, particularly, plays an important role, and in India, pages such as Mad Mughal Memes, on Facebook, are bringing Mughal art and history to the masses, with a twist. With the outreach that social media offers, classical art in India and across the world is transforming with times.
Memes, in the world of the internet, can be defined as an image, video or a piece of text, typically humorous in nature, that is copied and spread rapidly by internet users, often with slight variations. Art from various eras has become an important subject of memes, with classical, medieval and older art forms catching the fancy of many. This trend is being observed internationally, as it is in India. An Indian student, who visited the Vatican museum when she was studying in Europe, recalled, “All I could do while looking at the paintings was think of how they belong in Classical Art Memes (a viral page on Facebook that regularly features western classical, renaissance and other paintings as memes)!” She added, “However, interestingly enough, I could differentiate between certain styles and was aware of so much of the European history owing to some of the memes on the page.”
Mad Mughal Memes, a page primarily from India, posts Mughal-themed memes and connect the modern day, internet savvy individuals with art that showcases history. The Mughal Empire lasted close to three centuries in India and was a significant period of history for the subcontinent. The page posts Mughal paintings with peppy lines and catchy captions, describing the history behind those represented, occasionally with explanations of their relevance as well as stills from movies made on Mughal history apart from a few graphics. Tracing the development of the page after the increasing popularity of historical alliteration meme pages, starting with the Stern Saxon Memes page, admin Babur, who is a teacher by profession, stated, “The admin known as Akbar started the page and got me onboard. The rest were fans who submitted memes regularly. So they became admins too.”
Admin Akbar, who is a researcher at a hospital, stated, “I’m sure many of us have memories of visiting museums or browsing history books as kids and snickering at the way some figures were depicted. I’m sure that we have all made hugely inappropriate jokes about them as well. The text just helps put these jokes into the picture.” He also added his contempt for fine art being limited, which changes with the internet. Admin Birbal, who is about to complete his Masters course in History, explained, “We’re a group of six or seven people from different parts of the world. I actually hope that these memes help people appreciate historical art better. Maybe, they’ll see them in a museum someday, and think, “I saw this in a meme once!” It makes the connection all the more real.”
Art as a traditional space
Amidst growing sensitivity in India, even speaking of historical occurrences during the times of the Mughal rulers has become a taboo. As art can serve as the mirror of a society, some of the artworks chosen by the Mad Mughal Memes absurdly leads to sentiments getting hurt. Admin Akbar shared, “Me and Birbal face such people regularly. For example, we joke about the Rajputs or the Marathas, because they were our (the Mughal dynasty’s) rivals! And bang! There goes someone’s religious sentiment.”
Fine art and specifically that made in earlier times has found a limited and exclusive audience, often limiting its reach. Since the internet and social media in particular has helped drastically in reducing this barrier of access, purists sometimes seem to be offended. Many either don’t view memes as a fun way to come across art, or at extremes, are offended at the sensibility it seems to represent, that art is not always a serious affair.