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Rio Olympics 2016: Art in the time of the Games

Away from the glamour and glitz of the Games, art has taken its own form in Brazil and in India.

Feature 15 Aug 2016, 09:24 IST
Rio Village
Rio 2016 has not been the best edition of the Olympics so far

Not everything about the Olympics has been a walk in the park. From economic difficulties to political unrest, the city of Rio has seen it all. Despite numerous economic experts around the world predicting massive losses to Brazil's economy, the Games took place as planned.

Heartbreaking images have since emerged about the ground reality of the impoverished city where survival itself is a struggle.

Under the shadow and the grandeur of the Olympics Village, slums and areas of extreme destitution thrive. Crime rates in the city are high. The ever looming threat of the Zika outbreak is constantly on everyone's mind. While the games keep taking place and athletes achieve glory for their respective countries, the people indigenous to Brazil have no role to play in the extravagance that is the Rio Olympics.

Given the conditions under which the Games were organised, it might suffice to say that the city of Rio has done a commendable job, fighting extreme corruption on one hand and severe health problems on the other, to make sure this historic tournament is on track.

Throughout history, troubling times have always given rise to art. Art is shown to be a bright spot to appear in what is otherwise a bleak state of affairs. For any country, organising a major tournament on this grand a scale, turmoil and controversy are inevitable.

Hailing from Brazil's largest city, Sao Paolo, graffiti artist Eduardo Kobra has been making his mark in the Games. The XXXI Olympiad, as Rio 2016 is officially called, is set to witness a Guinness World Record attempt; the record of painting the largest mural by a single man.

A huge wall in Rio's previously run-down and poorly maintained port area, is all set to witness history. Etnias (Ethnicities) as it has been titled features five indigenous faces from the distinct nations of the five continents.

Eduardo Kobra
Eduardo Kobra’s wall mural spreads the spirit of brotherhood among nations

“We’re living through a very confusing time with a lot of conflict. I wanted to show that everyone is united, we are all connected,” said Kobra on his masterpiece.

In India, there is no dearth of support for the country’s Rio contingent

Back in India, a country where art often suffers loss due to the ambiguous laws of censorship, artists have come out in support of the country's Olympic contingent amidst various scandals of doping and cases of corruption and mistreatment of the athletes. Sand artist, Rahul Arya has come up with a 100-second video on how significant the Olympics are in the culture of Indian sports.

The video is a live sand performance piece with background commentary that addresses several poignant issues in the country right now. While athletes are lauded when they perform well and their respective coaches receive massive recognition on a global stage, the contribution of the family is always sidelined and often forgotten. If acknowledged, it is done so as an afterthought.

Rahul Arya's performance art looks to provide a voice to this very forgotten aspect of an athlete's life.

The cumulatively changing sand figurines showcase athletes, both male and female, in every sport that India has participated in at the Olympics. The narrative is voiced by a maternal character who looks to encourage her child as he or she strives tirelessly towards excellence.

While great determination and hard work are required of the player and his mentor, a mother does all she can to make life easier for her child in whatever way she can. She encourages, teaches and gives valuable, life-affirming lessons to ensure one does not give up on one's dreams after each failure. This 100-second video lauds this very maternal spirit that silently guides the pathbreakers of Indian sports.

Another important issue that Arya addresses is the prevalence of patriarchy in the conservative pockets of the country, the areas that mostly produce the best sportspeople.

Looking at the example of Dipa Karmakar, her long-time coach and mentor, was quoted addressing these exact problems. Bishehwar Nandi recalled a time when a young Dipa first started training under him at the age of 6. Nandi and Dipa's family came across severe criticism from the close-knit community in Agartala that Dipa was a part of.

It seems it was deemed inappropriate that a young girl should spend that amount of time with a man to practice a sport which, at that time, had no future in India. The now 23-year old gymnast has already created Olympic history by becoming the first female gymnast to qualify for a final round in that big a scale and finishing fourth after competing with the very best. Persistence, ultimately, does pay off.

Rahul Arya's work salutes the athletes, the legacy of the games and the silent support of the family back home all in under two minutes. In a country where people playing marginalised sports need to work extra hard to even get noticed, any form of encouragement from any quarter will surely be appreciated.

The country is in eternal turmoil, both financially and politically. The Olympics are a chance to shine and this is the reason why we should unconditionally support the heroes at Rio.

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