Frame of mind: How art can alter the fabric of society

  • Ruchika Kher, Hindustan Times, Mumbai
  • Updated: Jul 18, 2015 19:38 IST
Reena Saini Kallat is an artist whose practice spans painting, photography, video, sculpture and installation. (Photo: Getty Images)

The global interest in art from the subcontinent saw a surge about 10 to 12 years ago with several exhibitions being organised at institutions in Europe, USA and Asia. It has taken decades of work by several artists from the past generations to help raise the collective energy, allowing an entire generation to bloom under its canopy. The coming of age of this generation, in a way, overlapped the greater visibility and interest in art from the subcontinent.

Just as it is customary to find the work of key Indian writers in bookstores all over the world, works by several Indian artists are also visible in museums and institutions around the world today. Several artists from India have had significant museum solos, and are part of important biennales, but the widest circulation has happened via the proliferation of group shows of contemporary Indian art.

An installation titled Measurement From Evaporating Oceans, at Chemould Prescott Road.

One of the effects of this global interest was a renewed alertness towards improving exhibition standards on home turf. If one looks at the mid-2000s, more attention was given to exhibition infrastructure, publishing, writing and archiving historic material. Private galleries in Mumbai, for instance, had also begun moving to better spaces, as the artists gained public recognition and economic success.

Within the city, we have seen the opening up of some interesting not-for-profit spaces, such as the Mumbai Art Room and curatorial collaborative spaces such as the Clark House Initiative. There is Jnanapravaha Mumbai in Fort, a vital space for learning, which offered courses, workshops and seminars. There are institutions such as the Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum that have arisen after decades of neglect, and a series of significant exhibitions have taken place there in the last five or six years.

The reception of the public art exhibit, Cobweb/Crossings, by Reena Saini Kallat, goes to prove that art is becoming more accessible to the pubic. The installation at Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum was a web formed with hundreds of rubber-stamps, each bearing the colonial name of a city street that has now been replaced by a new one.

The Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya has become an interesting exhibition space for contemporary art, but also of many noteworthy exhibitions. Both these institutions have stimulating collections, and are re-imagining themselves as spaces for the intersection and exchange between various disciplines of contemporary art practice. When I had my solo at the Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum, one of the most satisfying aspects was the possibility of engaging a wider public through programmes and workshops. I think there is an energy that art receives through exposure to a wider public.

Other initiatives like Focus Photography Festival and Art Oxygen work towards a series of public interventions in the city. Artist residencies at What About Art? or Space 118, besides the establishment of educational platforms such as Avid, Mumbai Local, Godrej Culture Lab, have also been beneficial.

An art enthusiast at the National Gallery of Modern Art.

On the other hand, The KHOJ International Artists Association in Delhi has been a consistent platform that has been encouraging experimental practices.

Older organisations such as the India Foundation For The Arts in Bengaluru, Karnataka, has made seminal grants in the art field and has helped it grow as well. Another significant development in the last four to five years has been the establishment of the Kochi Biennale Foundation (an NGO that promotes art and culture) as a robust international exhibition of contemporary art held in Kerala.

The burgeoning art scene in the city is a result of new avenues, and the older ones opening up to different art forms; Jehangir Art Gallery, Fort. (HT photo: Vidya Subramanian)

I hope more artistic platforms develop in the future. They will allow for greater convergence of various disciplines as the boundaries between various creative practices begin to blur. An instrumental change can happen at the level of primary education, where art and creative thinking can bring in a holistic approach to learning. Art can also be a vital tool to stimulate advanced thought and insight, and challenge existing perceptions. It is the ground from where one can hope for an overall renewal in the fabric of civil society.

- As told to Ruchika Kher

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