The foremost bunny that comes out of the mixed bag is that finally the bogey of the galleries is done and over with.
I often think of myself as the Bhopa of Indian art, wherein I hold up the mashaal to light up areas of art in the hope that there will be one person in the audience who will understand what I am saying and will carry forward my message to help change matters for the better. My phad is my writing — be it this column or other writing for journals, my sporadic audiovisual presence and my books. I leave no opportunity to propound the message of the Indian arts and artists across the board with an almost crusader’s zeal. How much it had helped, I frankly don’t know, but I award myself full marks for trying!
As a commentator on the arts, I often wonder how can a year be judged? By all that happened to the art world? To all that happened to you as an artist/curator/writer? Like the prism of life, it is always a mixed bag of colours that pass through you or you through them. But look back one must just for the sake of seeing what happened and why it did, perhaps even attempt to learn from it – I say perhaps because we often don’t learn new lessons.
The foremost bunny that comes out of the mixed bag is that finally the bogey of the galleries is done and over with. This year was the true epitaph of it. In Delhi, which was the absolute Mecca of galleries, many shut down. Many moved to supposedly other locations but actually into oblivion for they have not re-opened.
Two other things that became amply clear in the crumbling, the gallery system that one knew all along but was still giving them a chance was that unlike the gallery system of yore, these were here only for commercial reasons sans any pretence of supporting art.
This also became clearer post demonetisation that the entire business came to a grinding halt. But having said that, so did everything else, following this Tughlaqi farman. This came at the most inopportune moment, just when art was just about limping toward some semblance of recovery after many years of recession and ghastly slumps. If it will ever recover I frankly can’t even hazard a guess. Too many heartbreaks and ruined careers that gave way even before take offs. This was true across the board of all the arts. Such a pity!
Among the highlights of this year were artist Satish Gupta’s show Zen Space that was impressive for his highly fine tuned aesthetics and the sense of peace he is able to convey through his Buddhas. His subtle colour palette, his sense of fine layers that beckon the onlooker into their folds and in the last few exhibitions, the spectrum of Buddha iconography or rather the breadth of vision that Satish brings to his work is rather admirable. He takes it many steps forward in this show.
Another show that grabbed my attention was a solo exhibition of S.Nandagopal’s sculptures on the occasion of artist turning 70 this year. Painter, metalworker and ceramist turned into a sculptor, Nandagopal magically transforms our strong traditional roots into a super-contemporary idiom that is uniquely his own. The exhibition showcased 21 recent works of metal that tell stories of India’s mythology and South India’s cultural tradition in a contemporary form. Several figures were taken from Hindu mythology and the epics but were chic and contemporary in treatment and form.
Another senior artist’s show, Painted Weaves - an exhibition of tapestries in silk by senior artist S G Vasudev was a show after my heart for he had done what I have always wanted to do with my own paintings. I doff my hat to him for creating a huge body of work in collaboration withmaster weaver Subbarayalu where the paintings and drawings of Vasudev have been woven as tapestries. Subbarayalu and Vasudev have drawn on each other’s artistic mastery and ingenuity to create fresh, original works of art. While the tapestries of works by Picasso and other artists that he saw during visits to Europe, were the trigger point of his desire to see his work in woven form, undoubtedly the form and content and masterly treatment of this collaboration is rooted in the indigenous and is completely Indian in form.
Of course the year began with India Art Fair’s declarations in earlier years at the end touting some fancy figures – right or inflated – is of no consequence for the simple reason that as organizers they have no mandate to make any such announcements for it doesn’t fall under their purview. Their responsibility is only get the maximum number of participants of a certain quality as independent artists or gallerists and give them quality stalls and sizes as promised and media to ensure that the correct type of people come to attend the fair. What business the participants and artists eventually do and what profit they are able to garner is not the responsibility of the organizers and they should not feel pressured about it. Just as well that the India Art Festival made no such declarations – even though I suspect that they did reasonable business in the context of the reasonable stall fares as compared to the India Art Fair where the exorbitant fares are a huge deterrent.
Now for a bit of tom-toming of self, after nearly eight years, Manisha Gawade and I decided to show together. We named it Eternal Spring. This show held a very special place in my heart as it symbolized the eternal emotion of spring that is heightened with myriad colours that spring forth from the earth’s heart. The exhibits featured in the show were remarkable for their exploration of capturing the eternal spring that is the fountainhead of all creative impulse and turning them into manifestations of articulate realities. The form and content chosen by the two of us was novel as we attempted to discover newer paths to present the expressions of our aspirations and paths. It was interesting that our colour palette had undergone change to include a plethora of colours as vibrant as spring and as positive as the season that marks a turning point in the journey of the earth and the human heart.
My admiration for two saree groups namely Magic of Sarees and Six Yards and 365 days, on the social media grew this year for their wonderful initiatives which I am convinced will go a long way in making women look at the saree with a new respect and regard for all the gnarled hands that worked incessantly for creating that dream that we drape. A drape that we have all grown up with, but are opting to wear more and more infrequently.
The founding chairperson of Six Yards Sunita Buddhiraja feels that the group has fast emerged as kind of emotional support system for the women as well. “There are so many women who have almost forgotten what it is to receive a compliment for their lives end within the four walls of their homes and the forum has helped them with positive strokes to celebrate themselves not as vanity symbols but as people who are worthy of being appreciated.”
Similar sentiments are echoed by the Magic of Sarees co-founder Susmita Misra, “Culturally speaking, in the saree wearing areas of the Indian sub continent, practically every woman no matter what her age has some special ‘saree moments’ where the saree plays a pivotal role at the memory level. Be it the mothers’ sarees, grandmothers’ sarees, or their own sarees given by someone special, worn for a particular occasion, bought from a particular place…the list is endless as are the tales connected to the saree. It is a shared dream to see increasing number of women wear woven sarees on a day to day basis and we tell all our friends to don them and not wait for some ceremonial occasion. So many of the women happily announced that they were sporting sarees more often after joining the group – this to my mind was the one thing I was dying to hear!”
Like other years, there were losses too. I am of the firm conviction that it is important to remember one’s gurus and loved ones for they were once an intrinsic and important part of one’s life and times and not remember them with sorrow but with gratitude for meaningful and happy moments spent with them. This year the art world lost four important artists and I want to remember the happy interactions that I had with them. The four artists that am referring to are S.H. Raza, Yusuf Arrakal, K.G. Subramanyan, Suhas Roy.
But as they say, life goes on. And as we look forward to another year, I do hope it brings better tidings for us artists and crafts persons for we are all interdependent, except that many don’t realize it. And this will happen only when the society at large understands the immense cultural responsibility that rests on us for the larger good. Happy New Year!
Dr Alka is an art writer, curator and artist and can be contacted on firstname.lastname@example.org