Artists: Notes on Art Making

Published in The Times of India, 1986

One will not be surprised if sooner or later the third world takes over the leadership of the modern art movement though for commercial reasons its artists may have to depend on the affluent West. A curtain-raiser on the VI Triennale which goes on show in New Delhi this Friday.

So, once again, New Delhi will be on the international art circuit. The Lalit Kala Akademi goes through the expensive ritual every third year, thanks to the policy of triennale launched by it in the 60s.Not only expensive but, by all accounts, unproductive too. This time the allocation, conservatively pit, is Rs 30 lakhs. But the unofficial figure is over Rs 40 lakhs.

By mounting massive exhibitions with international participation, the Akademi tries to project New Delhi as one of the major art centres of the world. But with what success? It all depends not only on the quality of art on the walls but on the thrust of the culture shock that follows, leading to art on-going dialogue between India and the rest of the world.

This Friday, Mr P.V. Narasimharo inaugurates the VI Triennale- India at the Rabindra Bhavan Complex, specially readied to accommodate at least 1,000 paintings, sculptures, and graphics from 41 countries. The show will be on till March 23.So, for one month, all roads will, lead to New Delhi-at least for artists. Will they be able to react to what they see as enthusiastically as Cezanne did after a visit to the Louvre?” The Louvre is the book in which we learn to read”? All serious exhibitions big or small, temporary or permanent are Louvres for artists committed to authenticity in creativity.

People keep asking, what use are these tamashas which New Delhi hosts once in every three years at the expense of the national exchequer? That is people who are not philistinely ignorant of art, but cynically indifferent to it when it is state-sponsored. One may say the Akademi which organises triennales is not a government department. It is independent! How independent? Ask anyone who has anything to do with art and you will get a reply you expect,” as independent as the telephones or railways”. If the Akademi had the authority and independence attributed to it, would it have so meekly accepted the indefensible exclusion of contemporary Indian art from the package of festival fare being presented in America and France?

Chairman Sankho Chaudhuri once publicly confessed at an artists’ get together in Madras. “The Government of India seems to think that culture means only handicrafts and performing arts.” One can understand Chaudhuri’s despair and anguish. But he is helpless, though he has the courage, integrity, and moral strength to stand up against bureaucracy. If there is anyone who can reduce the Akademi’s dependence on the government to the barest minimum, it is he.

One has great expectations about the VI Triennale because of the leadership under which it is being held. The chairman has the reputation of being not the reputation of being not the slogging, fumbling, overcautious first among equals, but a benevolent dictator who means not merely business but business with dignity. A man with vision and drive, well-equipped to identify the concerns and characteristics of the avant-garde and project them effectively. Naturally one expects the VI Triennale to be the finest in the series- an event with an impact on the contemporary art scene.

Any representative international art ensemble compels one to take a close look at the exhibitions so that one is face to face with the visual history of the Family of Man. What unfolds is the story of a great adventure of the descent and the ascent of the human spirit down the ages. Art is not to be viewed as the projection of one man’s private vision conveyed through a private language, to which modernity has been reduced. It is,in essence, a social document whatever be the form it takes-a mirror in which the world sees itself. But the world is people and they do not seem to recognise their own image when they see it. Innovation is inseparable from creation. But pursued for its own sake it results in self-indulgence. I have a feeling that these days we place too much emphasis on technique. Modernity can evolve gracefully into a dynamic and durable medium of creation only when there is balance between vision and creation, that is, when there is a blend of the nuances of modernity and the norms of classicism. A triennale or a biennale is the pantheon of the living art of today. It is the signature of the avant-garde.

Biennales and triennales are absolutely necessary in principle for the growth and development of a country’s art. They serve as effective international forums of great significance. Their main purpose is to stimulate interaction between the artists of the host country and those from abroad - interaction not only through lectures and seminars but through the exposure of the artist community in general to the best and latest trends and techniques in different parts of the world.

IDENTITY CRISES

Another objective of these international art shows is to motivate the public to respond to the hidden beauty and vitality of creativity as expressed through large, electric and aesthetically inspiring collections revealing facets of contemporary sensibility. The art of a country has nothing to lose and everything to gain by submitting itself to international scrutiny on the basis of universally accepted norms and values. It has to be resilient enough to acquire an authentic international accent, retaining at the same time its indigenous colour and flavour. For an artist there can be no greater disaster than an identity crisis. How important are our own triennales viewed in this context?

I must compliment the Akademi for whatever success it has achieved so far. The latest in the series-the sixth-has attracted participation from 41 countries with over 1000 exhibits.

The Indian section comprising works by nearly 80 artists will be embarrassingly large in atmosphere of competitive excellence.

Evidently there are no specific criteria laid down for the selection of Indian artists. The official spokesman says,” The selection was left entirely to the two commissioners, R.B Bhaskaran and Shail Choyal, who were elected to fulfil this function by the general council of this Akademi. They selected 78 artists and made a further supplementary list consisting of 11 artists and requested certain members of the task force to augment their selection from this list. This was not done for a variety of reasons but mainly because of lack of space. I personally feel that the exhibition mounted by the selectors should clearly represent their choice and should not be infringed by the interventions of others.

I understand from another official source that the Indian artists who participated in the IV and V Triennales do not qualify for the inclusion in the present show. Asforforeignparticipation, it appears, invitations were sent out to 65 countries and not to individual artists. The Akademi had nothing to do with the laying down of any policy of criteria. The official spokesman says, “The function of the jury is to give ten awards of Rs.50,000 each payable in foreign exchange to foreign recipients only.”

This is the first occasion on which the entire Triennale will be accommodated within the premise of the Lalit Kala Akademi. For this reason, the national exhibition has been shifted to Calcutta.

Apparently seminars for the present remain ruled out. However lectures have been arranged by experts, Indian as well as foreign on subjects of contemporary relevance such as “The Position of Art in Self-Management System” by Zoran Pavlovic (Yugoslavia), “Art and Authenticity” by David Elliot(UK), “Pre-Naturalistic Art and Post-Naturalistic Vision”, and approach to the appreciation of tribal art by J.Swaminathan(India),”The Relevance of Social Forces to Art” by Bhanu Bharti(India) and “Attitudes to Modern Art in India” by Nissim Ezekiel (India). Possibly there maybe a few more lectures.

I understand that the Akademi was keen that a part of the Triennale be shown in different parts of the country and accordingly in the schedule devised by the director a provision was made to ascertain whether the country concerned would be agreeable to showing the works elsewhere. It was unfortunate that the response was not encouraging. Insurance premia are high and the risk involved in travelling is very great. Only one country, Denmark, represented by the works of Palle Neilson, has agreed to let his 16 drawings be shown at Bangalore and Madras in all probability.

Many artists and scholars from abroad will visit the Triennale. Among the certainties are the visits of: Zoran Pavlovic (artist and director of the Museum of Modern Art, Belgrade, Yugoslavia);David Elliot(director of the Museum of Modern Art, Oxford, UK);Mohamed Melehi(a Moroccan artist); Pierre Gaudibert(eminent art critic, scholar and Museum director, France);S.H Raza(Paris Based Indian artist and Fellow of the Lalit Kala Akademi);Michael Compton (keeper of museum services, Tate Gallery.UK);Stephen Cox(eminent sculptor, UK); Dr H.S Peters(Director, Kunst Museum, Dusseldorf, FRG); and Gabor Feur (art historian and critic, department for international exhibitions, Budapest Hungary),Pavlovic, Melehi, Raza, Elliot and Gaudibert representing Yugoslavia, Morocco, India, UK, and France respectively constitute the international five-man jury.

A Serious Challenge

The Akademi is planning a series of film shows during the Triennale. A recent film made by the Films Division called “Contemporary Indian Painters” will also be screened.

It can be reasonably expected that there will be healthy fallout through various encounters at the Triennale. But one never knows. There could be an anti-climax. The Triennale, like our international film festivals may turn out to be counterproductive in the sense that in either case the only visible result has been a bonanza for plagiarisms.

One good feature of the present Triennale is the well-deserved weightage the organisation has given to third world participation which is today as sensitive and self-respecting artistically as it is politically. A virile contemporary idiom, vibrant with warmth and sensuousness and rooted to the soil, can be seen emerging as a serious challenge to the sterile but smart technique-oriented art of the West under the tyranny of trends. One will not be surprised if sooner or later the third world takes over the leadership of the modern movement though for commercial reasons its artists may have to depend on the affluent West.

Where does India stand? Will she be in the forefront among the countries of the third world involved in art on the move? Or will she be happy to remain the mere backyard of the West? The Indian Section at the Triennale will provide the answer which will, it is to be hoped, make all serious and self-critical Indians happy. The two commissioners, R.B Bhaskaran and Shail Choyal, responsible for the styling and structuring of the Indian section are optimistic. They say in their report: “The younger artists of today appear to be opting for traditional media like ceramics and terracotta as means of their artistic expression, though, the handling and expressive use of these media remains entirely in keeping with the sensibility cherished in contemporary art everywhere. As sources of inspiration, artists appear to be tapping a wide variety of modes of expression - form, folk, traditional, and tribal art of India.”

Involvement by the people in major art shows such as the Triennale, the National, etc, so far has been minimal, the public response has been primarily specialist or elitist. Sooner or later art will have to be brought within the reach of the common man, not by lowering its level of creativity, but by raising his level of awareness. This is possibly only through his constant exposure to art.

The Triennale no doubt cannot be taken out of Delhi, but it can be recorded exhaustively and shown at important centres. Close-ups of different sections of the massive exhibition, accompanied by complete coverage of lectures, will surely evoke the desired public response.

Published in The Times of India, 1986
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