Bridging 'Art' Gap
by Vidya Kamat
When people distrust the idea of ‘modern’ art, presenting cutting edge art would be like showing rocket science to those who have come to witness fireworks, says Vidya Kamat. Being an artist herself who works with non-conventional mediums, Vidya spells out the need for public-private collaborations in presenting cutting edge art for public perusal.
Being an artist, I am often asked by so called intelligent, educated, and well meaning people, who happen to be your relatives and friends, “Now explain the meaning of this work to me”! Or “Oh! I never understand this modern art of yours”. Initially I would go great lengths to explain the embodied concept and the ideological thrust in a work of art. But of late I quip, “To fully experience music you have to develop an ear, and to understand art you have to train your eyes. Had you trained your eyes you would not have asked me this question.”
I could parry similar questions for the moment with such repartees, but the fact remains there is a major disconnection between public awareness of art and contemporary art practice. The general awareness of contemporary art among the masses is unfortunately stuck at the level of 'modern art' (a term generally used to refer to abstract art or non realistic art). So speaking of ‘cutting edge art’ to someone outside the ambit of the art world would be indeed like expounding rocket science to those who came to watch a display of fireworks. As a result, any discussion, debates, or conversations on contemporary or cutting edge art is limited to an exclusive club of art cognoscenti, alienating the masses further and making such art practices all the more an abstruse activity.
My own experience with a public art project made me realize that there exists a kind of 'language barrier' in the dialogue between the artist and public. Having been invited to mount an installation project as part of the bicentenary celebrations of Asiatic Society in Mumbai, I had came up with an installation piece made up of banners to reflect the public art angle and with relevant content aimed to create awareness about intellectual and creative freedom.
These works actually germinated as a reaction to an event, where an educational and intellectual institute (BORI) in Pune, Mahrashtra was vandalized by right wing political outfits. Well known poet and intellectual Dilip Chitre, had penned a touching open letter questioning this blatant intolerance towards creative freedom. Another case in point is M. F. Husain, who also was a victim of such intolerance. My art project, in the form of open-air banners, was a response in support of Chitre's open letter and were displayed on the grand facade of the Asiatic Society building. Three days after the opening of the bicentenary celebrations, the banners disappeared mysteriously. It took a while for the organizers of the event to discover that it was local police who tore off the banners fearing adverse public reaction. It was a clear case of miscommunication as the police failed to understand that it was a public art project and intervention and not political propaganda.
Looking back (and being reminded of many other public projects that have had a similar fate), there seems to be a serious distrust or lack of faith as far as public participation is concerned. Neither the public nor I as an artist or the organizer who sponsored it, and the police who destroyed the work knew what it is to manifest a public /artist dialogue. Is this a case of lack of trust or faith from either side?
Realizing this lag, efforts are being made by private galleries to bridge this gap and encourage the general public to enhance their understanding of current contemporary art practices. In Mumbai, galleries have made it a point to remain open for visitors on Sundays and late evenings on Thursdays. There are more initiatives like art talks and artist presentations aimed at public and not targeted only at the art community. Delhi has already forged the way by organizing successful programs like The India Art Summit and private museums opening their doors to the public.
Cities like Bangalore, Chennai and Kolkata are also following suit. Hopefully, government institutions too will join in these efforts to make contemporary art practice more accessible. Finally, the onus lies on the artists to orient their works towards the general public and reflect the aspirations and imaginations of the land, if they want active participations in the form of understanding and appreciation from the larger public.