Entering an art exhibition, particularly in a white cube space, can be intimidating for most people. It leads one to wonder about the veracity of the statements: ‘art is for everyone’ versus ‘everyone is not for art’. Cultural institutions have the responsibility to make their spaces truly inclusive. Only then the raison d’etre of a ‘public’ initiative can be hoped to be achieved. Whose culture is it anyway, and who is it for? One has to think hard about this, particularly in a country with very limited state support for the cultural sector.
About a month back, an art exhibit of an early career artist opened over a weekend. A private gallery hosted the show at the Bikaner House in New Delhi, which is a heritage property owned by the Government of Rajasthan. It is a vibrant cultural hub that aims to foster creativity by promoting inclusivity and accessibility. Bikaner House has taken several initiatives to make the venue more accessible to people from all walks of life, including the differently-abled.
At the opening event of the said exhibition, however, several visiting artists—some established but not necessarily in the mainstream—were asked to leave. The reason cited was that the evening was a private one and even a personal invitation by the exhibiting artist was inadequate. Besides the uproar it caused in the artist circle, the question it raises is that why would an art exhibit of this nature not be open for all? In an official statement in response to our email, the management says, “Bikaner House regrets the unfortunate event that occurred at the venue. Bikaner House is open for all art aficionados and it welcomes all to visit our space and enjoy multiple expressions of art.”
The hospitality of food and beverage service could well be selective, but viewing of the art must truly not be closed for anyone whatsoever. How can a cultural initiative, hosted at a venue run on public money, be selective in its audience?
Apurva Kackar, chief marketing officer, the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art strongly believes that art should be accessible to all. “We have expanded our focus to include music, performance, crafts, and fashion,” he says. The museum is now attracting newer audiences, thus promoting a deeper appreciation of different facets of art. Kacker further clarifies: “All of our programming is open and accessible to everyone. However, for our curated events, where space is limited, we require visitors to register to secure their entry.”
The newly opened Nita Mukesh Ambani Cultural Centre (NMACC) in Mumbai is applauded for the sheer scale and ability to invite international groups to showcase in India. However, one wonders if the steep price of the tickets for some of the events is keeping the man from the street out. How does one then democratise art?—one way is by allowing those, whose story it is, to have the opportunity to decide how it has to be told. There are no perfect solutions and for us it is important to ask the questions.
Rahul Kumar is a Gurugram-based culture writer and a ceramic artist