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Small cities, bigger art shows

How tier-II cities like Jaipur and Kochi are steadily transforming into artistic cultural hubs

Huma Bhabha’s ‘God Of Some Things’ (2011) at The Sculpture Park, Jaipur. Photo: The Sculpture Park
Huma Bhabha’s ‘God Of Some Things’ (2011) at The Sculpture Park, Jaipur. Photo: The Sculpture Park

For a long time, the contemporary art ecosystem has remained contained in metro cities—a majority of contemporary artists and buyers are based there. As a result, these metropolises have a strong infrastructure of significant art galleries and institutions. Over the past few years, however, there has been a trickle-down effect to tier II cities such as Jaipur, Kochi and Chandigarh.

One of Delhi’s relatively younger art galleries, Latitude 28 took a group show titled Dissensus to Chandigarh last year. The venue they chose was Punjab Kala Bhawan and the show included established names such as Veer Munshi and Waseem Ahmad alongside emerging artists like Priyanaka D’Souza. The exhibit was first shown in Delhi in November 2017 and the positive feedback pushed the gallery to take it to audiences elsewhere. “I knew it was a risk," says Bhavna Kakar, who runs Latitude 28. “But the idea was to exhibit at an institutional space as opposed to a mainstream commercial gallery." While the gallery did not gain commercially, they were pleased with the audience engagement.

State governments, too, are making efforts towards improving the arts ecosystem. Rajasthan’s chief minister Vasundhara Raje, for instance, is working towards expanding Jaipur’s art tourism. She helped in establishing The Sculpture Park (opened in December) at Nahargarh Fort to showcase contemporary arts. “My mandate was to make the initiatives inclusive of those who do not usually like to work with the government," says Malvika Singh, culture adviser to Raje. The curator for the park, Delhi-based Peter Nagy, feels that these initiatives help tourism. “Culture is a driving force for tourism and commerce. Bringing world-class artists with over 50 monumental works for The Sculpture Park makes the otherwise dead fort come alive," he says.

Gyan Museum in Jaipur, on the other hand, is a private initiative launched in 2016. The late collector and gemologist Gyan Chand began his journey of collecting antiquities with two silver hookah mouthpieces, given to him by his father when he was 16. The museum now has over 2,500 objects. In a state-of-the-art building designed by French designer Paul Mathieu, the collection is displayed with an aim to inspire dialogue.

After its relaunch in 2016, the Jawahar Kala Kendra (JKK) has lined up exciting programmes on its calendar. An autonomous set-up, it now has an independent governing council, that requires minimal government intervention. “We get an average of 150 visitors a day, and that’s definitely more than a few shows combined in cities like Delhi/Mumbai," says Pooja Sood, director general, JKK. The institution has set the bar high with monumental retrospectives of senior artists like Himmat Shah, titled The Euphoria Of Being (December 2017), which included works from the collection of Kiran Nadar Museum of Art (KNMA) in Jaipur. “His works reference Rajasthan, his lineage. Students from local art schools followed Shah at his walk through. They not only heard him intently, they engaged with him at a philosophical level," says Roobina Karode, KNMA’s director, chief curator.

Goa, in contrast, is a vacation destination. Delhi’s Exhibit320 (which showcases contemporary art from South Asia) was a partner for the Serendipity Arts Festival held in Goa in December. Among several other shows cutting across multiple disciplines, the second edition of the festival exhibited Young Subcontinent, a show including works of emerging artists from nine South-Asian countries. “Goa attracts a lot of travellers at the end of the year, but it was exciting to see locals from all walks of life and varied age groups engaging with the artworks," says Rasika Kajaria, who runs Exhibit320.

Panjim was an unanimous choice for the festival venue. “It is a town with deep culture and history and lends itself towards our objective to take art out of the elitist band," says Smriti Rajgarhia, director of the Serendipity Arts Trust, over the phone. Right from our first edition, the participation of locals has been phenomenal." The second edition saw an increased participation of tourists and a developing ecosystem for arts.

Contemporary art movements have taken sway even in Odisha, which is traditionally known for stone-carving crafts and performing arts. In Bhubaneswar, the non-government initiative Utsha Foundation has created a space for young local artists, who can access and engage with senior artists. “There are so many artists who are doing some incredible work, but don’t have any opportunity to interact with other established practitioners. It’s my endeavour through the foundation to bridge this gap," says artist Jagannath Panda, the founder. Visitors come for open days and are pleasantly surprised to see the kind of work being done by artists. The aim of the foundation is to develop sensitivity among viewers for contemporary art along with providing opportunities for young talent from the state.

Then there is the Kochi-Muziris Biennale that has significantly impacted the art environment of Kochi. It has taken three editions and over six years for ground-up development of infrastructure like new bed and breakfasts, galleries, shops and restaurants. The event, held from December-March on even years, is on the international art-map and has participation from global established artists.

The KNMA in Delhi showed a group show titled Pond Near The Field at the last edition of the Kochi biennale. They exhibited works of five artists who started their artistic life from Kerala. Over the past two years, alongside taking their shows to international locations such as The Met Breuer, New York, and Tate Modern, London, they have also been curating special exhibits within India in places like Ahmadabad and Lucknow. “We need to break this sense of segmentation. It is an absurd notion that people from small towns cannot understand or appreciate modern or contemporary art. As a matter of fact, we have witnessed a lot more interest in these cities than in larger metros," says Karode.

Plan ahead

The Sculpture Park
(10 December-30 November), Nahargrah Fort, Jaipur

The second edition of the exhibit brings significant contemporary sculptures to the 400-year-old fort.

Kochi-Muziris Binennale
(12 December-31 March), Kochi, Kerala
The fourth edition of the international biennale will be curated by artist Anita Dube.

Serendipity Arts Festival
(14-21 December), Panaji, Goa
A one of its kind multidisciplinary festival aimed at making art accessible.

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