We@KWC on Sunday 10 April organized by Vagforum at the Venkatappa Art Gallery was a historic brainstorming session, as a first step to work out a new democratic vision for VAG.
What is a World Cafe?
The World Cafe is a popular idea where a cafe like atmosphere is created and people are invited to sit around tables to discuss various issues in a very informal atmosphere. People can doodle and scribble on the paper tablecloths, on post- its and notepads. In the second session, the moderator in each group presents the various ideas discussed to all the participants, and in the final session there is a summing up. This event marked an important shift in the movement from the last two months of mobilization, protests, petitions, critiques, meeting with government officials and press, into the next phase of looking at the future.
There were about a hundred people around eight tables. Each table had a focus for discussions – though finally we discussed all the points.We invited various experts from different fields- culture administrators, architects, scholars, writers, filmmakers and urban activists, who were joined by many from the art world from Bangalore and other parts of the state.
Some of the larger areas of discussion:
The idea of public space/ the concept of a museum- gallery today
What has VAG been as an institution and what can it be? Will it be only an art space or become an art & cultural institution? While recognising the need to move away from the notion of the modernist museum, how can the modern and the contemporary remain engaged in active dialogue? To think of the nature of the public space and cultural space as a fluid space – rethinking the modernist concept of a museum or gallery as a rigid space, seeing the museum/ gallery as a live space where things happen Just as a neighbourhood park has its public (which includes not only the well-heeled residents but is much more inclusive), who is the public for a space like VAG? How indeed does one retain VAG’s history of inclusivity? How does one articulate the relationship between VAG and the larger ecology of other cultural institutions which it is a part of ? Currently some of those relationships exists as potentialities without being actualised (for instance, the relationship with the neighbouring Visvesvaraya Industrial and Technological Museum and Archeological Museum )
The VAG Building and architecture
To question the aggressive development model where things are constantly destroyed and rebuilt- why not tweak what is existing to rejuvenate it? Use available spaces in new ways Use light structures if more space is needed – which can be dismantled and removed or re-designed if necessary. Jaaga, the alternate public space in Bangalore for many years was a free standing pallet rack construction where new spaces could be created easily. In Singapore, a charming photography gallery has been created out of shipping containers, with exhibition spaces, library archives, offices and cafe.
What is the balance that one needs to achieve between operational / curatorial autonomy and the democratic advantages of being part of the governmental system? One of the central problems of VAG has been that it is under the Archeology Department. It has no separate identity, no curator or exhibition officer from the art field in charge of the gallery, no staff of its own, no independent budget. In fact when you google VAG, pictures of the Government Archeological Museum come up, ( and some of our lazy journalists have used this red building in their coverage.) So there are no systems in place which are needed to run an art space. Archeology looks at the past, they are not interested in the modern or contemporary. They do not have the experience or interest to have any vision of what this space should be, to even to run or maintain it, it seems. No programming, no staff, no help to put up works, no library, no archive; no proper titles, introductions or explanations or documentation of collection, no guides; no invitation lists, no website, no facebook page, no system for publicity or to reach out to the public. Electrical fittings, lighting, AC, lift, projector and sound system in auditorium, are outdated or do not work properly. Furniture, curtains and fittings in the auditorium are shabby and unaesthetic. The beautiful moat has little water, probably blocked, and full of junk dumped at the back. And so on. There are unnecessarily bureaucratic attitudes which make it unpleasant to rent and use. One of the thoughts is to get VAG shifted from the Archeology Dept. and put it directly as an independent entity under the Culture Dept.Other models like different kinds of Trusts, Society etc are also being explored.Whatever the form, it needs an independent identity and structure, its own budget, with a specialist from the art world in charge, more infrastructure, programming and a dedicated staff.
As our friends Rashmi Munikempanna and Sridhar Gowda have found in their research article, ‘A Broke Government of Karnataka And Other Myths: Has Funding Always Been The Red Herring? ‘, Annual Reports of Dept of Museums and Archeology show that funds are in plenty.
“During the year 2014-15, the Department of Museum and Archaeology was allocated a budget of 65 crores. Out of this they managed to spend only 43.80 crores leaving an unutilised surplus of 21.20 crores. Within the overall spending, the department, has managed to spend only 40.63 lakhs on development of Venkatappa Art Gallery in 2014-15 and 1.97 lakhs in 2013-14 with none specified in 2012-2013. This spending is part of the development of museums scheme wherein they state that “The maintenance and development of museums have been carried out in a systematic way.’’
We do not know exactly what funds are given specifically to VAG, as it does not have a separate budget. In fact, as we see above, the expenditure is arbitrary. It is 2 lakhs one year and 40 the next. Usually, the government releases funds at the end of the financial year and its agencies scramble to spend the money. In end March during the protests and actions in VAG, there was an amusing flurry of activity in the gardens and workers were laying interlocking cement tiles all over, sometimes a foot above the ground, where you can trip and fall off the edges. Apparently the Archeology Dept. had got a few lakhs and thought this was the best way to spend it. There are plenty of things to fix in VAG. But when you are ignorant and in doubt in Bangalore- you use cement interlocking tiles.
How can VAG be more friendly and democratic?
Artists have been accused of not using VAG and letting it slide in popularity. It is not necessary for ‘senior artists’ particularly to use it. The VAG is meant to give opportunities to young, upcoming artists and those outside Bangalore. However we have had many major events, curated workshops and festivals in VAG which are organised by ‘senior’ artists’ and where all generations have participated. But it is a major problem that we have to deal with officials and administrators who have no knowledge of art and can be just officious or just unhelpful. As mentioned earlier, VAG just does not have the set up to help artists, or its own staff. In fact, when we started showing there in the 1970s, it was much more friendly. VAG needs to do its own programming. A group of artists who had come from North Karnataka were talking about their problems. They said that they came all the way here and had regular shows. But they got no help to put up their works, there was no Exhibition Officer to approach, no publicity, no press covered their shows, there was no address or email invitation list for Bangalore, there was no arrangements to stay. All these out-of-station artists from small towns stay at the Ken School of Art in Kumara Park. In fact, there was no infrastructure except for the gallery space that they hired. These concerns have to be addressed. Several models from our experience were discussed, but we will go into details in later sessions. One of the demands of Vagforum is that not only should VAG be saved , but that the state should build galleries/ art spaces all over Karnataka to support art activities. The idea of an all Karnataka Association of artists was also mooted to act as a pressure group. There is already a Drawing Teacher’s Association which is large. Finally, it is the responsibility of the government, with our elected representatives, to run its institutions. The art community can give models and be involved in a policy making and advisory capacity.
Why don’t some ‘People’s Models’ work?
We had mentioned the Rangamandiras or theatres built all over Karnataka by the government as a democratic model. But our theatre friends tell us that they are dreadful and do not work. They do not work as the users of the space, the theatre people, were never consulted while designing them by the PWD architects – they do not have proper wings and many such practical problems. On the other hand, the Freedom Park built at the Central Jail by prize winning architects, does not work either as a popular space, as there is no creative programming. Without the the involvement of experts with a vision, there is the danger of these spaces becoming populist gestures of no use to anybody.
Programming and infrastructure
There were many many ideas for improvements in every sphere, especially programming and infrastructure, citing models from personal experience to researched popular models. We will go further into them and later put them together as a concrete plan in future discussions. Who is VAG’s public- and how do we reach out to people. Creative, democratic and far-sighted programming is the crux for rejuvenating VAG.
The People in KWC
Some of the experts present for discussions were: Abhijit Sengupta ( former Secretary of Culture, Govt. of India), Poile Sengupta- theatre person; artist Rekha Hebbar Rao ( KK Hebbar Trust, daughter of Hebbar); Balan Nambiar (eminent artist and scholar, former Chairman, National Lalit Kala Akademi Delhi); Prof. MH Krishnaiah (Kannada scholar, former Chairman Karnataka Sahitya Akademi);Venktachalapathy (former Chairman Shilpa Kala Akademi); Tejendra Baoni ( eminent sculptor, Principal, Chitra Kala Parishat); S Shamsundar ( eminent artist, former Dean, Dept of Fine Arts, University of Hyderabad ); Ayisha Abraham (international artist, Dean School of Media, Arts and Sciences, Srishti School of Art) award winning architects activists Meeta Jain, Vatsala da Cunha, Naveen Mahantesh, Arasan and Sumi; ); Gallerists Premilla Baid ( Gallery Sumukha) and Sunita Kumar Emmart (Gallery SKE); Shai Heredia, (international film curator, Experimenta Film Festival); Prof. Raghavendra Kulkarni, ( Head of Art History, Chitra Kala Parishat); Rashmi Munikempanna, (photographer and activist); Suman Gopinath (international art curator, founder Co-Lab); Archana Prasad (Founder Jaaga alternate space); Sumi Krishna, ( academic/ activist, Gender, Archives, public spaces); Ranjani Shettar ( international artist); KT Shivaprasad ( eminent artist, activist ); C Chandrashekhar (eminent artist) ; Smitha Cariappa ( Bar 1, curator International Live Art Festival Bangalore); Christoph Storz (Swiss artist, co-founder Bar 1 International Art Residency); Rasna Bhushan (art critic, Hyderabad); Ravikumar Kashi ( international artist, writer); ; Dr. Indushekhar (Sameeksha Foundation); Anuradha Nalapat (eminent artist and poet); CF John (eminent artist, activist)and Arzoo Mistry ( public art projects, Srishti School of Art). From Vagforum, they were joined by artists Sheela Gowda ( international artist, Documenta 12, Sotheby’s art prize and Rajyothsava Award), Surekha Sharada (international artist, co-founder BAR 1 Artists residency, founding curator Rangoli Metro Art Centre), Suresh Jayaram ( art historian, former Dean Chitra Kala Parishad, founder 1.Shanthi Road art space), Suresh Samuha. (co-founder BAR 1, founder curator Samuha Artist Collective project), Chi Su Krishna Setty (artist, former Chairman Karnataka Lalit Kala Akademi ) Akkihebbal Murthy Prakash (artist, Principal, Kala Mandira Art School), Anil Kumar Ha ( art historian, CKP), Alaka Rau ( artist, designer, activist), and Pushpamala Narasingarao. (international artist, National Award, Gold Medal VI Triennale India, Rajyothsava Award), at each table to direct the discussions. Artists from Sagar, Gadag, Badami, Shimoga, Bijapur, Tumkur, Raichur, Hassan representing various groups came down to participate in the KWC, besides members of the Bangalore art community.
The Local, the National and the Global
How does one define the local, the national and the global from VAG’s vantage point? How can one celebrate the local and resist the homogenised view of the international as the ultimate provider of ‘high standards’ without becoming mired in the limitations of identity politics?
Lunch of Bisibele Huliyanna and Mosaranna for 100 people was cooked by Vagforum artist Umesh Maddanahalli and a team of artist assistants. Umesh Maddanhalli is a strange bird who spends long periods of time in Europe doing art projects. He ran a popular restaurant for a year with an African artist as an art project in Vienna, where they cooked different kinds of ‘world’ food. One of the ideas for the future is to have a Food Art cafe in VAG run by artists as an art work.
Dear Readers, there is a lot more cooking. Watch this space!