Art lovers unite to ‘save’ Venkatappa Art Gallery

Muralidhara Khajane | The Hindu

PDF : March 28th

Movement against adoption of the gallery by corporate entity gathers steam.

Hundreds of artists blowing whistles and holding black umbrellas gathered outside Town Hall on Sunday morning and had one strong point to make — “Venkatappa Art Gallery (VAG) is ours; VAG is not an orphan; stop adoption”.

They were backed by several writers, theatre personalities, film-makers and other cultural icons as they sent out a message that they were all together to ensure that the lone State-run art gallery is not given to private players as envisaged by the Karnataka Tourism Vision Group.

The whistling protest was envisaged by the Venkatappa Art Gallery (VAG) Forum to send a “strong message” to the government, said the forum head and former president of the Karnataka Lalitkala Academy Chi.Su. Krishna Shetty.

The State government has signed MoUs with corporate companies for adoption of tourism destinations, including the VAG.

Recalling Tourism Minister R.V. Deshpande’s decision against going back on the MoU, Mr. Shetty said that attempts by the forum, including representation made to Minister of State for Kannada and Culture Umashree failed to yield any result. “To draw the attention, we have opted for this artistic mode of black umbrella and whistling protest,” he said.

On March 6, the forum came out in public for the first time and staged ‘Occupy Venkatappa Art Gallery’ protest, as part of which many of them sent out photographs of themselves hugging landmarks on the gallery premises.

Some legal experts, who participated in the protest, even suggested to explore legal options to get the MoU nullified.

Considering the response for the black umbrella protest, the VAG Forum has decided to intensify the agitation to save the city’s famous landmark. Artists’ groups have started protesting in various cities across the State.

“An online petition campaign has already commenced. Signatures collected will be submitted to Chief Minister Siddaramaiah,” Surekha, coordinator VAG Forum, said.

Actor Tara, MLC, who had raised the issue in the Legislative Council, said she would raise the artists’ concern in the budget session through a call-attention motion.

July 16, 2015

State government signs MoU with corporate companies for adoption of tourism destinations, including Venkatappa Art Gallery.

March 7, 2016

Artists protests against the adoption of VAG by Tasveer Foundation

March 9

Minister for Tourism R.V. Deshpande refuses to revisit the MoU

March 14

Tasveer Foundation releases blueprint of the future design

March 16

VAG Forum decides to step up its protest; over 500 artists pledged their support for the movement

March 19

Artists gather at VAG and create paintings of the gallery and its premises

March 20

We@Townhall — a black umbrella protest at Town Hall

Artists’ demands

Scrapping of MoU without further delay

State government has to run the gallery with the active support of artists

WePaint@VAG

On Saturday, at the event ‘WePaint@VAG’, which was a tribute to K. Venkatappa, around 150 artists gathered at VAG and created paintings of the gallery and its premises. Artists looked for a favourite spot, spread their painting kit and attempted to capture the drama of light and colours on their canvasses. It was a unique form of protest. “It was a perfect tribute to Venkatappa, one of the finest water colourist and landscape artists,” said VAG Forum head Krishna Shetty.

VAG at the centre of a raging controversy

The 46-year-old Venkatappa Art Gallery has been embroiled in a controversy since last July after the State government signed MoUs with corporate companies for adoption of tourism destinations, including the VAG. Now it has become a prestige issue for the community of artists who are opposed to its adoption or corporatisation of any kind. Over 500 artists have been staging every kind of creative protest possible to oppose the decision. Even as artists rejected the MoU, Tasveer Foundation, a non-profit organisation run by industrialist Abhishek Poddar and dedicated to promotion of visual arts, had recently unveiled its blueprint of the future design and clarified its stand on the adoption.

VAG born out of protest by artists

In 1966, the government decided to build a space to house the works of K. Venkatappa, one of the finest water colourist and landscape artist of Karnataka. The work was handed over to the Public Works Department. The building work did not progress beyond the foundation for many years. In 1971, G.S. Shenoy along with other artists protested the lack of gallery space in Bengaluru for contemporary exhibition and art events by holding an art exhibition on a pavement outside the Bible Society of India. This incident forced the government to comply with the demand of the artists in the form of Venkatappa Art Gallery.

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Abhishek Poddar of Tasveer Foundation is a patron of art … at the same time, he knows how to generate profit. Had the government been aware of this, it would not have allowed the development of the kind to happen.

Balan Nambiar, artist

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Adoption of Venkatappa Art Gallery is an attempt of the global market’s intervention into the art arena. VAG will lose its unintimidating character with the MoU coming into effect … considering the plans unveiled for the so-called development.

Keerthana Kumar, theatre personality

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It was a unilateral decision of the government to sign the MoU … it did not bother to consult artists who are major stakeholders.

Babu Eshwar Prasad, artist and film-maker

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The MOU is like a noose around the artist’s neck imposed by the government.

Kamala Hampana, writer

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Privatisation began in the 1990s. We have been raising our voice since then and now it has come to this condition. At this rate, our very living runs the risk of being privatised.

Vimala, women’s rights activist

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Though we have had conflicts between the governance and art, it had never reached this low. Art is not about beauty alone, it is about speaking difficult truths. And one has to fight for speaking these difficult truths.

Ashadevi, writer and cultural critic