by Ranjan Kaul and Aakshat Sinha
Looking back to March 2020 when the two of us spoke over the phone about starting an art blog, neither of us had any clear goals of where we would be nearly 18 months later. We were not even thinking that far ahead; the pandemic was already upon us, we were in a lockdown, and no one could predict where and when these traumatic times would end. However, there was one scenario that we could anticipate clearly – the visual arts (perhaps one of the most neglected fields of human creative endeavour, particularly in India, and yet so very vital for societal health and development) would be among the activities that would most certainly take a beating. Given our abiding involvement and interest in the fine arts, starting an art blog we thought should be the least we could do as our small contribution to the struggling art community. So, it is with great delight that we inform you – our valuable subscribers and dear readers – that we’ve reached our first milestone of 100 blog posts of meaningful and carefully curated content related to the visual arts. It is equally satisfying that our blog posts taken together had nearly 22,000 views. Given that so few people visit art galleries and museums, this is no mean achievement, for us at least.
There was little disagreement amongst us regarding our key objectives. Our years of experience in the visual arts and visits to countless exhibitions have made us realize that there is a deep chasm that exists between the visual arts (particularly contemporary art), and the society at large, especially in India. We believe this yawning gap exists for several reasons.
One, as contemporary art becomes increasingly multi-disciplinary and exploratory, even those who appreciate the arts are unable to fully understand its nuances and multi-dimensionality. For this reason, they lose interest in visiting galleries, apart from perhaps the India Art Fair (but that also at times more as an outing and an occasion to socialize); but here too such visitors are limited to a section of the elite who can afford the high entrance fee.
Two, the art community needs to also share the blame for this – the artists, galleries and museums in our view have fallen short of doing their bit to enhance understanding and awareness of contemporary arts; neither have they been always welcoming to the visitors who have strayed into their hallowed spaces. While there are of course some notable exceptions, we perhaps are not wrong in our assessment that more often than not a majority of the galleries feel satisfied if they are able to get collectors, buyers, the media and of course the glitterati to visit their shows – they seem to have little interest in visitors who are disinclined to invest in art or do not look like they have the wherewithal to do so. Unfortunately, what has not improved matters is that state institutions such as the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA), Lalit Kala Akademi, etc have also not lived up to the expectations of what their primary mandate was, namely, to promote and support art and artists and bring art closer to the lay public. There are of course exceptions, such as the Kochi Biennale and the Serendipity Arts Festival, which have received state and corporate patronage and sponsorship, but these events are too few and far between and much, much more needs to be done. Fortunately, the art community have in recent years taken on the onus to reach out to society at large with street art, public art, integrated multi-disciplinary festivals with music, performances, and food to attract a larger cross-section of society. In recent months we have been discussing these issues and concerns in our blog as also in our artamour club room discussions on the audio app ClubHouse.
We strongly believe that this lack of exposure to the visual arts can be detrimental to the civilizational ethos and progress of a nation. Importance of art and aesthetics towards the holistic development of society should never be undermined – for this developing a fuller awareness and understanding of the arts, especially contemporary arts, is essential. The first exposure to the visual arts across the world starts quite early and this continues through all ages with people making it a point to visit galleries, museums, and exhibitions with family, friends, and school or college mates. Each visit enhances the individual’s understanding incrementally, which evolves into the habit of viewing works of art with sensitivity and developing the ability to critique them with a discerning eye based on experiential learning. Museums and galleries play a vital role in engaging with communities and the state government through its art and culture departments and ministries, all of who work hand in hand with local organizations to reach out to the masses with focused programmes and initiatives for different age groups and other demographic identifiers. At the school level, training in the arts, studies in art history and exposure to contemporary art developments, all help to contribute to building bridges between the arts and with the new generation. Artists and artisans get the necessary support from various government and non-government bodies, for example, during the tough pandemic times many countries announced various support packages for the struggling artists who suddenly found themselves at a loss with no financial opportunities to eke out a living.
In India, we as a society have fallen woefully short in plugging this gap and the artists, like most other in-person, service vocations, have been unable to find viable avenues to raise sufficient funds to continue their practice and have been often compelled to move to other fields to earn their daily bread. With no source of income, in many cases migrant artists living in rented accommodations have found it extremely hard to survive in the costlier metropolises and have had to return to their hometowns. While we will never get to know the real impact, the financial crunch of the pandemic has rendered many artists disheartened, disillusioned and confused about their future. This will further demotivate families to encourage or support their wards to pursue the visual arts as a viable career option. The divide will grow further if something is not urgently done to repair the damage and address the malaise. The service that art can render to society to consume art, as a joy-giver, intellectual stimulator, reflector of socio-political concerns, provider of emotional well-being and therapy, and even as providing a vision for the future, will gradually lose meaning and relevance for the larger populace, who will turn to using their hard-earned money for easy and often mindless entertainment like streaming films and serials rather than making the effort to visit galleries, museums, and artists. Given the apathy, lack of interest and bureaucratic functioning of organizations and institutions in regard to art and cultural spaces, this is indeed a dismal and pessimistic view for the future.
The gap has been further exacerbated by the pompous, pretentious and often incomprehensible language with highfalutin phraseology used in the curatorial notes, artist statements, catalogues, wall texts, art writings and discourses, done willy-nilly or perhaps even consciously, have alienated the general public and created an incestuous circle of creators, promoters, buyers and collectors. In our initial blogs, therefore, in the ArtTalk section we tried to address issues such as lack of understanding of contemporary art and how to discern good art, using simple, understandable language.
Our Reviews section has featured critical and in-depth reviews of select exhibitions and events not only in India but abroad as well, which we believe are representative of contemporary arts. Our initial art event review was of the CosMoscow International Art Fair (held in Moscow, Russia) which for the first time experimented with a hybrid format – using both the physical space as well as those available online. Art critics and writers pitched in to help us cover art events, exhibitions and art fairs across cities – Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Delhi, Mumbai – as the gallery spaces began to open up after the lockdown. We featured reviews of films, online performance art festivals, photography, print, and painting exhibitions along with photography competitions like the Andrei Stenin International Photography competition for young journalists and even a web-comic African caravan based on the road trip done by 12 artists from four continents traveling from Cape Town to Cairo across Africa. All these have gone a long way towards presenting the diversity that exists in the arts.
It's been our fortune that many art writers and critics have stepped up and contributed to the blog – Georgina Maddox, Elena Rubinova, Shujaat Mirza, Premjish Achari, Alka Chadha Harpalani, John Elliott, Jyoti Tyagi, Vimal Kumar, Shantala Palat, and Abhimanyu Kumar; at times we have even republished articles by Sandeep Biswas, Johny ML, Santanu Borah, Ritika Ganguly, Sharad Raj, and Vandana Kumar. Obviously, both of us, Ranjan and Aakshat, have contributed articles and reviews to the blog as well.
Another equally important objective of the blog was to provide a suitable platform to artists where their works can be exposed to a wider audience. Owing to the limited number of galleries, who have become very selective and choosy and not always transparent, many young and emerging artists (and in some cases even senior artists as well) are unable to find avenues to showcase their works apart from the social media. The visual arts have become very diverse; our attempt in the selection of artists has been to represent all genres of art without bias, prejudice or favour.
We have therefore in the special artist's interview section ArtistSpeak featured artists with abstract works like Santosh Verma, Abhijit Pathak, and Sanath Gunasiri Perera (Sri Lanka); to photography by Shailan Parker and Vipin Baloni; to performance artists Inder Salim and Satadru Sovan Banduri; to experimental works by Hemavathy Guha, SK Sahni, Susanta Mandal, Soumen Bhowmick, Rajan Shripad Fulari, Narayan Mondal, Vandana Kumari, Paul Liptrot (UK), Waswo X Waswo (USA/Udaipur), and Ankon Mitra; to street art by Tracy Lee Stum and Mark Lewis Wagner; to the figurative art by Arpana Caur, Prem Singh, Durga Kainthola, Jyotika Sehgal, Ramchandra Pokale, Amitabh Sengupta, Joel Gill, Abul Hisham, and Ajay Sharma; to ceramics by Rekha Bajpe Agarwal; to the Russian artists Olga Bozhko, Victoria Lomasko, Maria Arendt; to public art by Joe Datuin (Phillipines); to illustration and art for children by Rumana Husain (Pakistan) and Carolyn Watson Dubisch (USA).
Of the 100 posts, we have featured interviews with 35 artists who responded to an identical artamour questionnaire template. These artists represent the variety, diversity and inclusivity that the world of art provides. Our effort to discover more and more artists from all parts of the world is an ongoing project so that we can represent as many diverse communities and contemporary art trends. We would like the blog to become a haven for artists of all various hues to express and interact with the art community as well as the public at large, to help build bridges pillared with empathy, understanding, and compassion.
While our emphasis on choice of content has been inclined towards the contemporary arts, this should not be construed to mean that we wish to undermine the dying and neglected traditional folk and tribal art forms– there is equal need to revive our rich and diverse cultural heritage. For this reason, we have featured articles such as the critical piece by Ritika Ganguly on the Patua painter Bhaskar Chitrakar depicting the corona virus in his traditional works or Shantala Palat reviewing tribal art forms like Bhil, Warli and Saura; in the future we would certainly like to include more articles and reviews of indigenous arts, not only those that belong to India, but from different parts of the world as well. There are several connections within the traditional art forms across the different communities around the world which have evolved organically and with similar yet distinctly individualistic forms and motifs. Moreover, many artists over the years have in fact been inspired by these art forms and there is much that contemporary artists can learn from these traditions.
An art blog we believe should also be a vehicle where informed discussions can take place to further art development in the visual arts or critique existing trends. To this end, we have included articles that dwell on the ills that plague the art world as also those that present a more academic discourse on art practice and philosophies. Our late evening ClubHouse room discussions held on a weekly basis on Wednesdays have attracted artists, specialists and the general public to engage in fruitful conversations related to how we can reconnect art and society and open dialogues.
Posters of the various ClubHouse rooms conducted by artamour
Finally, the artmour blog has been a richly enriching experience for both of us. Our engagement with the artists and curators who responded to the artamour questionnaire or when we reviewed their shows or wrote about their works in our articles and essays have given us rich insights into their work, their philosophies and practices which we perhaps would never have known were it not for the blog. This has perhaps been the most rewarding and satisfying part of working on the artamour blog and more than makes up for all the time, effort and resources we have invested to provide engrossing, thought-provoking and carefully curated content for the past eleven odd months since our first post on 9 October 2020.
We would like to use this opportunity to thank our valuable contributors for sending us articles and reviews, to the artists from taking out time from their busy schedules to respond to our artamour questionnaire, and to all our audiences and subscribers for making it all worthwhile.
At this point of time there are only two of us who have been doing all the work from editing to design and layout to working out the technicalities and reaching out to you – our esteemed subscribers and readers. However, artamour is not about us. It is our earnest desire and dream that artamour becomes an important platform where artists and art lovers can engage with each other and find ways to bring art to the public. To this end, we invite contributions by way of articles, essays and reviews. If you are an artist and would like to respond to the artamour questionnaire, do write to us with your bio-note and a link to your works to enable us to consider featuring you and your work. All you need to do is to drop us a mail to firstname.lastname@example.org
We are hoping that soon we will be able initiate an internship programme for art history students and graduates with writing skills to become a part of our initiative. The next line of active art enthusiasts need to step up and contribute to the world through art.
While most of our writing has been in English, we do believe that language should not be a barrier, especially when discussing the visual arts. In fact, we have featured few articles, interviews and reviews in Hindi along with their translations in English. In one case, we arranged for a translation from an essay in Malayalam, even though this did pose its own challenges. So, we are very open to contributions in any language other than English and would be happy to consider them, provided an English translation is also given along with.
We are a FREE subscription model and we plan to keep it that way for as long as we are able to keep it going. There are limited options to raise funds to manage the running costs of the blog platform or compensate the efforts of our writer-contributors, so we are seriously considering opening a payment gateway for contributions to help us continue to serve you, the artists, and the society at large. We are open to suggestions on how we can plan this.
In a month’s time (in October) we’ll be celebrating our first anniversary and we are looking forward to planning some kind of celebratory event to mark the successful completion of our first year of existence. But here we get ahead of ourselves. For now, we wish to celebrate and rejoice the completion of the milestone of 100 posts. Thank you all and do keep reading and sharing our posts.
We are grateful to ArtKeeper channel on YouTube run by Soumen Bhowmick for featuring our free-wheeling conversation around the objectives of artamour. Here's the video:
Ranjan Kaul is an artist, art writer, author and Founding Partner of artamour.
His art can be viewed on www.ranjankaul.com
Aakshat Sinha is an artist and curator. He also writes poetry and has created and published comics. He is the Founding Partner of artamour.