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A year when art rekindled its relationship with the masses

A year when art rekindled its relationship with the masses

New Delhi: The signs of seeking a genuine engagement between art and public started reflecting earlier this year when Terminal 2 of Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport (CSIA) opened with an art museum, followed by a photo exhibition spread across multiple venues in Delhi and eight other cities.

Cementing this relationship further were many such public art projects that reinvented, revisited and re-engaged people using varied mediums of art.

Touted as India's largest public art gallery, "Jaya He", a three-kilometre long art wall illuminated by skylights and with over 5,000 artworks and artefacts from all over the country at the Mumbai airport, has been greeting visitors since February.

It has definitely opened a dialogue with the masses, who would otherwise be reclusive to visit to closed spaces of an art gallery.

"People need to understand art and its importance. General conception about art is that you become a painter. This has to change because art constantly looks at social changes and interprets situations the way they are," artist Shweta Bhattad told IANS.

Bhattad has successfully initiated a dialogue with the community through her art project "I Have A Dream" and "Gram Art Project" that work in rural India on different important issues related to villages through community-based national and international art projects.

If the photography festival "Fete de la photo", organised to celebrate the centenary year of Indian cinema, was showcased as the first pan-India photography festival depicting art in public spaces, then the makeover of New Delhi's oldest market, Shankar Market, seemed to be perfectly timed to add many hues to the pale, weary and beetle-stained walls and corridors of the market opposite the Connaught Place outer circle.

The New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC) had joined hands with Delhi Street Art (DSA) to refurbish the market with street art for this project.

However, this clearly indicates that even if artists are willing to promote art beyond galleries, they need support from experimental-driven visionaries to back their creative instincts.

"People tend to forget that art and culture are important fabrics of our country. Indians give a lot when it comes to religion, education and women's empowerment. I am not saying that the people shouldn't do that. What I feel is that cultural heritage comes at the bottom of priorities among people," Pooja Sood, director, Khoj International Artists' Association (KIAA), told IANS.

"We need more cultural guardians to sustain and support art and make it a regular in the public discourse," she added.

Attempts to rekindle this relationship have been made in the past, but the placement of artworks has failed to move beyond the written word. One such example is artist Subodh Gupta's shiny stainless steel installation "A Banyan Tree" in the lawns of the National Gallery of Modern Art.

The abysmal footfalls have remained limited to a selected few who are either students or admirers of art or tourists.

"Art has to find a way to create a dialogue on a subject that is of public interest. So, taking small actions in building up this awareness surrounding art is required to expect more detailed engagements," said Bhattad.

In hindsight, it was also a proud year for India when in August Indian artist Nalini Malani's video installation lit up the facade of the Scottish National Gallery during an event marking 100 years of the beginning of the First World War.

Similarly, artist Samar Singh Jodha's giant multimedia installation that recreated the fateful night of the Bhopal gas tragedy was open for public viewing at Piazza Della Repubblica in Rome. The 40-foot container recreated an eerie sensory experience of a train ride into Bhopal on the night of the disaster 30 years ago.

And this is why Jodha felt that this "soft platform" is much easier to hear and can provide amazing engagement with the larger masses.

"Through public art, artists slip in the message of what they seek to tell the world. Often art is accused of sitting in an isolated space, but to go beyond this periphery, public art is critical in India and it too should go beyond statues of public figures," Jodha told IANS.

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