Monday, February 23, 2009
Devlalikar Fine Arts College, Indore
At the Sasakiya Lalit Kala Sansthan (Fine Arts Education Institute), Indore, Madhya Pradesh, a group show of seventy six artists is on. A hoarding outside the hall says that the Chief Minister of Madhya Pradesh dedicates this gallery to the people of Indore on 9th January 2009. We are here in Indore on the last day of the show. Inside the gallery that reminds you of a little theatre in two floors, seventy six works are displayed. Most of them are abstract in nature but do not look naïve or amateurish. Skill and profession are visible. An urge for experimenting with different techniques and abstract styles is quite palpable in these works. Out there in the front courtyard, the students of Devlalikar Kala Vidhika (Devlalikar Arts Centre), which is the famous fine arts education institute in Indore, display their works in a long makeshift gallery. One can see the affiliations and stylistic continuity in these works too.
This exhibition, which is titled ‘Aarambh’ (The Beginning) has a lot of energy. Perhaps, we have not heard these artists’ names before. They are all the alumni of the same institute. Many have established themselves as full time professional artists in Indore itself and elsewhere in the country. We are here on a Sunday, still we find a few artists sitting and discussing several things at the veranda of the gallery. Local people and tourists come and go. Unlike the other cities that we have visited earlier, here we find a different ambience. People are interested in art.
Devlalikar Kala Vidhika may not be as popular as Sir.J.J.School of Art or Santiniketan. However, those people who are deeply involved in the Indian art scene definitely know the name of this institute. It is here the legendary artist M.F.Husain spent his formative years. He was trained under Guru Damodar Dattatreya Devlalikar, who started this institute as a private art teaching centre in 1927. He taught artists like N.S.Bendre and D.J.Joshi. The institute became famous as these artists earned their names in due course of time. M.F.Husain became the most famous painter in India. N.S.Bendre helped establishing the Fine Arts Faculty, M.S.University, Baroda.
These artists took Devlalikar’s name all over the country. People in Madhya Pradesh, irrespective of their ‘city-loyalties’ admire the contribution of D.D.Devlalikar. Devlalikar to Indore is what Rabindranath Tagore is to Santiniketan.
Amit Gupta, a young artist in his early thirties who currently works in Delhi is in Indore for participating in the ongoing show. He is an alumnus of this college. “Devlalikar started this academy in 1927 in a small building right across the road,” he points at the other side of the busy road where all kinds of vehicles ply flouting all the possible logic of traffic.
“Later, Maharaja Holkar gave this building to Devlalikar to continue with his institute,” Amit continues.
The Holkar kings of Indore were seriously interested in art and they patronized many artists. Artists, writers, intellectuals and bureaucrats from Maharashtra region came to Indore to receive the Holkars’ patronage during the 19th century itself.
Right in the middle of the gallery, you see a bronze bust of Devlalikar. I remember the bust of Tagore done by Ram Kinker Baij. The reverence and energy of the artists who had done these busts are quite palpable.
The architecture of the gallery is interesting. It has two storeys. The ground level gallery is a neat white hall with slender pillars supporting the high ceiling. The second storey is just a balcony space that runs above the three sides of the hall below. I find a row of steps running along the balcony space. It obviously looks like a theatre.
“This building was the Navagraha Temple built by the Holkar family for the public of Indore. There used to be a lot of theatre and dance performances conducted during their reign. Basically it was a space for worship and art,” Ismail Lahiri, an alumnus of the institute, who now works as a cartoonist for the Dainik Jagaran newspaper.
Till 1980s the Devlalikar institute functioned from this building. Later with the state government taking charge of the institute, it got a new building just behind it. Since then this has been used as a gallery. A few years back, the structure of the building started showing weakness. Architects were brought into reinforce the structure. It took two years to renovate the structure. Now it is a full fledged gallery and the people in Indore seem to be quite proud of this cultural wealth.
Devlalikar Fine Arts Institute offers BFA and MFA in painting. There are around seventy students studying here in different batches. Till 1965, when the Indian states were not marked out with linguistic parameters, the examinations for this institute were conducted by the Sir J.J.School of Art, Bombay. In 1965, it was affiliated to the Khairagarh University. The Government of Madhya Pradesh demarcated Dhar, Indore, Jabalpur and Gwalior for four fine arts institutes to teach painting, graphics and applied art and sculpture respectively.
Interestingly and ironically, Devlalikar Fine Arts is now administrated by two different establishments. The first year examinations are conducted from Gwalior under the state government’s ministry of culture. MFA is still affiliated to Khairagarh University.
“This causes a lot of inconvenience. Students have to run between Khairgarh, Gwalior and Indore,” says Amit Gupta. “We want all the examinations to be conducted by the cultural ministry or the Gwalior University,” Amit continues.
Artists and intellectuals in Indore have been campaigning towards this for the last few years. And Amit is sure that in the recent future itself Gwalior will be the administrative centre for his alma mater. “Things are now moving fast and we are hopeful about it.”
There are four teachers in Devlalikar fine arts college and this includes the principal Sasikant Mundi also. Karan Singh, Braj Mohan Arya and Kamal Verma are the other teachers. They are all serious about their teaching and inspire the students to work hard. However, there are enough roadblocks for them too.
“Library facilities are minimum and there is no internet service in this college. Whatever books available are looked after by one of the teachers. There is no librarian and there are no annual purchases. We want the library facilities to be enhanced,” says one of the teachers requesting anonymity.
Later I speak to a few students from the MFA course. They are full of energy and optimism. Small town complexes do not seem to hold them back. They come forward to talk and most of them travel quite often to the big cities like Delhi and Bombay.
“Yes we know that our library is poor. But we are exposed to the contemporary art scene through internet and catalogues. We don’t have internet facilities in the college, but we use it outside. And we get catalogues and information through the city based professional artists who travel quite often to the cities,” says Ashish Tiwari, a MFA first year student.
In Indore, by evening most of the artists, writers and other cultural enthusiasts come around the college. As usual they discuss art, art politics and share anecdotes and gossips. But these activities keep the art ambience proper and energetic. “We hang out with these seniors and that is quite important for us,” says one of the MFA students.
We meet another alumnus of the college, who has come to meet his friends here. He works as a full time artist and he is confident that he can pull off things by doing art alone. At times he does commissioned works and earns money to pursue his individual career as an artist. “This city is not expensive. So I can lead the life of an artist,” he smiles.
One need not spend a lot to be an artist. One just needs to have the attitude. I am surprised at the energy level shown by the Indore artists and art students. Ujjain has more facilities as a city. Ujjain is the cultural capital of Madhya Pradesh. But the students and faculties are lethargic there. In Indore it is a different story. Each student shows a future promise. And all of them are ready to launch themselves to a full time artist career.
Lack of library facilities and departmental apathy have created some kind of hurdles to the smooth functioning of this institution. “We need more facilities and circumstances to have more intellectual discussions. We teach them technical skills. But that is not enough for the students. Their thought process needs sharpening. They need to get into reading and thinking. They should understand the changing contemporary world,” admits Braj Mohan Arya, who is a faculty member.
The proportion between the boys and girls are almost fifty fifty. Girls in this institution do not shy away from art activities. They participate in exhibitions and debates. They travel in and around the city with the teaching staff. Study tours are conducted regularly here.
“The things could be improved if the Central and state lalit kala academies take interest in bringing exhibitions here. They should be conducting camps and workshops regularly in Indore so that the city and its people along with the students would be benefited,” opines Amit Gupta.
Indore artist community has a demand. It asks the Central Lalit Kala Akademy to start a research centre here at the Devlalikar Institute.
This is a valid demand, I feel because you don’t have any written material available on the life and times of Damodar Dattatreya Devlalikar. Research and documentation centre is a must not only for Indore but also for any other city/town in India where people have sacrificed their lives for establishing art institutes.
Indore fine arts students give us a lot of hope. They are taught only painting. They don’t have any facilities to do cutting edge art. However, they practice to think out of the box. Many students have cameras and modern gadgets. They indulge in making video art and photography. “We don’t know how strong we are, but we have the aspiration to do things,” say the students.
Indore makes me happy as I am reminded of my Trivandrum days.
PS: In the exhibition hall at the Devlalikar Fine Arts Institute, I come across the works of Mohan Malaviya. He was an alumnus of this institute. I met Mohan Malaviya along with another artist Siraj Saxena (again an alumnus of Indore) in Delhi in late 1990s. Mohan had a strong abstract language. Siraj worked in ceramics. We used to bump into each other in openings and at times at the K.S.Radhakrishnan’s studio in Delhi, where they used to come to show the works to the master sculptor. Mohan was picked up Delhi’s Art Alive Gallery and he was doing quite well. Last month I came to know from Siraj that Mohan had died in an accident in December 2008. It was a shock for me. His motorbike collided with a truck and he died on the spot. He was on a vacation in Indore, his home town. Mohan’s work here suddenly brought all those memories back to my mind. I stood in silence before his works for sometime. Mohan’s friends later told me that they were planning to do a commemorative exhibition.
Damodar Dattatreya Devlalikar brings another picture in my mind. His son, Manohar Devlalikar was in Delhi for a long time. His mind was imbalanced. He used to spend his time with the students of the National School of Drama and the regular visitors in Central Lalit Kala Akademy. He sang well and talked to young people like an enthusiastic art lover. He used to go really mad at times. There was nobody to take care of him. Finally he died like a destitute in the Delhi streets. I think, his death was mourned only by a few youngsters. Artists like Inder Salim Tikku, Shantanu Lodh, Sushil Kumar and so on were his friends. Whenever I go to the Lalit Kala Akedmy canteen, I look for this man even today. But he is dead and gone.