In Indian contemporary art scene (or should I say, in our general art scene) there are two types of artists; one, those who create art, exhibit art and live in art. Second type, those who see art, discuss art, debate art, admire art and successful artists and position themselves permanent artist viewers. This second lot live in permanent depression. And interestingly, the first lot of artists needs the second lot to be permanently there. The relationship is viciously mutual. The second lot is like a hireable crowd that goes anywhere for Rs.100 per head and a quarter bottle of wine, irrespective of the colour of flags. They are bound to create an ambience for the successful artists and fight for flimsy causes that would results into larger effects.
My trip to eight cities in India, in order to promote the concept of United Art Fair underlined this belief of mine further. One more stroke of a strong graphite piece along the virtual space of my beliefs. Sitting along with Annurag Sharma, the founder director of the United Art Fair and addressing hundreds of young artists in Baroda, Bombay and elsewhere, I saw this second lot of artists. Their eyes shine when they see people like us; not because we are great people or celebrities, but because we are the people from the zone of art movers and shakers whom they could see from close quarters. The sparkles in their eyes are not of compassion or love. The sparkle is that of vengeance. Let me tell you given a chance, these friends would pounce on us and kill us.
Even if they do, I don’t blame them. I can understand their frustration and angst. Their frustration comes from the fact that they are always forced to sit at the sidelines. Somebody lectures them down. Somebody gives them advices. Somebody gives them dinners for free so that he/she could take out the worldly wisdom she/he has earned so far in due course of a successful artistic career. They put up a show and the successful ones come there. They don’t suggest these artists’ names to a gallery. Instead, they get a shoulder pat and few good words and probably an invitation to a house party. Nothing more nothing less. The next day you find yourself sitting at your studio or the dingy rooms where you live and work and dream about that day when you could lecture them back, you could advice them in turn and you could invite them for a house party.
If a young artist walks up to me and slaps me I will not slap him back. I may not show my other cheek to him. I will ask him, even if I know why he slapped me, for a reason. And I am sure he would say I was not slapping you but the system that you represent, a system that makes artists just cannon fodders. I will embrace him and walk off. Why? I know he was not slapping me. He was slapping a person who at least partially representing an unkind system. But I would walk in the opposite direction with a smile because at least I would be happy that I was the one who was going near to them in a slappable distance. I have been at least making that effort to get slapped by the young artists. But mind you, if you slap me without a reason you may not use your hands again to do your art.
Every day I look at my inbox and see a number of mails basically telling me the same; we don’t have money. We want to participate in the United Art Fair. Some plainly say that they cannot even think of sparing that last slab of fifteen thousand rupees because that money would support them through a month in some dingy little studio somewhere in India. I understand them. I try to put some logic into their minds. If you want to shape your career you can take two paths: one make works and wait for a messiah to come and save you. It could take four years to fourteen years to forty years. I have seen people like that waiting endlessly for that day of redemption. Second option is investing for your career. I cannot tell you how you are going to raise that money. But to make something you need to invest somewhere.
(A few young artists in one of the United Art Fair artists meets)
Don’t think that I am talking only to the suffering and the complaining. I am talking to the successful and the rich. I am like water, I can flow freely. And remember water flows downhill. Water waters the thirsty in the valleys. But water originates at the hill top. And it ends in the eternity of ocean. Be like water, says Bruce Lee. So what do these rich and successful tell me: A few of them tell me that please don’t waste your time for the suffering and the complaining. They are going to be like that. They will see art, discuss art, appreciate art and die in their own frustration. So just forget them. Many others keep silence. Many benevolent ones tell me that someone should do something for these artists. I have been asking the local governments to create funding system for the artists. Democracy is deaf.
Some of my friends, who are successful and rich behave as if they have just come out of heaven after their breakfast. They just don’t understand what is going on in this lowly earth. They look at the artists who go to the exhibitions and never get a chance to exhibit, and say, oh artists, let them do their works man. The successful ones are in search of their peace and they don’t want dirt like suffering artists. And the irony is most of the rich artists have come from lowly situations. They had been there for some time. They know the pain of being there. I am not saying that the artists should suffer in order to make it in their lives. But suffering should not be a prolonged factor and one should not be kept a permanent spectator.
(With Jeevan Thomas)
So my young friends, brace up and wake up. No god is coming to save you from the sky. Neither Annurag Sharma nor I are messiahs. We are here with a business plan for you. We are not saying that after participating in the United Art Fair you are going to be rich, famous and much sought after on the next day onwards. We are not selling any dreams here. We are just creating a platform for you so that you can stop complaining and participate. You can feel that you are an artist and you get a lot of dignity from us. Galleries cannot run behind you. They need such platforms to identify you. It is not the boom time that you just sit and work so that angels would fly down from Delhi and Mumbai to pick up you to the heaven of success. It is time for you to work towards your future.
And one more thing. If you are not interested in market and selling of your works, please do not exhibit in any commercial situations. And do not go for any commercial exhibitions. You all should strive for creating a situation where an artist could live without the support of the existing market. But remember we are here to make not one market but many markets. The beauty of our country lies in many markets. When a set of players hijack heterogeneity of this country we call it monopoly. Don’t you want to join hands against all monopolies? Then come with us. I will show you how to cross a desert without a camel.