Five hundred and twenty artists- young, emerging, upcoming- you qualify them with any of these adjectives, the truth is that they are the chosen ones out of the thousands of applications that we have received at the United Art Fair office via emails, mails, couriers, drop-box and so on. Recommendations were aplenty. And finally, when the list was published there were jubilations all over the country- there were a flurry of phone calls and text messages thanking the United Art Fair Team Members for selecting them- and also there were broken hearts. There were angry calls and hate mails- and some hate mails came in the form of good advice- and we replied all of them with equanimity saying only this much: do good works and there is always a next edition to the United Art Fair.
(Work by Vivan Sundaram)
Someone told me (a well wisher and a great friend) that United Art Fair could be all about number game. And sheer number could gather a lot of garbage (they call it Kooda in Hindi). So scepticism that does its rounds in the art scene is this: how can there be so many artists in this country who are talented and emerging whom we have not noticed so far? Or even if we have noticed, we chose to ignore? Could all of them be kooda? You may ask me who could be the people who raise these doubts. I cannot pinpoint anyone because I don’t know them though I can sense them. These doubts are casted because none wants to believe that there could be good artists out there who generally don’t get chances in the mainstream gallery system.
(Neo Monster by Vibha Galhotra)
But I want to ask you this question, dear artists, would you like your works to be called kooda? And will you allow such people to flourish in this country who call your works kooda? I am sure that your rage could ensure the erasure of their presence from the art scene of India. But be sure those artists who were brought initially by some bold curators and gallerists, most of the people called them kooda. Later on same kooda became the mainstream and the kooda wallahs became the stars. Let me tell you, if you are not a good kooda gatherer you are bound to doom. United Art Fair, if you think that has collected garbage from all over India, let me tell you, this garbage is going to make a change in the Indian art scene because now there are not many artists left out of United Art Fair. This fair has got the remaining best in India. I say ‘remaining’ because a good minority is already there in the galleries.
(Trash book cover Vivan Sundaram)
I should acknowledge Vivan Sundaram here. He is the pioneer in bringing trash to the mainstream galleries. He literally trashed the existing aesthetics. But with that he proved that trash could be a way of explaining the current aesthetics. Now if you look at the shows, trash is the in thing. Best of art projects are made from and within trash or around kooda danas. Photographers photograph garbage dumps. Activist-artists walk along Yamuna and speak about kooda collected in there. If you cross from Select City Walk Mall (after going into Kiran Nadar Musuem or not), you shift your gear and the moment you start seeing Kirkhee village you start thinking only about kooda not because you see a lot of kooda there, but because most of the experimental art is raised from the urban kooda. If you have any doubt you may go into the archives of Khoj International Artists Workshop. When you don’t get any kooda to rely on, you go to city pages of the newspapers and do photo-realism.
(Work by Cindy Sherman)
Then how can you call those artists who work from outside the mainstream systems and establishments ‘kooda artists’? How would you turn kooda and into aesthetically palatable delicacy when it enters a mainstream establishment? How come a gallerist whose cheques have been bouncing left and right, and for that reason hated by every artist in this country suddenly becomes an intellectual gallerist when s/he starts working with performance artists and god alone knows who types of foreign artists, and also becomes a retailer of a few metro galleries?
Let us now realize the fake activities in our art system. Let us wake up to truth. How can a video work shown in a not so famous Lado Sarai Gallery gains all those critical appreciation when the same work is presented in the same way in a mainstream gallery? We need to question this snobbishness. Collectors of Indian contemporary art should now wake up and see art in its entirety. Art collection is always driven by emotional responses of the buyer/collector towards a work of art. And its investment possibilities increase when the collector works in tandem with the artist and his/her promoting agencies. We cannot let ten individuals in India to decide what could be the taste of this country. We should not allow them to call our works Kooda. If they call, I know how you are going to tackle them.