Leading British art magazine, Art Review annually publishes 100 top influential people in the art scene. This time Bose Krishnamachari and Riyas Komu from India also have found the 86h position in their ranking. It should be a happy news and as a fellow Malayali I should also be happy for their achievement. National and regional media (read media in Kerala) celebrated this news item by giving front page news as well as publishing full page features about them. Prime time television also mentioned their ranking in the top 100 list of the Art Review magazine. Bose and Riyas get this ranking for their role as the initiators of the Kochi Muziris Biennale, with a third edition in the offing. In the meanwhile, Subodh Gupta who had ranked 85th in the last year’s list has now dropped a few rungs down and has settled for the 92nd position, which interestingly also found a comparison in the mainstream media.
If I say a word against this once again I may have to face the criticism of being unnecessarily hostile to the KMB and its directors. But does this achievement really matter as far as the constituency of global art is concerned? The magazine that employs a ten member jury annually comes up with the list of 100 people and some gets dropped with each every passing year. Some may go up in the chart and some may go down. Yet another group like Bose and Riyas would find place in the list also in due course of time. It is one of those activities that make the contemporary art world a bit more interesting than it is otherwise. To tell you the truth, my problem or rather critique is on/with the word ‘influential’. Run a cursory search in the Google and you find the meaning of influential as ‘having a great influence on something or someone’. Most influential therefore should mean ‘having a great influence on maximum number of people or things’.
How influential Bose and Riyas are in the Indian art scene or in the global art scene? We have to debate this issue further. Reason, their achievement is all about establishing the KMB which has international presence and is a part of Indian tourism in general and Kerala tourism in particular. That means, this magazine must be enlisting similar entrepreneurs from other countries wherever international biennales have been set up. The biennialfoundation.org lists out 175 biennales from all over the world. That means there are 175 or 350 initiators of these biennales. One may find similar number of curators, funders and so on. All of them come under the ‘most influential’ category. But how have they influenced the people in general?
In the case of Kochi Muziris Biennale, within two editions it has achieved a sort of permanency in the Indian art map and also in the global biennale circuit. In the name of art and other intellectual activities around it, for three months at a stretch, things happen in Kochi, which are visited by several people. For the celebrities it is an occasion to make their presence felt by visiting this bi-annual event. For the common people it is an occasion to catch up with some art forms. And for the artists living there and visiting the place from elsewhere it is an opportunity to see what is happening in art around the world. Or rather, what exactly is preferred as art in the current season all over the world. To know the impact of the KMB one should ask how exactly the Indian art scene is benefitted by the KMB? Also the question should be asked how exactly the artists are benefitted in Kerala or elsewhere by this bi-annual activity? How the people in general are influenced by the KMB? Also the question should be asked to those people who have been living in the biennale city about the kind of impact it has been having on their lives.
I have asked these questions to many. For most of the people, biennale has become a bi-annual festival which they would really like to visit. Nothing more nothing less. For the journalists, it is an occasion to add spice to their writing with what is known generally as visual culture from all over the world. For the artists in India, those who are fortunate enough to spend money and go there, this is an occasion to make friends with Bose or Riyas and a lot of photo opportunities. For the mainstream galleries in India, it is an opportunity to ensure that their artists are taken care of in the exhibition list, which in fact gives some kind of presence to their artists in the international art market. For the artists living in the city, it is an occasion to feel a lot more inferior than they are otherwise.
Then who exactly are the beneficiaries? And how influential are Bose and Riyas in the international scene? They are influential in the international scene that is why they are listed in the Art Review’s most influential top hundred list. But if you ask how influential are Bose and Riyas in the India art scene, then I would say, there will not be too many people saying that their art or activities have impacted their lives for better. Bose’ works are no longer seen in the art market. Riyas has some failed attempts recently in showcasing his so called political art with Gandhi as a dominant imagery. There have been concerted efforts from people who have invested in the works of Riyas to include him in several group shows so that his presence as an artist would remain for the sake of the investors.
If you want to see the influence of Bose (not really Riyas) one should make an effort to travel with him to the places where artists gather. He is treated like a celebrity with so many people wanting to take photos of him and also with him. You feel that you are witnessing a phenomenon but the reality is that Bose takes a lot of pain to travel all over Kerala, India and the world to get that ‘presence’. And we should not mix up presence with ‘influence’. An influential person is someone who changes the lives of people forever. I would say, Bob Marely has done that. Beatles had done that. Vangogh, Warhol, Monroe and so many others have done that. Personally speaking, I am influenced by the lives and works of Bob Marley, Malcolm X, Mahatma Gandhi, Sree Narayana Guru, Jiddu Krishnamurthy, Abbas Kirostami, Orhan Pamuk, K.S.Radhakrishnan, Arundhati Roy, my own children to name a few. There are so many people influenced by Steve Jobs. There are so many people influenced by APJ Kalam. Pandit Nehru, Jayaprakash Narayanan, Lal Bahadur Shastri, V.P.Singh, Arvind Kejriwal, Sharukh Khan and so on. Compared to the influence these people have exerted where do Bose and Riyas stand?
Where exactly is their influence? If you look at the Youtube there is something called TED talk series. You will find a whole lot of talented people making it big by starting business enterprises. But I do not think they are all equally influential. If you read the works of Rashmi Bansal, you would see her narrating the lives of so many intelligent people who have left their comfort zones and made if big elsewhere by starting some business of their own liking. But they too are not so much of influential people. Their influence comes from their works. Amartya Sen influences the world with his economic theories. Ramachandra Guha with his historical insight on Indian political history. Arundhati Roy with her critique of the state. Where do Bose and Riyas stand by way of influence? I just do not understand.
You may say the constituency where they find themselves in, that is the art scene, they are influential. But taking the case of influence in art Abul Azad has influenced me in photography. Shibu Natesan has influenced in painting. K.S.Radhakrishnan has influenced me in sculpture. Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan has influenced me in music. So are Farida Khanoon, Noorjahan, Abida Parveen and so on. Chaitanya Tamhane has influenced me in film making. No…Bose and Riyas have not influenced me in art or business. If they are the most influential people in the Art Review’s eyes, I would say it their view. It is not my view or the view of the Indian art people in general. They may be influential in art market in terms becoming a platform that increases the prices of the artists in the world art market. If you call that influence yes, they are. But it should be compared with Ai Weiwei’s top position in the same list. He stands against all what Bose and Riyas stand for. But he is comfortably in the list; not his problem. Subodh Gupta has gone down; does it really matter to him? I do not think Subodh Gupta’s presence is reduced by any means by moving seven points down in the same list.
My request is this. Such name games, such ‘most influential’ games and most talked about games etc are the games that people play in the art market. It does not have anything to do with our minds or intelligence. For the dim witted, such ranking would sound so alluring. I will tell you one more instance for not taking these rankings seriously. During the art boom years there used to be a Kashi Art Prize for emerging artists. There used to so many prizes like that and the last one to die out was SKODA art prize. Where have all those prize winners gone? Have they changed the course of Indian art scene despite achieving those prestigious awards? Do not take these things seriously. Make good art, live good life, think positively and do the right thing, even if you are hunted down for it.