Friday, October 21, 2016

Folly of getting the Local Communities into Art

Of late I have been meeting gallerists who are intensely worried about the local communities that are not taking any interest in art and culture. They say that people don't get to see art at all in the public and private spaces so much that they have developed some sort of an aversion for art. Is there a remedy to it? I ask them. They have got some quick fix ideas to make people aware of art and its role in their lives. First and foremost the local communities should be brought to the zones where art activities take place or art activities should go to their locations and make them do some art for themselves, to put it in other words, make everyone an artist. Secondly, fill up the environments with a lot of works of art so that people get an idea of visual art and its relevance in public spaces; that means encouraging 'Street Art and Public Art'.

Such suggestions ad  intentions apparently look innocent and well meaning. But the suggestions and solutions, critically speaking are ridden with a lot of problems. Let me analyse the issue pertaining to these suggestions one by one The complaint that the people lack art awareness is itself a faulty one, to begin with. When a galleries says that people from local communities take no interest in art, he or she does not qualify the local communities talked about or the kind of art that he or she expects them to see. Does he or she mean that the local communities should be excited by the art in general or the art created by the visual artists or the art exhibited in his/her gallery? If he/ she is talking about the art in general, saying that people are not taking interest in art is a biased opinion, not reality. People in fact, take a lot of interest in various kinds of art forms including visual art, music, films, theatre, television programs and so on.If the complaint is that they are not keen on the kind of visual art produced in our country, then we have to ask whether the kinds of visual art produced in our country is 'given' to them in all possible means or not. If it is about them not seeing the kind of art exhibited in his or her gallery, the question should be re-directed to him / her and asked whether they invite the local communities to their premises?

This is a very old problem. However the idea of taking art to the places where the people live or to the community centres is burdened by a sense of patronising. First of all one has to define the local communities. 'Local Communities' is not a monolith. It has various levels and hierarchies based on economy, education, inheritance and now political affiliation and religion. The affluent classes generally do not entertain patronising efforts taken up by somebody in order to initiate them into art and culture, because they have already got their initiation in art and have also got a stake in it. That means, the local communities are constituted by a willing minority of middle class and a dispassionate minority of the lower middle class and the lower income groups. Somehow we are not ready to accept the fact that when we talk about taking art to the people we are envisioning a pre-defined community of underprivileged people who perhaps would accept the art enforced using them for the time being by participating enthusiastically.  Ironically in this effort we fail to ask whether they have something of their art to show us; they may have abut in our mission we fail to recognise  their art.

Equally fallacious is the conclusion that the lower income groups do not understand or appreciate art. A set of people living in underprivileged areas in a city or rural areas in fact are closely in touch with various kinds of art forms, ritualistic, performative and meditative in their own contexts. Enriched by the images and sounds of the popular and street cultures, these sets of people are more receptive to works of art than the people above who show a lot of discretion in choosing their art form, which often are no better than sentimental expressions. Seen in this context, both the layers of the local communities need a different sort of sensitisation via both pedagogic and participatory methods.

The well meaning people who intend to do these sensitising acts, unfortunately want everyone to be an artist through participation. Becoming an artist or making an artist out of a disinterested person seems to be important for these missionaries. Anybody could be an artist, provided that person does anything aesthetically, involving rhythm and harmony. However, believing too much in this dictum is injurious to the general health of art. In an attempt to make everyone an artist, these missionaries miss a point, which is, if everyone is an artist how would they be seen in the society. And naturally too, everyone is not equipped to do creative works even if they have latent potentialities in them to do creative works. We have enough artists in this country and each year more of them are added to the struggling congregations. What we need urgently is creating a society which is tolerant to artists and their works. If we could help a majority of people to turn into art lovers and appreciators of the artistic abilities, we would achieve fifty percent success in our efforts.

Where does this other fifty percent lie? It lies in creating a climate of visual art and also the houses of visual arts. That means we need to create more and more museums for traditional, modern and contemporary art. Once the people are initiated into the appreciation of art, they should be provided with places where they could see 'living art'. this is possible only when more museums are created in our country. Galleries cannot do this and they should not even attempt it. Galleries are fundamentally business showrooms and expect only the buyers and insiders  of the art community. Most of the galleries in India are okay with people not crossing their doors. Many gallerists maintain that they expect only the buyers. In this scenario, only the public museums could pitch into save the situation.

A museum cannot purely be a private initiative for it would definitely end up showing what the funder of it likes or prefers to showcase. In the case of a public museum we see in our country, the displayed artefacts slowly decay due to lack of maintenance and are never upgraded and updated due to bureaucratic interference. What makes sense then is the establishment of public-private initiative where finders leave the power of discretion to able professionals. Such museums would be the places which welcome those who have been craving for aesthetic experiences thanks to their recent initiation into art.

The gallerists who selflessly support the Street Art projects to enhance the aesthetic appeal of the neighbourhoods as well as the artistic inclinations of the local communities miss yet another point; they are not supporting the Street art. All art done on the streets is not Street arts are aesthetical interventions based on the critique of the complacent mainstream society. This amounts to vandalism and defacement of public and private property. Such art would not like to be patronised by the galleries or by the governments. Hence what we see today in the name of Street art is a kind of art meant for beautifying the cities, which is a form of conformist art. These works could create aesthetical backdrops for the mundane life but ironically most of it is missed by the people in the closest neighbourhood doe to their added proximity. Hence the major consumers of such art are the people who live in the vantage points; the rich and the powerful.

It is also pertinent to notice that such kind of graffiti or street art is not allowed in those neighbourhoods where the affluent ones live. Therefore, taking art to the local communities with a patronising zeal would eventually turn futile. Instead there should be a more egalitarian approach to create adequate cultural climates so that the people get naturalised with art.

(Images courtesy: Internet)

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