Friday, January 20, 2017

Fail not this Fair: India Art Festival Second Edition in Delhi

(India Art Festival Director, Rajendra Patil at Tyagaraja stadium pavilion)

If Google map and Delhi map meet each other at a restaurant table if not an operation table, they would find it difficult to recognize each other. Delhi has a map and signage so has Google. However smart Google is Delhi could confuse it. Get down at the INA Metro Station and look at the Google map in your phone. You want to go to the Tyagaraja Indoor Stadium (spent 300 crore rupees in its making!) where the second edition of the India Art Festival is taking place. You look for the signage of the stadium; you find Tyagaraja Park, Tyagaraja Block, Enclave and what not but not a single board that leads to the stadium. But blood recognizes blood; an art critic smells art even if it is taking place in an unnatural space like an indoor stadium. Finally I reach there and I feel happiness. At the security gate none asks for the pass (I am equipped with three VIP passes of which none had come for me). People walk in and everyone feels very important here and of course there is a surprise in waiting for you. Yes, this time India Art Festival looks like a professional art fair.

(view from India Art Festival)

All credits go to its director, Rajendra Patil who goes by his first name, Rajendra. His fair is a story of survival against all odds. When he started it in 2011 in Mumbai’s Nehru Centre (in which I had played a small part as a special section curator) it was given a step motherly treatment by the city’s proud galleries. They were all batting for India’s one and only art fair, the India Art Fair and thought that Rajendra’s venture was second grade in nature and a Vijaykant for a Rajnikant. From elitism to more elitism, from internationalism to high internationalism and from local to global went the India Art Fair, pushing so many galleries and aspiring artists out in its exclusivist filtering process done by (god alone knows why) some high browist gallerists holding the slogan of quality control. They never acknowledged the fact that the South is North when the map is turned upside down. That’s what exactly helped Rajendra to float his Fair/Festival with the help of those disgruntled artists and galleries and some staunch supporters like Siddharth Tagore and Sudhanshu Paliwal. And today the Festival proves that Rajendra was not wrong in his move though he had to amass a lot of second grade art and bad name for himself. But no game is bad game so long as you could gain a few brownie points. India Art Festival also saw Mumbai’s galleries ‘supporting’ the third edition of the India Art Festival (by this time it had gained its brand identity with the usual suspects warming the seminar platforms) with some hand down works but never the gallerists physically appearing there to own the brand up for themselves. Who said India’s art scene does not have caste system?

(view from India Art Festival)

A few months back, before demonetisation had hit Indian economy, Rajendra was still keeping his fingers crossed about the entries for the second edition of the India Art Festival in Delhi whose first edition had brought him brickbats than bouquets. Then and there he had decided to move it to the Tyagaraja Indoor stadium. It was a win-win situation for Rajendra just before the demonetisation. “I could break even now with the entries,” a happy Rajendra had told me then. Then came the demonetisation quite unexpectedly. “If I do it in Delhi I would lose around 40 lakhs rupees,” Rajendra told me then and he added, “If I do not do also I lose the same amount. Hence, I have decided to do it.” It was not even a gambling for Rajendra, a sort of loss which he was ready to face. But of course I know those people who run a business either exaggerate the profit margin when they are about to borrow or reduce it to abysmal levels when they are about to lend. In short, do not believe what the entrepreneurs say. I did not gulp Rajendra’s words without a pinch of salt; even with a pinch of it I did not swallow it at all. But I liked the way he put it. He projected himself as a completely wounded warrior in the battle field but still standing with a broken weapon in his hand. The image that I imagined was pretty interesting.

(view from India Art Festival)

Today, at the Tyagaraja Stadium Rajendra stands at the gate with a burnished weapon of success in his hands; a well laid out art fair. “The pink has not stopped coming,” Rajendra says metaphorically as he leads me through the stalls. He points out the artists who have made moolah in the last two days. “It is not huge sales, but the optimism of the buyers is quite palpable. They don’t mind shelling out a couple of lakhs for a work, that too in pink, the new currency,” says Rajendra. The works of art may disappoint an art enthusiast who wants to see something ‘really happening’ there in them. Most of the artists are from Mumbai, Noida, Faridabad, Gurgaon and they have made new galleries to place themselves in the festival. Even a couple of galleries from Singapore and Tanzania have taken the pains to come and exhibit. The works of art are mostly decorative and experimental as much as the artists understand it. One may find some interesting works even by inconspicuous artists. The Kalavishkaar Gallery, a flagship gallery of Rajendra and the stall that combines it and the Bombay Art Society has some good works of Sudhir Patwardhan, Baiju Parthan, Jatin Das, Jogen Chowdhury and so on. “They all came as contributions towards my efforts,” chuckles Rajendra but he is reluctant to part with them.

(view from India Art Festival)

Forty galleries in around forty thousand square feet of space are what make the India Art Festival this year. It has got the ambience and lay out of a fairly good art fair in any part of the world though the works cannot boast quality. However, it would be absolutely doing injustice to the artists who have enthusiastically taken part in the festival if I say that they are bad artists and have done bad art. No, they are not the kind of art may be the mainstream art enthusiasts want to see or trade in. But we cannot wish away the fact that there is a market for these kinds of works too. The artists who have come there are dignified people though their skill levels and conceptual levels are not as polished as the professional artists in the mainstream. So what could be done to enhance the quality level of the festival by bringing more artists, galleries and people into it? With the India Art Fair going really international and exclusivist, it is imperative for the Delhi based galleries to come forward to support by participating in Rajendra’s India Art Festival so that the quality would also increase and the India Art Fair turned down galleries would get a prime position in this fair. It would grow in size and quality; I am sure the buyers are where the good works are sold. I can say it for sure that 90% of the people who come to the India Art Fair do not have the habit of going by Mercedes cars or drinking Absolut Vodka every day. But they hang out there to see some art and also to identify with the international brand that the India Art Fair has been successful in creating.

Why not give, a home grown brand like the India Art Festival a chance to make another international brand with the artists who really want to do good in their lives and works? All our inspirational movies whether it is Jo Jeeta Woh hi Sikander or Chak de India, Sultan or Dangal, all of them say one single story; if you have perseverance and the support and guidance of a determined team or person, you can create wonders. Why do we think only the gora sahebs could create great stuff or why do we think only those could create good stuff who want to go out and please the international audience? What about our asmita? Our feeling for ourselves? “It is cold here,” says Rajendra, “People come after lunch and between two and four there is a considerable crowd in the pavilion and later on it thins down,” he says. It is not just about cold; people queue up, beg, cry, steal and brawl for a free pass in the severest of cold in early January to get into the India Art Fair ground (during the early editions). What deters them from coming here is the kind of brand association. But Rajendra alone cannot do anything to make it better. The Delhi galleries should make up their mind and come forward to participate in it. We all know that the galleries show something and sell something else. Hence, the days of holier than thou attitude are gone. Come forward and support so that you build a brand. Drop that step motherly attitude towards India Art Festival. Do come out and see, and tell Rajendra, the lonely man who makes it happen that it is great and we are ready to be with him. That shows the spirit of Delhi, nobody’s land. Fail not this fair. Go visit and appreciate. 

1 comment:

Prabuddha Ghosh said...

It's great, JohnyML. Through your eyes and mind we can connect ourselves with this venture. Thanks and regards.