Sunday, October 15, 2017

Every Good Thing Has to Come to an End: Curating in Baroda Concludes (XII)

This is the last article in the series that I have been writing during the last twelve days on the curatorial projects realized by the cub curators in Baroda. For me, the project, ‘Magic of Making’ was an exceptional experience because it gave me an opportunity to work with a set of very vibrant students at the Fine Arts Faculty, MSU, Baroda. When I commenced my lectures on 11th September 2017, I had no clue about the direction that this module would take. But towards the end of my lecture on the first day itself I could understand that here was an interesting and interested lot of students who were enthusiastic about realising certain curatorial projects of and on their own. For the students the phrase ‘curatorial practice’ did not ring in any surprises which had done to me as a student quarter of a century back in the same faculty. Today students are familiar with various kinds of curatorial practices though they do not have any hands on experience in it. To my surprise I found at least a couple of students who were directly or indirectly involved in curatorial practice elsewhere. I did not find students were approaching the lectures with some kind of anxiety or scepticism. In this series of articles I have explained how the students developed their projects and curated them successfully. What I could say as a preamble to a concluding article is that today I stand more benefitted by my interactions with these students than they are. My students may dispute it but I am extremely thankful to them for surprising not only me but the department and the faculty as a whole with the enthusiasm and determination to realize their projects.

There were eighteen curatorial projects in total of which I have written in detail only about ten projects. I would have continued in the same vein had those other projects been by the first year MVA students. The reason why I do not want to write about the projects done by the first year students is this that they have one more year to go in the faculty and as a teacher if I give them a sort of high praise perhaps it would go directly into their heads and it would proved detrimental to the guide who would go there to initiate them into the final year module of curatorial practice. If they believe that whatever they have done in this year along with the final year students are good enough to be passed off as rounded curatorial projects, then their chances of working on much developed and mature concepts in the next year would be less. I do not put them into the self congratulatory mode not because that is a sort of ego checking mechanism but also because the projects that the junior students have taken up to realize this year were not conceptually mature in fact. When I was in the class I did not put them through the rigour that I had forced on to the senior students mainly because I knew for sure that those projects were just a warming up exercise for the next year. Whether it is me who would teach them next year or another teacher with another methodology, it is imperative for them to have a very fresh approach in the next year. They should never feel that they have done their best and they ‘know’ it.

Ryan Bhegra, Dhara Mayavat, Leticia Alvares, Hiral Patel
The biggest folly that a (cub) curator could commit is his/her belief in a singular model and in a time tested method. A curator is a person (a facilitator, a mediator, an ideologue, a collaborator, a co-creator and a creator in him/herself) who is presented with newer challenges every day. He/she has to face a new artist, a new work of an established artist whose style and method are well known but the one in your hands is entirely different and you need a different approach altogether, new space, new context, new understanding, new infrastructure, new bureaucracy and so on. So a curator cannot insist that ‘I am so and so, therefore I would be doing like this only.’ Such a person would be an utter failure. Similarly, a cub curator him/herself believes that he/she has done something in twelve days and has got appreciation from seniors, scholars and well wishers therefore he/she could curate a project in no time is definitely digging his/her professional grave, ‘professionally’. Always remember that what a curator has done within the campus is a campus project and not a ‘real’ one out in the world where you have to have a series of encounters with unsympathetic elements in the art scene. Overconfidence could finish your confidence itself in the real world. Another important what all the cub curators should remember is this: what you have done in the campus is one of the modules out of the many other modules that you study. Having done a curatorial project does not assure you any place automatically in the curators’ world elsewhere. Out of the twenty or twenty four students, all are not expected to become ‘curators’ even if they have done the module very well. It all depends on the choice that the students make. There are a number of avenues opened by the art history education; curatorial practice is one of them. And mind you, there is no money in it until you become a big name in the scene.

Sheetal Rathod
It is time for me, however to say a few good words about the junior students who have done some impressive projects. I am not going to go into the details of it. But an overview of these projects would give the readers an idea about the promises that these students make for the next year. Sheetal Rathod remained a very enigmatic student throughout the concept presentations and the debates. She hardly spoke up her ideas but she finally came up with a quick fix idea, which perhaps worked well for her. Sheetal wanted to do ‘Wisdom Tree’ and the tree was developed out of a ply board which she fixed at the entrance to the foyer of the Art History department. She painted a tree like form and provided the people with the sticky notes. The audience could contribute their wisdom and slowly and steadily the ‘tree’ grew and the fruits of wisdom were hanging from it. It was a successful project by default (I saw an opposite to Chandni’s Rhetoricity which had a high dose of idea behind it) and cannot be qualified as a fully developed curatorial project. Dhara came from architecture background and she has been studying the re-adaptation of the historical buildings in and around Baroda for some time. She wanted to present the photographs of these buildings. Besides she wanted to work with a few artists who drew such architectures. Somehow she could not manage the drawings and what she could do maximum was exhibiting the photographs of the re-adapted old buildings. Curatorially speaking this project was not meeting the high expectations of the concept had offered.

Nishith Mehta 
Nishith Mehta had a very interesting concept and called it ‘Sanima/Cinema’. His idea was to develop a parallel narrative that resembled to the sentimental narratives of a typical Bollywood movie using the film posters. Only thing that stood between Nishith and the project was the dearth of original posters that really wanted to build his narratives. The time was not enough for him to run around and source posters from the rare poster collections. Hence he decided to stick to the posters available in the net and put them together into a video format and supported it with Bollywood background music (BGM) and sharply cut silences. This project would have become a museum scale project had Nishith worked on it more diligently, with more research and resource. The result was unsatisfactory though as a first step it was impressive. Abhi who goes by this first name had so many ideas and little will power to realise them. However, he put his resources together to create a wall of contemporary works’ images with a central statement made by Harold Rosenberg: “A historically ignorant art have not better claim for attention than an economist who haven’t heard of market crash.” Abhi’s basic argument in the project titled ‘P square’ was that any work of art has a referential point in history or the history of another work of art. To prove him point, he arranged a brief lecture by Dr.Jayaram Poduval on the same subject. Realized on the side wall of the art history department building this project however did not attract people due to unimpressive visual presence. That area where students this time chose for putting up their projects thinking that there would be more foot fall seemed to be jinxed in a way.

Marzanah Mimi
Marzanah Mimi from Bangladesh curated one of the most visually impressive performances/ Happening art in her project titled ‘Hues of Pride’. Mimi wanted to curate the idea of the colours of her country where each colour sari was used for expressing certain seasons and certain national festivals and celebrations. Mimi wanted to recreate the feel of her country through saris worn by the girls/models. She was sceptical about getting her models but finally she could manage around fifteen of them and did an impressive show and in due course she doubled herself up as a curator as well as a performer. Sachin Ryan did a plain ‘print making’ show with three friends of his working in the printmaking department. Three female printmaking students who worked in the same hall got Ryan’s curatorial attention and he converted their studio into an exhibition space and called the project ‘Three Printmakers’, as plain as that. This project could have been a wonderfully developed on had the curator been a bit more serious about what he was doing. Moksha Kumar had a grand idea that involved six LCD television screens, a dark room and a performance. Her concept was interesting and the project was taking shape but somehow she grew cold feet and withdrew from doing it. Finally she came up with a one time performance with a poetic enactment of a commemorative poetry on death and life. Poorvi Sultania and Gopi Shah partnered together to curate a project titled ‘How are You?’ which became a successful project with its interactive nature and playfulness. But how far it went successfully curatorially was questionable as it did not seem to elevate itself beyond a festival fair stall with some curious game. However, I should appreciate their diligence in completing all the curatorial formalities.

Poorvi Sultania and Gopi Shah

Moksha Kumar
Any curatorial project owes its success at least twenty five percent to the background players. They may not be seen in the final display of the project works or they may not even have a direct hand in the curatorial idea but their curatorial inputs are invaluable. We could call them assistant curators who perhaps could grow into curators of their rights in future. I had four students who did a lot for the other cub curators but could not or did not do their projects. Mohammed Rafiyan from Sri Lanka was one student who strongly believed that he was not prepared to do a curatorial module. I did not want to force him either for I knew well that unpreparedness is a part of dislocation and readjustment. He was taking his time to adjust with the new educational system, language and so many other components. But Rafiyan soon grew into one of the most reliable curatorial assistants and his contribution was there in every project that the other cub curators did. So was the case of Dwip Aher, who had a wonderful idea but I discouraged him from doing it. Dwip’s curatorial idea involved a sort of an enactment of a very uncomfortable scene where I also should have been a willing partner without the knowledge of the rest of the class. He wanted to secretly register the reactions of the other students and see whether it could explain his ideas on social justice and humanity. But somehow, so many tender human emotions were involved in it (as he discussed with me privately I could not say no or say yes either) and I did not want to risk anything. Dwip, however gracefully repositioned himself as a curatorial assistant and helped most of the cub curators in realising their project.

Dwip Aher

Prajakta Bhogle Gaekwad

Mohamed Rafiyan

Prakhar Vidyarthi had a project in hand and also he knew how to go about it. The project was a about the ‘idea of space’ and how different people ‘materialized it’ when they were asked to do so. As a student with a background in architecture, he knew what he wanted to do. But in the discussion table itself the other curators shot him down saying that his project would not make a visually impressive one. Prakhar went back and did some ground work for a couple of days and came back and accepted before the class that they were right. So now he would be doing a much scaled up project within three months within the campus. Prajakta Bhogle Gaekwad is another first year student though had a project in her hand but took a backstage player’s position willingly. As a designer and graphic artist with experience in advertising, Prajakta took the responsibility of styling the curatorial projects and giving them an identity through colour coding and a sort of branding. She worked efficiently to design the invitation cards and posters, besides making a common format for printing concept and curatorial notes separately. She took up the responsibility of inviting the chief guest and the press and got a good coverage for the event/s which otherwise would have been passed off as a college affair. I should also congratulate Dr. Jayaram Poduval for giving freehand to me and to my students and supporting it throughout especially in overcoming bureaucratic hurdles in obtaining permissions and releasing a modest students’ fund. Ravi Kadam, the assistant in the department was throughout there do the important errands including the logistics and lighting. Jitto George, Shubhankar, Father Antony and Tarushikha, the PhD students and aspirants were there with their angelic presence instilling confidence and cheerfulness in all. To put it in nutshell, it was a wonderful experience of teaching and learning.

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