Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Art Routes- Roads Taken but Forgotten

Faculty of Fine Arts, MS University, Baroda holds a very high position amongst the Indian institutions that impart education in art. Yes, we do have other prestigious institutions like Sir J.J.School of Arts, Mumbai, Kalabhavana, Santiniketan, College of Arts and Crafts, Kolkata, Madras College of Art, Delhi College of Art, Faculty of Fine Arts, Jamia Millia Islamia, New Delhi and so on. I cannot avoid naming the institutions like CAVA, Mysore, SN School, Central University, Hyderabad, Chitrakala Parishad, Bangalore and College of Fine Arts, Trivandrum. There are certain elite schools that teach fine arts and theories like the Arts and Aesthetic Department, Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, Srushti School, Bangalore, Raheja School, Mumbai, Stella Mary’s, Chennai. India has got hundreds of other art colleges. However, it is an art student’s dream to get admission in Baroda.

Baroda fine arts faculty has a history of fifty years. Considering the history of other institutions, this is comparatively a new institution. But within the ‘short span’ of ‘fifty’ years, it could gain a covetable position in the history of Indian modern and contemporary art. Thanks to the devotion and hard work of many stalwarts like N.S.Bendre, K.G.Subramanyan, Gulam Muhammed Sheikh, Ratan Parimoo and so on, this institution grew in prestige with each passing year. Faculty of Fine Arts, Baroda became a byword for excellence in the Indian art scenario. It would be a difficult task to jot down the names of all those luminaries who studied here. This institution witnessed the birth of Indian Narrative School and also it became the cradle for the Indian Radical Painters and Sculptors Association (Radical Group).

The Baroda myth still continues. And I think it is good to start our ‘Art Routes’-Ways of Seeing Road Trip from Baroda itself.

Baroda gives a contrasting picture. Several students from various regional affinities come here to study. They imbibe the mood and ambience of the place and try to be big in the scene. Many have won in their efforts and many have lost out. Those who have the competency to fight it out, stay back here after their education and work towards success through various levels of struggling. Those who have assured jobs and other commitments go back to their destined places. Yet another lot studies here and then vanishes without a trace.

I remember a classmate of mine coming from a laid back region in India. Throughout the year, he was silent in the class. When he came to the class like a shadow, we, the so called intellectuals who could communicate in English, looked at each other as if we were sharing a secret joke about him. I never heard of him since I left the institute. Sometimes I think about him and wonder whether he would be teaching in some college as an art history lecturer.

In the visual arts departments too I had come across students like him. They could not communicate with the other students. They never got girl friends. They did not discuss their art. I used to think about them as morons.

But today I have a different feeling about them. I want to see all those students in a very different perspective. At the same time I want to think about all those students who would like to study in Baroda but never make it. I would like to think about all those students who study in small town art colleges and never think of higher studies. I think of those students who don’t even know what contemporary art is. I think of those students who study in small town art colleges and shape up their futures according to the available jobs in the industries in their vicinity.

I remember two incidents. I was loitering around the Jehangir Art Gallery in Mumbai. I found several artists working from the pavements. Some of them were displaying their works and some of them were making instant portraits. A couple of them were making caricature portraits of the interested clients.

I sat before one of them and got my caricature done. While doling out the money, I asked him whether he ever wanted to show his works in the galleries. He said he was happy and was not intending to do any exhibitions. Then he told me that he was a classmate of Bose Krishnamachari at J.J.School of Art, Mumbai and they passed out from the institute together.

The other incident is a bit more interesting. I met a guy in Amalsad. He was running a tea stall in front of a small art college. He was an alumnus of the same college. But what surprised me was his story. He was also a post-graduate in applied arts from the Faculty of Fine Arts, Baroda. He told me that he never had the confidence to live in a big city and work for an advertisement agency as he could not communicate in English. After his education he came back to his village and started running a tea stall.

These extreme examples, perhaps illustrate my views on the attitude and psychological make up of the students from the small town art colleges. They don’t want to make it big in their lives because they always feel incompetent and lacking in confidence. Linguistic inability, as my enquiries have proved, is not the only culprit. There is a severe lack of direction during their education. They are not given inspiration to make it big in their lives. They are herded like kids and are asked to continue with the stale academic practices.

But I have found them having tremendous talent. May be it needs proper channelizing. They need more exposure. They need a bit more freedom in pursuing their dreams. They need a bit more access to knowledge. They need a different curriculum.

I am going to see these institutions and meet these students along with my friends, Somu Desai and Feroze Babu.

While posing for a photograph in front of the main building of the faculty of fine arts, Baroda, I remembered all those silent students who were my batch mates. May be I would come across people like them in this trip. I am sure they would be confident and vibrant in their own settings. They may be having a few stories to tell us.

But I want to ask them a few questions: Do they know the big names in Indian contemporary art? Do they want to know about them? Why they don’t know about Indian contemporary art? Do they want to go pursue their careers independently? Do they want to go for higher studies in institutions like Baroda, J.J.School and Santiniketan?

What are their strengths? What are their weak points?

May be I will get a few answers for these questions. May be I will not. I am keeping it open.

I am very keen on this trip as I would like to meet people from a different stream of art. My friends Somu and Feroze too are very optimistic about this trip.

I hope that I would come across people who would give me their stories. I hope that I would be able to tell those stories for a larger public.

We are still in Baroda. But in a way, with our photo shoot at the Faculty of Fine Arts, Baroda, this morning, our trip is already on.

We call it Art Routes-Ways of Seeing Road Trip. Art Routes explains itself. We are looking at the routes through which art is going and the routes where art might go in future.

My way of seeing is different from that of Feroze and Somu. It is different from all those people who read it. But I am sure there are some points where out perspectives converge.

Let us look for those points of convergence. Even if we don’t find them, let us see how divergent we are in our ways of seeing.

(Please see for daily updates and photographs)
(In picture from left to right Somu Desai, JohnyML and Feroze Babu)

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