The timeless spirit of art

Lalit Kala Akademi winds up a celebration of the past with the promise of a better future, says Saibal Chatterjee

A painting by S.H. Raza
A painting by S.H. Raza
A creation by Farhan Mujib
A creation by Farhan Mujib

AS the year-long golden jubilee celebrations of the Lalit Kala Akademi drew to a close in the first week of August, it was time for Indiaís apex visual arts organisation to take stock of the past as well as chalk out the future, both immediate and long-term. It was time for Resonance.

That was the title of a special six-day exhibition of contemporary Indian art conceived and assembled by architect K.T. Ravindran. The nearly 200 pieces of art on view during the exhibition provided an overview of the range, depth and quality of work done in India over the past 50 years.

The exhibition, held in the Akademiís own galleries in Rabindra Bhavan, featured works of art from the legendary Ramkinkar Baij and Somnath Hore to bright new names like Manish Pushkale, Farhan Mujib and Bose Krishnmachari. Resonance brought together a wide array of artists, art forms and creative styles.

According to Ravindran, the works on display were sourced both from the Akademiís own archives as well as from institutions and individuals all over the country.

"The idea behind the exhibition was to locate art in a larger continuum, covering many visual forms of cultural production, including the rural, to throw fresh light on contemporary art," the curator of Resonance said. "I focused solely on art that could not have come out of anywhere but India."

"Significantly, many of the 100-odd artists included in the Resonance show havenít been exhibited in the past 30 to 40 years," said Ravindran.

The high point of the closing ceremony in New Delhiís Kamani Auditorium on August 5 was a concert by classical singer and composer Shubha Mudgal and her group, who performed musical pieces inspired specifically by the theme of the art exhibition.

The closing ceremony, presided over by the Vice-President Bhairon Singh Shekhawat, brought the curtain down on a series of rich and varied commemorative activities that began on August 9, 2004. President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam was present at the Akademiís inaugural golden jubilee function.

Resonance sought to capture the wide diversity of Indian art forms. "I did not follow any chronological order or stylistic trends in choosing the works to be exhibited. I went only by personal instinct and the basic conceptual framework," Ravindran explained.

Ravindran arranged the exhibits in four specific categories. "Resonance of the Earth" explored the inviolable relation between art and nature. "Soliloquy as Social Comment" dealt with essentially introspective art that articulated a particular point of view about society at large.

"Mediating the Non-Self" encompassed art that went beyond the realms of the known, beyond the details of physical reality, in search of transcendental truth. The final category, "Resistance as Resonance of Time", presented the work of artists in the act of reacting to the developments of their times.

While celebrating the 50 years of contemporary Indian art, it was essential for the Akademi to look ahead and address issues that still hinder effective documentation and conservation in the field of visual arts. According to the Chairman of the Lalit Kala Akademi R.B. Bhaskaran, "We do not have a database of Indian art. If you ask me how many artists are active in a particular medium, I will not be able to give you any numbers."

To tide over this lacuna, the Akademi has drawn up elaborate plans to produce a series of CD-ROMs on various art forms as well as a comprehensive encyclopaedia of Indian art. Moreover, a documentary film on the 50 years of the Akademi, made by the New Delhi-based K. Bikram Singh, is now complete.

According to Bhaskaran, the onerous task of information gathering, analyses and documentation is of paramount importance in view of the growing visibility of contemporary Indian art the world over. "Galleries and collectors around the globe are increasingly looking for art from India," he says.

The Lalit Kala Akademi, with headquarters in New Delhiís Rabindra Bhavan, currently operates out of four regional offices in Lucknow, Kolkata, Bhubaneswar and Chennai. However, western India still does not have an Akademi branch. "We are planning to set up a regional office in Ahmedabad. The Gujarat government has already given us a large plot of land for the purpose," reveals Bhaskaran.

Mumbai, too, has understandably been on Akademiís radar for a long time. "The availability of land in Mumbai is proving to be a constraint," says Bhaskaran. "We have also identified Shillong in Meghalaya as the location for this office," he says.

An important component of Akademiís agenda is the restoration and reframing of artworks that are in a delicate state. "The aim of the Akademi is to develop a lifelong commitment to creativity and learning that may provide the key, the psychological and aesthetical tool with which to balance and evaluate the past and embrace the future," says Bhaskaran, a proponent of public-private partnership in the field of art promotion.

On its part, the Akademi has plans for several high profile art events in the next 12 months, both nationally and internationally. Among the countries to which Indian art is due to travel this years are Cyprus, China, Republic of Korea, Myanmar, Syria, Greece, Italy, Hungary and Germany. With the Indian contemporary art poised to go places, the next 50 years of Lalit Kala Akademi could be even more eventful than the first.