IN­DIA’S UN­SUNG VIDEO ARTISTS FIND A RARE PLAT­FORM

A ma­jor multi-city group ex­hi­bi­tion is high­light­ing the diver­sity of au­dio­vi­sual art be­ing made in the coun­try. Vishwas Kulka­rni speaks to the show’s cu­ra­tors

The National - News - - ARTS & LIFESTYLE -

Video art in In­dia has al­ways been the poorer cousin of the mod­ernist paint­ing or art in­stal­la­tion. To ad­dress this, cu­ra­tors Bharati Ka­pa­dia and Chan­dita Mukher­jee have put to­gether Video Art by In­dian Con­tem­po­rary Artists, or Vaica, the big­gest fes­ti­val of video art the coun­try has seen.

The event, which runs through­out the month in Mum­bai, be­fore mov­ing to New Delhi in De­cem­ber, fea­tures 65 works by 35 sem­i­nal and emerg­ing prac­ti­tion­ers from across the coun­try. Yet, for an ex­hi­bi­tion this ex­pan­sive, the for­mat is de­cep­tively sim­ple. There are no fancy gad­gets or multi-screen video walls. There isn’t even a theme that binds the show. In­stead, the fes­ti­val is split into five days of screen­ings from a sin­gle chan­nel.

“I had only two cri­te­ria for the show,” says Ka­pa­dia. “As a prac­tis­ing artist, I have been fol­low­ing the works of th­ese artists for decades now, so my short­list was largely based on works I had vis­ually re­sponded to. The other cri­te­ria was to re­strict the art­works to 15 min­utes at most. As a re­sult, view­ers can come and watch a spec­trum of works by var­i­ous artists spread across a month. We don’t want this to be a show where view­ers saunter in and out of a gallery. We want this to be a fes­ti­val in which view­ers get to en­gage with an im­pres­sive spec­trum of a hith­erto over­looked medium.”

It is ironic that video art should be side­lined in a na­tion that has one of the world’s largest film in­dus­tries. Mod­ernist work by In­dian artists who started paint­ing in the first half of the 20th cen­tury re­mains the big­gest draw at any given auc­tion of In­dian art. And while new me­dia has made some strides in the past decade, with In­dian artists show­cas­ing their works in mu­se­ums and in­ter­na­tional bi­en­nales to pos­i­tive re­views, it is still too niche for in­vestors.

Be­sides this, In­di­ans are still bound to the craft of sto­ry­telling. Thus, while the short film has found many pa­trons, video art, with its non-nar­ra­tive, amor­phous for­mat, is a dif­fi­cult sell. Also, since In­dia was a so­cial­ist na­tion un­til 1991, only the na­tional broad­caster Do­or­dar­shan and a hand­ful of gov­ern­ment agen­cies such as the In­dian Space Re­search Or­gan­i­sa­tion were au­tho­rised to im­port video equip­ment. It was il­le­gal to own video equip­ment pri­vately. With eco­nomic lib­er­al­i­sa­tion in 1991 and the emer­gence of satel­lite TV in In­dia, video tech­nol­ogy be­came demo­cratic.

Given this his­tory, cu­ra­tor Ka­pa­dia was over­whelmed by the mas­sive re­sponse she re­ceived for the fes­ti­val. “Out of 39 in­vi­ta­tions sent out to short­listed artists, we re­ceived a pos­i­tive re­sponse from 35. That is when the ex­hi­bi­tion ex­panded to be­come a fes­ti­val.”

One of those re­sponses came from Meera De­v­i­dayal, 72, a prom­i­nent artist in In­dia who came to video art later in his ca­reer. “I was born in 1947 [the year In­dia achieved in­de­pen­dence] and I had my first show in 1975. This is my 44th year in the In­dian art world. I worked largely with paint­ings and mixed me­dia, but only chanced upon video art as late as 2008. But then it never left me. Al­most ev­ery show of mine since then has fea­tured video art – and my last show pri­mar­ily fea­tured video art,” she says.

In­sti­tu­tional sup­port, too, has played a part in mak­ing Vaica ex­pand be­yond ex­pec­ta­tions. The cu­ra­tors have man­aged to at­tract the Ki­ran Nadar Mu­seum of Art and the Je­hangir Ni­chol­son Art Foun­da­tion, two pri­vate char­i­ta­ble trusts, to work with them as part­ners. In ad­di­tion, four re­puted cul­tural venues – the Ch­ha­tra­p­ati Shivaji Ma­haraj Vastu San­gra­ha­laya, the Goethe-In­sti­tut Max Mueller Bha­van, the G5A Foun­da­tion for Con­tem­po­rary Cul­ture and the Go­drej In­dia Cul­ture Lab – have of­fered their premises to the or­gan­is­ers free of charge to host the event. “Aside from the range of artists in­volved, this fes­ti­val is also an in­ter­est­ing ex­per­i­ment in how the pub­lic and pri­vate sec­tors can col­lide to cre­ate an ed­u­ca­tional and entertaini­ng show­case of a valid art form,” says Mukher­jee. “The fes­ti­val will be held in Mum­bai and Delhi, but given the mo­bil­ity of video art, we are look­ing to col­lab­o­rate with mu­se­ums and part­ners in the Mid­dle East and Europe as well.”

Col­lab­o­ra­tion is a key theme in the fes­ti­val as well as the medium as a whole. Although that has pre­sented some chal­lenges for artists. “You have to be lucky to find the right folks to work with,” De­v­i­dayal says. “For

in­stance, the idea is mine, but the edit­ing and the sound come from col­lab­o­ra­tors. And to my shock, sound artists are very ex­pen­sive in this city. More­over, video tech­nol­ogy it­self is a slip­pery cus­tomer. I ac­tu­ally wanted to present my first video art­work from 2008 for Vaica. But times have changed – and the tech­nol­ogy I used then was not com­pat­i­ble with the for­mats the cu­ra­tors were us­ing. It’s the sort of medium that ne­ces­si­tates be­ing con­stantly ag­ile,” she says.

Vaica is an es­sen­tial start­ing point for in­tro­duc­ing video art into the di­a­logue of pop­u­lar cul­ture. By treat­ing the show­case as “a se­ries of screen­ings” as op­posed to a show, the cu­ra­tors have taken a bold, and nec­es­sary, step. How­ever, in­sti­tu­tional fund­ing and gallery sup­port will be the true test of whether In­dian video art will bloom or be­come a flash in the pan.

More in­for­ma­tion is avail­able at www.vaica.org

‘For­est Lion’ by Ran­bir Kaleka

From left, ‘Wa­ter has Mem­ory’ by Meera De­v­i­dayal; ‘Coun­ter­feit’ by Babu Esh­war Prasad; cu­ra­tor Bharati Ka­pa­dia

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