Art books should be read by a wider audience, say the people behind the Rang collective

The memory of Sunil Janah is fresh in the halls of Ojas Art’s gallery, where an exhibition was held recently to celebrate the work of the legendary photographer. Seated in an alcove inside the gallery, overlooking a lawn, are the four members of Rang, a collective that helped organise this exhibition and is working towards creating “an open and a democratic space for the study and practice of visual arts.”

Comprising Chandan Gomes, Vicky Roy, Jyotsana Tripathi and Vinit Gupta, the centrepiece of the collective’s work is organising open library sessions where books and magazines on art and photography are displayed and read.

“It’s very difficult to access these books because they are often very expensive, and circulate only in elite circles,” Chandan says. The group has organised 16 open library sessions since January, which have been attended by distinguished art practitioners such as Ram Rahman, Vivan Sundaram, Sunil Gupta and Raghu Rai, among others, who have also donated to the library. “We want to create a reading room atmosphere which brings amateurs and professionals on the same platform as readers,” Jyotsana adds.

The open library functions as a travelling library as well, Vicky explains. In addition to its residence at 1AQ, Ojas Art near Qutub roundabout, the open library has been hosted by Varanasi, Lansdowne, Barefoot College in Tilonia and Jaipur as well. The group has also collaborated with organisations such as SAHMAT, Nazar Foundation and Youth Parliament for exhibitions, discussions and workshops.

Despite their collective work, however, Rang is ultimately a group of four different persons with different sensibilities. Vinit, formerly in the investment industry, is interested in ethnographic photography, while Jyotsana, an amateur photographer by confession, is primarily a writer. Chandan has been a freelancer since 2009, winning the India Habitat Centre Fellowship along the way, and Vicky, who has a grounding in documentary photography, has photographed the reconstruction of the World Trade Centre in Manhattan. “The interdisciplinary quality that results from our coming together is the point of Rang. A platform of like-minded people doesn’t help when you want a free flowing discussion,” Jyotsana explains.

The significance of Rang’s efforts lie beyond the 650 books in its library or the support it has received from photographers, artists and galleries. Chandan relates an anecdote, as much about Rang’s origin as its journey, that captures it best. “I read Dayanita Singh’s Myself Mona Ahmed over two years at different events and festivals. So I wrote her a moving letter explaining how there are many others like me who would like to read her and others but simply don’t have the means to. She understood, and donated all her books with which we started the library. At the same time another friend gifted me a copy of the same book which I handed over to a school teacher from a small town in Orissa who runs a community library there. When artists find out that their work is being viewed in circles that they never imagined would view them, something happens.”

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