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To keep up her side, she put up a well-stocked art bookshop, a vibrant seminar programme and free curated walks.
It’s more than what most gallery owners will tell you when you ask them about their outreach and education programmes. The problem for people like Bhrigu Nath Lal is that, even if such programmes are on offer, they are still quite daunting to participate. No one really takes care to explain it from his point of view, and it’s not possible to cater to all visitors.
Experience with kids showed that a smart innovation could go a long way. Katherine Rose, director of education company Flow India, guided 50-odd children on innovative “art detective” tours at the India Art Fair. The mission was to find, from a variety of works, the answer to the “mystery”: what is contemporary art? It was not about the history or “isms” of art, but about the materials used, how they may have been put together, and how the children felt about the works.
“Some of the descriptions would have given some art historians a run for their money,” says Rose, herself an art historian. “We were in front of a Manu Parekh installation and asked what the children felt. One 12-year-old boy, who had been silent through the tour, said it was as if something bigger than him was there; he was in complete awe... Children don’t give you answers you want to hear; their imagination hasn’t been set yet.”
Gigi Scaria would also encourage a step back into such simplicity. “We may have lost the art of looking simply and understanding the meaning of art. Maybe because of the writing and the heavy-loaded things attached. And because we don’t have a culture of going to museums and galleries,” says the 39-year-old artist of urbanism who shifted to Delhi after 22 years in Kothanallur, Kerala.
“We have had some of the most heartfelt responses from smaller places,” says Orijit Sen, a designer who founded the PeopleTree label in 1990 and doesn’t acknowledge a line between craft and fine arts. He would rather turn back the urban gaze: “We look at a Madhubani or Warli work and say, ‘How sweet.’ It just reminds us of something folky, but we don’t understand it. Their art is not a sweet little decorative thing — it’s a very powerful art. So a sophisticated urbanite’s response might be untutored. Similarly, a tribal person coming in here might not understand the context, but he would respond — to colour, light and the way it provokes you to look at things.”
Bhattacharya and Tandon’s “untutored” viewers were provoked, too. The duo interviewed some of them. Many were taken with the truck as an art object, and some even preferred it to the Ambassador stationed nearby in front of a pile of army boots — a “real” artwork by Mahbubur Rahman from Bangladesh. Bhattacharya and Tandon plan to submit the video as a bona fide art work at next year’s Fair. That would be double subversion — and a concept complicated enough to qualify as contemporary art.