An alternate space for art to thrive

The strain of the violin in a bus. Salangai sounds amidst a bustling railway station. Hum of the tanpura at the Besant Nagar beach. These are not spaces that you’d usually associate with the sounds of culture and tradition. The idea of transforming a public space for daily consumption of music, dance, and theatre has been strongly mooted by the Urur Olcott Kuppam Vizha (UOKV) since its genesis four years ago.

The festival dreams to reclaim public spaces, taking marginalised arts to high art spaces and high arts to the marginalised places. In the process, some of the taken-for-granted spaces of the city get a new lease of life: like the Chennai Central railway station that hosted a Bharatanatyam performance recently.

Some of the performances have been massive hits on social media, like a viral video of TM Krishna singing in an MTC bus last year.

An alternate space for art to thrive

As a Carnatic vocalist, who has performed both in the sabha and at the beach for UOKV last year, Vignesh Ishwar, a volunteer, says that he has felt his music changing with the venues. “My voice opens up. I sing stronger ragas so that there is a forceful impact.”

UOKV’s philosophy is that every space is a cultural space. And that no art belongs to only one space, according to TM Krishna, musician and volunteer of the movement. There has been a frontal recognition of inequality in art and art spaces in these arguments. “Urur engages not just with the art form, but also the community that practises it. It is not just about using the art form, but inhabiting it. Through UOKV, we attempt to shift the space, and move the art and artistes, with equal respect to every art form.”

January events leading up to the final vizha in February
  • January 20, Raga Sudha Hall, 6.15 pm: Mallipoo and the Alwas (Singable Tamil Melodies) by Sofie and Suren
  • Kattai-k-Koothu by the Kattaikkuttu Sangam
  • January 21, Raga Sudha Hall, 6.15 pm: Pava Kathakali by Natanakairali Abhinayakkalari
  • Poi Kaal Kudhirai and Karagaattam by Raju Grameeya Kalai Kuzhu
  • January 27, Besant Nagar Beach (Opposite Spaces), 6 pm:
  • Carnatic music concert by TM Krishna

The fest is also an example of how taking art to unknown nooks and crannies leads to a deeper engagement with the communities there. K Saravanan, a volunteer and secretary of the Urur Panchayat, says it has managed to give dignity and recognition to its people. “It is like a cultural brand now. This has helped us in sorting out civic issues. We have gained the trust of the officials around.” In the village, they are training children in photography to document the stories there, Saravanan adds.

Says Nityanand Jayaraman, an environmental activist and a volunteer, “We see a bus or a train as a public space for people to sit and move from one place to the other, and nothing else. In India, these are also places for people to sell things. In the trains in Mumbai, you can see people cutting vegetables, playing cards and singing songs. These are cultural spaces too. But, they are increasingly being atomised; we are focussed on our cell phones and are completely cut off from others around us. When we start performing here, we add a new dimension that this is also a performance space, and no different from a sabha, a stage or a platform in a school.”

This is how we can ensure these spaces remain in our hands and do not go to the corporates or the Government, and does not become a separate entity from the people. “These are ways for public to own the public spaces and celebrate it. These spaces thrive only when used for positive purposes,” he says.

UOKV’s contribution has been to highlight culture and art discourses as being an integral part of the society’s conversation. Krishna says while choosing the venues for UOKV, there is an attempt to subvert norms in that space, and in the thought process; give people something to hold on and something that will break that holding. “There is a duality of experiences. In the two days of the vizha, everybody has something they are familiar with in some sense, but it is not given in the surroundings that they are used to. This is preceeded and followed by something totally out of their cultural bracket. It is about playing with this known and unknown, familiar and unfamiliar, and comfortable and uncomfortable.”

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Printable version | Jun 19, 2021 12:09:50 AM |

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