India in Venice Biennale for the first time in 116 years

April 14, 2011 02:24 am | Updated December 04, 2021 11:43 pm IST - NEW DELHI:

It took 116 years for India to be featured in the Venice Biennale. This year finally, India will have its own national pavilion at the prestigious Biennale to be inaugurated on June 3, 2011, confirms a high-ranking official at the Lalit Kala Akademi.

India will be one of the 94 countries in this world famous art event that saw its inception in 1895.

India will find space at the centre of the venue called “Arsenal Area,” which enjoys the highest number of visitors. The venue was so named as the area was an arsenal shipyard during 15th and 16th centuries and is, therefore, of historical importance. Half of the total area of 50,000 square metres is dedicated to art expositions.

The theme for the different national pavilions this year is “Illuminations.”

For the Indian pavilion, famous art critic Ranjit Hoskote has been appointed the curator. He has selected four artists from different genres and locations with differing perceptions and artistic expressions to participate in this prestigious exposition. These include printmaker and sculptor Zarina Hashmi of Aligarh; a husband-and-wife team from the North East, Mriganka Madhukaillya and Sonal Jain, who are known for working in public spaces; Gigi Scaria, Delhi-based painter and video artist; and Praneet Soi, a mixed media artist who works both in Amsterdam and Kolkata. They are all artists in the age group 30 to 40 years.

The theme of their collective works of contemporary video, sculptures, and other mixed media is titled “Everyone agrees; it's about to explode.” The artists will prepare most of their creations at the venue, almost nothing is going ready made from India. Apart from them, photographer-artist Dayanita Singh has also been invited to participate in the Biennale.

It is interesting to note that few years ago the artistic director of Venice Biennale Robert Storr visited India and invited the National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) to participate in the Biennale. For some reasons it did not work out that time. Jawahar Sircar, Secretary, Ministry of Culture, reasons: “In my view, it was the lack of imagination on the part of the NGMA that we couldn't participate. We would have spent only about Rs.17 lakh to go to Venice then. Now it will cost us Rs. 60 lakh and Rs.1 crore has been sanctioned as we want to ensure there is no compromise on the quality of our artists and their works. Fortunately, I had the full support of Union Culture Minister Kumari Shailja. She was appreciative of Mr. Hoskote's presentation and it was her proactive attitude that made it possible.”

On how this participation became possible this time has its own share of stories. Lalit Kala chairperson Ashok Vajpayee says that on his return from Venice a year ago he wrote to Mr. Sircar that India should participate in the Biennale. Mr. Sircar agrees that Mr. Vajpayee's proposal was before him but hastens to add that in the Culture Ministry there was the view that India's visual art was very much in demand and it did not need a certificate from abroad authenticating its calibre. Hence, any such participation was not looked at with great enthusiasm. But now he acknowledges that international recognition helps. “It is a fact that it is because of private galleries, individual artists and other art institutions that Indian art has been internationally recognised. Public institutions in India cannot take credit for it. We are now exploiting this opportunity,” he adds.

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