Art finds a new roof

DESTINATION ART The Cholamandal Centre for Contemporary Art

DESTINATION ART The Cholamandal Centre for Contemporary Art  

GOWRI RAMNARAYAN on the soon-to-be-inaugurated Centre for Contemporary Art at Cholamandal Artists’ Village

“Nowhere in the world can you find a museum built by an artists’ co-operative, with donations of time and money by the artists themselves,” says sculptor S. Nandagopal, Secretary, Cholamandal Artists’ Village. The inauguration (February 1) of the Cholamandal Centre for Contemporary Art is a dream come true for this artists’ community.

The idea for the centre was generated when plans for revamping the art gallery at the Madras Museum failed to take off. Disappointed artists K.M. Adimoolam and Nandagopal who were on that museum committee began to wonder if the initiative could be taken by the artists themselves to permanently showcase the works of the “Madras Movement” (1950s – 1980s).

“In Delhi, if you want to see the works of Manjit Bawa and Arpana Kaur, chances are you have to go to two different galleries. So it is in Mumbai and Kolkata. But we wanted to bring all the artists of the Madras Movement under a single roof,” explains Nandagopal and points to a cement sculpture of a horse and rider by V. Janakiram, whose metal cast was bought by film star Kirk Douglas.

Cholamandal Artists Village was launched in 1966 by artist K.C.S.Paniker. Its woody acres on the lonely, bumpy road to Mahabalipuram were then far from the city haunts. The East Coast Road is now choc-a-bloc with traffic, shops and malls. But, inside the village, the artists’ community has tree-shaded sands to sport an international sculpture garden that surrounds this new contemporary art centre.

The Cholamandal association sold some land to launch the project. This move catalysed a flow of funds from sponsors including industrialists Rasika Kothari, D. P. Agarwal, Sanjay Tulsyan and H. K. Kejriwal. Amazed museum curators from Philadelphia and the Netherlands exclaimed that they had never come across such heart-warming support from the artists themselves who unhesitatingly donated funds and paintings. Artist Harikrishnan Sankaran came from Utrecht to assist for a couple of months, and has spent a year supervising construction and design. “I find it invigorating. When I was young I got all the guidance I needed right here. I was thrilled by the Madras Movement; saw many of those artists at work. This is an important phase in the Indian context. K.C.S. Paniker set out the principles — he knew that contemporary doesn’t mean aping the West, but an awareness of one’s own place and time. Look at the past and move forward.”

Specific needs

A visiting Dutch couple drafted the initial design for the art centre. The artists themselves contributed ideas to architects Sheila Sriprakash and M. V. Devan who made the project more suitable for specific needs. It took three-and-a-half years to build but when it opens on February 11, the centre will have a gallery for its permanent collection of paintings representing the Madras Movement, as also a gallery for the Cholamandal artists themselves. Two commercial galleries — Labernum and Indigo — can be rented free of commission charge. An art book store and craft shop complete the picture. “People go to The Tate Gallery not only to see paintings, but to taste the best fish available in London,” Nandagopal smiles. The Cholamandal centre too will have an exotic cafeteria in T-Kadai, manned by chefs Nasreen and Farhad, with Iranian and Mediterranean cuisine. An open air platform will offer supper theatre.

The opening day showcases six women artists, curated by Sanjay Tulsyan and Gallery 88, Kolkata.

The story of the contemporary art centre is not only about building and fundraising, but collecting the works of the Madras Movement. Harikrishnan explains, “Nandagopal was determined to make it happen. He had the advantage of being the son of K.C.S. Paniker who taught many of these artists. Some of them were his teachers too!”

No wonder L.Munuswamy and Vidyasankar Sthapathy became nostalgic for old times as they offered their works. C. Dakshinamoorthy and S. K. Rajavelu actually took the trouble to come and paint new works for the museum.

Under one roof

“We can see them all now under one roof, trace the evolution and the facets of the movement,” Harikrishnan exults. Nandagopal sums up sombrely, “Even our art students do not know enough about the artists of their own region. Without a properly documented display the Madras artists will remain unsung, be forgotten. If we don’t have a museum we don’t have a history.”

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