Thursday, February 4, 2010

why we suck up to west?

One of my good friend gently reminded me that way to my career's success is through 'west'. Start showing your work in western galleries museums, and if a western curator touches you , vola you will be instantly famous back in India. Well, she is certainly aware of the new success mantra of Indian art but I beg to differ. I believe that way to success to any form of art is through its people. And visual art cannot be different from other forms.

Let me narrate three different scenarios.

Scene I
Many years ago , I was helping a young gallerist and curator to manage her gallery. As she used to promote young artists, I happened to invite the then upcoming struggling artist/woman if she would like to show her works with this gallery. Considering the time when artist had to wait for years for their first solo , I thought such an invitation would make the young artist ecstatic with joy. But I was wrong . She in a matter of fact tone said" Don't take it personally sweetheart, but I am not interested in showing with any other gallery except xxx gallery in the town. Right now they are not interested in my work but I keep showing them my new works and will wait patiently, till they approve it one day". Her reply stunned me, so I asked her " May I know at least why only that gallery?" and she replied, "Honestly, I am not interested in Indian gallery or art scene. I am aiming at international exposure, and right now all the international curators , collectors are visiting xxx gallery. So I am sucking up to them" she said with a triumphant smile on her who had clearly checkmated her opponent in front.

Scene II
In one of the high flying opening galas of the famous artist I bumped into a flamboyant gallerist who was out to prove that he means business. He narrated this following incident. When he approached a young artist to enlist her on his gallery muster , she told him straight on his face that she was not interested in Indian galleries. When he asked what was her reason she said " I am going to show only in the the international scene. I know if I show with A list galleries in west all the Indian galleries will come running after me. This way I can circumvent years of my struggle to get recognized by the art scene in India. It is simple logic. Mr.X, I suck west ,you suck me."

Scene III
A non art trained , artist's collective based in India showcases their works more in international forums than in India. Rarely known in India, but widely discussed, written and talked about in the western art forums and curators are considered as the only relevant art production from India worth looking at or studying their work. However the Initiative's claim their art as people oriented/ interactive projects. One of the curators once told me when he approached the group he was told that they would work with him only if he is curating an international show.

Just to wrap this case study, in all three above cases, artists are considered today(so called) successful artist/s because they applied the mantra of 'west first' for instant recognition. More and more younger artist are following their footsteps.

It shows some grave faults within the art world that could be the reason for such a trend. I have no problem for getting recognition in west, but I object the trend to ignore and distrust the cultural intelligence of the people that you choose to represent. So why we suck up to western art world to understand our own cultural matrix and decide what is good for us? There could be many reasons for this. For e.g.

1.Artists have no faith in Indian public, that they can understand and critically appreciate their work

2. There is dearth of Indian curators and historians who can contextualize their works and their art practice for its people.

3.There is lack of Museums and state support that can bring the public and artists to establish an sustainable relation between the two

4. Finally and not the last, we Indians still believe that western masters know our culture best and are the best barometers to decide what is best for us.

Whatever may be the reason , I feel these are some serious issues that is plaguing the Indian art scene today. Faster we address them better we will communicate with our own people. Culturally we will have more vibrant and diverse visual art practice.
Because what will matter when Indian art history will be written, not how many shows you had in western art museums, but what kind of changes you brought within the art practices in India. That is where the contribution of KG Subramaniaum, Gulam Muhamad Sheik , Bhupem Kakkar and others matter.

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