Life | Sleeping With Your Art

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Sleeping With Your Art
Text by Neha Gupta
Published: Volume 21, Issue 7, July, 2013

Residencies have been part of most vocations – and art is one of them. India has recognised its scope only recently, offering an optimistic platform for many

When you drive past the long stretch of shanties on Wadibunder Road, Mumbai, you begin to wonder if the essence of art really does linger close by. Your GPS beeps just then, instructing you to take a left turn into a big iron gate. A watchman unquestioningly lets you in as you hoot an impatient honk. Yet, your doubt persists because heavy labour and heavy machinery is all you see around you. It seems like people know the purpose of your visit. A man waves at you to take a turn at the end of the sprawling compound. And just as you do, Space 118 comes into view.

In front of you are three occupied studios and to your left stands a cosy-looking cottage of sorts under a brick roof. This is Saloni Doshi’s office. It is cluttered with small sized sculptures and a neat stack of paintings against its walls. With an enthusiastic interest in art’s offerings, this thirty something collector revamped part of an industrial space for the purpose of studio residencies for artists – budding and bloomed.

Like most spaces in 2009, it was inaugurated with the intention of focussing on artists with limited exposure to the creative realm’s ecosystem. Graduates and those from smaller towns deem it an honour to be accepted for a residency. Sometimes they need to pay a fee, and at other times it’s a barter of one of their creations. This structure works like a two-way support system. Residencies earn a collection, perhaps even monetary affiliations with a sponsorship programme; artists get a chance to showcase their work and interact with contemporaries from the industry.

Take the age-old Garhi for instance, established in Delhi in 1976 under the wing of Lalit Kala Akademi. It was founded on Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s dream to secure the cultural identity of the nation. Here, artists usually leave behind a piece from their collection that is showcased at Garhi’s gallery itself. Then there is Kanoria Centre For Arts in Ahmedabad which has been supporting artists since 1984. Foreign residencies are offered at a nominal fee, fellowships are paid a stipend and the others either rent a studio or are gallery-sponsored. Kanoria is suddenly a networking zone.

These are the first few that came into existence towards the fading out phase of Bhulabhai Desai Institute, Mumbai – speculated as India’s first that was akin to a residency of sorts; residencies offer accommodation. Art historian Saryu Doshi mulls, “Although it technically wasn’t a residency it served as one. It was a place where studios could be rented during the day by artists. The institute was a lively place that promoted constructive provocation amongst artists and artistes making it a forum for exchanging ideas and giving impetus to new thought processes.”

Today the building doesn’t exist, but the country is seeing an advent of studio residencies ripping through the prejudice of artists being exclusive to their own studios. There are about 20 or so that are more popularly known in Bengaluru, Mumbai, Delhi, Baroda and Ahmedabad. Curators, artists and collectors are the usual founders of such establishments. And they are just as quintessential to art and everything about it.

False Ceiling design home in Mumbai is working with their residents on a graphic novel. Pages for at least a 40 stories are slated for the project. Currently they have 14 artists who have contributed to it – a gigantic opportunity for them. Owner Karthikeyan Ramachandran even hinted at roping in villages who would be happy to have their skills whetted by professionals. So their residency in Kamshet – Shut Up Calmshet – will extend to charging their occupants anything from nothing, to nominal fees, to their time to instruct raw talents of rural communities.

The whole idea of residencies is believed to give serious artists a leg-up. So of course they themselves are usually on a lookout for such programmes. They send in their applications and wait for an invite. The selection criterion is subjective to each residency – open primarily to an aspiring talent. Doshi explains that, “Anyone [Indian] who has made it a little bit, who is a solo or group-show wonder would not come to Indian residencies. They already have their galleries taking care of them. They now aspire to go to international residencies.” Likewise, foreigners travel to India for an experience, once they believe they have made themselves known in their own country.

Since most residencies are complimentary, their survival doesn’t rely wholly on their residents. Partnerships with outside firms, artists’ rent and the selling and buying of their collections are what keep these establishments ticking. BAR1 Studio, Bengaluru has tied up with Inlaks Foundation which is currently sponsoring their artists’ terms. And if laudable pieces are created, it usually offers to exhibit them to the industry. Such casual exhibitions are called Open Studios. The thought is to invite curators, gallerists and collectors for a preview. In this way, housed illustrators earn free publicity. While residents may get a chance to network with the industry’s local who’s who and build contacts, they are also awarded much valued feedback from visiting veterans.

Such programmes help them tune their thinking to a wider spectrum, while a residency term looks good on their resume – galleries perceive this as a first endorsement of the artists’ skills. This is how the wheel of studio residencies turns. It nurtures talents teeming within. Armouring them with confidence through acclaim, they nudge the prepared to step into the more competitive world. We, the outsiders, know of only the finished products.

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