Art lessons for Mumbai from Jaipur

Jun 28, 2013, 00:14 IST | Soma Das and Hassan M Kamal

This weekend, Artisans' will host A Quest For Cultural Nostalgia, a project that documents art in Jaipur's public spaces. The Guide spoke to its project curator Khushboo Bharti, and taking a cue from that opened up the discussion on Mumbai's tryst with public art, with some of the city's most respected planners

For the last three years, researcher and curator Khushboo Bharti has been documenting art across public spaces of the Pink City -- Jaipur. Bharti’s efforts were aimed at tracing the development of art in the continually changing public spaces of Jaipur. It highlighted sculptures and mural paintings within the city, on over bridges, road crossings, its railway stations and entry gates to the old city. The project delved on the process of commissioning art in the public domain and how changes in government influenced the content, form and location of public art projects. This photo-documentation, titled A Quest for Cultural Nostalgia, is being showcased in association with the India Foundation for the Arts (IFA), Bangalore and the Indian Institute of Craft and Design (IICD), Jaipur. Excerpts from an interview with Bharti:

Why did you choose Jaipur as the focus of the research?
Jaipur is my hometown and since my return to the city in 2008, I have involved myself with understanding the art market and the artist community. So, the importance of heritage culture, political will and its influence on the art scenario was an area of interest.

Khushboo Bharti interacting with sculptor Himmat Shah at his studio

Have other cities adopted this model?
In all the other cities that I looked at, whether in Rajasthan (Kota and Udaipur), or outside the state, the character of art was different. For example -- in Udaipur, government-sponsored work wasn’t evident; private organisations had funded most works. Also, the character of the art was different from Jaipur. It was similar in Kota where the same architect (as in Jaipur) was involved in landscaping and city planning but the elements incorporated there were different. In Delhi too, the public space work was limited to political portraits and these, too, were placed near the Parliament.

Images from A Quest for Cultural Nostalgia

What kind of methodology was applied for this project?
Documenting these works was important since there was no prior research on them. The next stage was to locate the artists who created them. For this, I went to the visual art department of Jawahar Kala Kendra, as it was this organisation that commissioned these artists for the work. I traced the development of art in public spaces in Jaipur from the 1940s, and the artists who worked on them were either dead or had changed addresses. Eventually the traditional artists were located through the records of traditional communities, such as sculptors and painters. The focus was also on documenting the process, including sketches and the initial concept of art submitted by the artist to the committee. For a comparative understanding of the project, I also looked at other cities.

Who are the artists and government departments responsible for this idea?
There are traditional miniature artists, art and heritage restorers, artists working in abstract/ semi-abstract painting segment as well as figurative sculptors working in metal and stone. The artists were from Jaipur, other cities in Rajasthan, Delhi and even from France. The works on display were mostly figurative. Even with abstract art, figurative elements were incorporated. Most works drew inspiration from miniature schools such as Kishangarh, Bundi, Kota, and the fresco paintings of the Shekhavati region.

How did the locals react?
For the artist community, the work doesn’t hold much importance. For them, it’s only beautification. People unrelated to the field appreciate these works because of the element of beautification. Government and private officials look at these works as heritage promotion. But the traditional miniature painters who worked on the project have been commissioned to decorate houses. This shows that public space works have renewed interest about decoration of spaces.

Has it led to better civic sense?
Works in areas with more four-wheeler traffic weren’t damaged while those in locations with excess pedestrian or two-wheeler concentration were visibly vandalised, whether by spitting or pasting of political posters. Sites with less traffic weren’t damaged a lot. We must remember that these works are exposed to weather, so damage is inevitable.
FROM June 29 to 30, 11 am to 7 pm
AT Artisans’, Kala Ghoda.

Pankaj Joshi conservation architect and Executive Director, Urban Design Research Institute (UDRI)
Public art is almost non-existent in Mumbai. The only public art that we see in Mumbai is historic, like the Khada Parsi or Flora Fountain. Public art of good quality that has been added to the city is the Charkha at the Cross Maidan. It was built via a competition, commissioned by Tata Steel; we need more such events. A few attempts like The Wall Project on Tulsi Pipe Road and Carter Road’s murals, and the sculptures of the Common Man at Worli Seaface are mediocre and low in terms of efficacy. As compared to other Asian cities, like Hong Kong, Seoul, Singapore, where public art is at every Metro station, Mumbai has lost six to seven decades of public art. We have plenty of spaces, which can be explored for public art -- railway stations, bus stops, traffic islands, gardens, crematoriums, but little has been done. And if not everywhere, it can, at the least, be promoted in places like schools and hospitals because art after all, is therapeutic.

Charkha at Cross Maidan. Pic/ Bipin Kokate

Abha Narain Lambah conservation architect
Mumbai is home to many renowned artistes, but despite that we have failed to produce good quality artwork for the public. Mumbai lacks contemporary public art, and till now, the best works in the city have come from the British. We have a few places like Bandra village, which offers nice graffiti works and murals, and lend a local air to it, but apart from that most of the public art like in places like Carter Road is of pedestrian quality. The few other attempts like Mother and Child in Bandra can’t be called public art. Mumbai’s corporate sector needs to step forward and fund better art spaces. Lately, we’ve seen attempts like Shilpa Gupta’s I Live Under Your Sky Too, but it was contemporary. We need more good-quality works like the The Maritime Heritage mural at Lions Gate, and the Charkha at Cross Maidan in places, which are visited by the public.

Leandre D’Souza co-founder, ArtOxygen
While there aren’t a lot of public artworks in the city, there is much curiosity about it, and people are keen to participate. It is evident from events such as the Focus Photography Festival. Our annual flagship project, titled Encounter, includes 16 art projects on city issues, exhibited in different parts of the city over a fortnight. The best part is people don’t have to step into galleries to view such works. It encourages artists to step out of the studio and engage with the public. We showcased art in spots including Carter Road promenade, Juhu beach, Horniman Garden, CST station, Crawford Market, Cafe Leopold, Haji Ali, Sewri Fort and Thane Creek. We give artists the liberty to select the site they wish to display at. With the help of the resident’s associations, it is possible to cut through the red tape and get permissions. Art and events in public spaces offers a sense of identity and people feel drawn to protect them.  

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