In difficult times such as these, how can art, an experience-led enterprise survive? And what role does it play during a crisis?
Experts discussed these topics at Stimulus 2020, a webinar hosted by The Global Luxury Group, Crosshairs Communications PR and WIN (Women Inspiring Network). Panellists Dinesh Vazirani, Co-Founder of SaffronArt; Bose Krishnamachari, Co-Founder of Kochi-Muziris Biennale; Shalini Passi, Founder & Director, Shalinipassi Art Foundation and Angelique Dhama, CMO, Obeetee, gave the viewers some amazing insights. Here is an excerpt.
Check out Obeetee’s ‘Proud to be Indian’ collection with Raghavendra Rathore
In an ever-changing environment and world full of disruption, what according to you is the contribution of art? Dinesh Vazirani: In any disruption, art acts like an anchor for a lot of people. It is a journey you take to tackle disturbance and everything around you. If you look at it, art is a reflection of society, politics, and all that is going on around you; it puts forward emotions, feelings and as a community, it is representative of what is happening around you. Art brings joy, happiness and solace with the atmosphere it creates. For anyone, and especially me, who’s very passionate about art, it is like a track on which to navigate something. Art is not just imagery and paintings, but it is also the WhatsApp messages, little cartoons and pictures and television, everything around you is a form of art. So, I think without art, going through disturbances would be very depressing.
BoseKrishnamanchari: Looking back, Kerala in the past few years has gone through many crises. From an artist’s point of view, art has given confidence to the public, not just locally but globally through its contribution to the economy. Art making has become a collective practice rather than an individual practice. After COVID, we hopefully come back to a greater pace, and I feel, people will be out with a certain kind of sensitivity, empathy and sympathy. I saw a lot of my artist friends putting up some incredible stuff on social media, and those works reflect so much of concern and introspection. I know that economically we all would be facing difficulties, but art can bring that wealth and pleasure back.
Angelique Dhama: When we talk about disruptions, crafts and techniques keep evolving over time. Craft has been able to adapt according to the changing demands. Earlier, we were very influenced by traditional patterns, and then we went on to transitional and contemporary, all the while, telling the day-today life stories. The way we do our carpets, it also starts with a drawing or a painting and we are able to adapt to what is relevant and current and then convert it into a craft. So, I think, it hasn’t been very disruptive for the carpet industry.
Which living artists, Indian or international, are creating revolutionary works? Bose Krishnamanchari: Revolution is a huge word to use in art-making, but, let’s say there were some great rebels in contemporary art. I’d say, J Swaminathan, FN Souza, KG Subramanyan and many others who worked as artist-activists. Today, new ways of art thinking are emerging; a lot of incredible artists are working with new media as well. In the wake of new performance arts in India, Nikhil Chopra is a fantastic performance artist. Then there is Sudarshan Shetty, Vivan Sundaram, Shilpa Gupta, and I can go on with my list of such artists.
Dinesh Vazirani: Artists who use alternate and conceptual mediums, artificial intelligence and different kind of language to reach out to people as opposed to the physicality of art are really on a cutting edge and are breaking boundaries. They are reinventing the way we actually look at and view art. If we look back in time and see the progressive artists group, they were a breakaway group who redefined Indian art and modern Indian art in many ways. But today, if you look at artists that Bose mentioned, whether it is Nikhil Chopra, Hetain Patel or Navjot Altaf, there are many of them who are using different languages to connect with people. Today, art is more importantly about connection, it is any physical object, imagery, video or a piece of artificial intelligence in front of you that brings out emotions.
Is the carpet industry, are there any revolutionary artists and designers whose carpets are sought-after? Angelique Dhama: I’d say there are a few European designers who command great respect in the world of carpets. But more than the artist’s and designer’s name, what’s crucial is the story being told in the collection. Nowadays, consumers are more concerned about business practices, focus on sustainability, traceability, and whether the craftsmen are getting fairly paid or not.
We’ve been seeing a rise in censorship in different creative fields. Do you think this has percolated in the art world as well? Bose Krishnamanchari: Art creation is about freedom and it is not given by anybody. Artist will always take freedom and make art. In case of graffiti art, it originates through several kinds of revolutions in some way, where the artist’s voice is reflected through the graffiti work.
Dinesh Vazirani: I think, this whole thing about censorship has always been there. Look at Akbar Padamsee’s painting the Lovers, for which he was charged under a case of in Supreme court because of the nudity in the painting. But, he finally won the case and his art was allowed and not called pornographic. So, art has always had censorship, and like Bose said, it’s the artists who actually battles that censorship. We as a community, as artists, collectors, dealers and everyone else have to tackle this whole concept of censorship.
In times of COVID, how do various people constituting the art market (dealers, artists, galleries, auction houses) survive and where do they go from here? Dinesh Vazirani: I think the key is to re-invent. Reinvention is the most important aspect of survival in a situation of this kind. So, for me, as soon as we saw disturbances in China, we actually ramped up quickly and made sure that every person working with Saffronart has remote access to auctions.
Currently, for us, online auctions have been doing well. As people are sitting at home, it is in many ways an encouraging and uplifting thing for them to do, to enjoy the auction process. At the same time, to work remotely is not rocket science, it is something anyone could’ve planned if they had the foresight of what was going to happen. We’re also doing a very large auction remotely on April 29-30 to raise funds for COVID, specifically for grassroot charities that will help migrant workers and artisans who’ve come to cities and are now stuck here without food and facilities.
So, artists have to reinvent the way they produce art. They have to use different mediums, look at artificial intelligence and see how to connect with people when they can’t interact physically. For dealers, many galleries have started great online programmes, podcasts and video programming. Everyone has to accept the fact that we’re in this situation and use the available mediums to create sustainable art within this space.