Alternative art practices define Bangalore
by Nalini S Malaviya
The last two decades have seen major changes in the Indian art scene across the country, both in terms of the evolution of the market as well as trends in art. Collecting patterns have evolved and there have been significant changes that drive buying; earlier connoisseurs bought art out of sheer passion but recently the focus has been more on investment. The market itself has grown tremendously and the number of galleries, artists, curators and critics has also increased to a large extent. In Bangalore, commercial elements related to market dynamics have been somewhat deficient when compared to Delhi or Mumbai, but one must appreciate the phenomenal growth that the city has witnessed, especially in the last decade. The technological and biotechnological growth in the region has had a major economic impact, which in turn has led to a cultural intermingling, all of which has contributed to the present arts and culture scenario.
Over the years, institutions such as the India Foundation for the Arts, Goethe-Institut and the recently opened National Gallery of Modern Art have facilitated in creating a favourable environment and in providing institutional support to various art activities. Commercial spaces such as GallerySke and Sumukha have promoted artists like Sheila Gowda, Srinivasa Prasad, Abhishek Hazra, Avinash Veeraghavan, Ravikumar Kashi and Shanthamani amongst others who are continuing with their art practices that have an exciting edge.
However, a significant shift in trend, which makes the city art scene exceptionally different from other art centres, is an outcome of a propensity for new media and alternative art practices. Interestingly, this unique visual culture that has evolved in the last few years in Bangalore is outside institutions and is a result of artist led initiatives. An inclination towards experimental and conceptual art is in fact a widespread phenomenon and evident throughout the country, but Bangalore has clearly emerged as a preferred place for alternative art practices. For instance, 'BAR1' by Raghavendra Rao, Surekha and others, '1Shanthiroad' by Suresh Jayaram, 'Samuha' by Suresh Kumar, Archana Prasad and Shivaprasad and 'Jaaga' by Freeman Murray and Archana Prasad are all artist led initiatives that have provided vibrant spaces for creative expressions.
Most of these projects came into existence in a bid to establish individual identities outside gallery environs, as part of activism to an extent, in an effort to collaborate with communities and to create sustainable models. In the process, easy access to technology and the worldwide web served to act as catalysing forces. Digital photography and video art were possible and made widely accessible through technological advancements and the Internet. For instance, Jaaga set up in 2009 stemmed 'from a desire to bring the arts and technology communities closer together, Jaaga explores new ways of using pallet-rack shelving to create a modular and mobile community space in a dense urban landscape to foster innovation'.
Another important factor that has essentially fuelled the movement has been the support and encouragement that such initiatives have garnered within the art community. The recently concluded Samuha has been a highly successful one-year project that functioned as an artist collective with 23 artists participating in this unusual model. Based on a 'chit-fund' approach, it allowed each participant artist to contribute a certain amount to the fund which in turn allowed a rotation of exhibitions by the group members, where, in all 32 shows and about 20 artist talks were organized over the year. A non-curatorial approach led to some interesting experiments in painting, sculpture, new media arts and performance arts by artists such as Pushpamala N, Surekha, Ayisha Abraham amongst others, many of whom were exhibiting for the very first time.
1Shanthiroad too deserves a mention, established in 2003; this informal space belongs to art historian and artist Suresh Jayaram that has grown into a vital centre for art activities. Through its residency programmes and as a space for experimental art, it has provided a much-needed forum for interactions between members of the art community and has thus nurtured alternative art practices actively.