The resident artists group at Sanskriti is as diverse as it can get. It’s international. Over the past week I’d observed that one of resident artists has been making derogatory comments about various aspects of India, such as the caste system, the language, female oppression, traditions which I found deeply unsettling and frankly, offensive. There came a point that this was beginning to affect the group dynamics and this morning I decided to confront it. I took her to one side and told her that I found some of her comments about the Indian culture and people offensive. I asked her what she meant by some of her comments? Realising the impact of her comments, she apologised and regretted that her comments had caused such upset. She thanked me for bringing this up with her. She agreed that much of her perceptions were driven by some old books that she had been reading about India. In other words, not only she was suggesting that the books were her reference points but also shifting the responsibility for her actions.
We had a good open conversation. I told her that India is just as developed as anywhere else and suggested that she should take a more open look. The juxtaposition of modern and traditional will always be there and it’s worth taking a look at how people of India negotiate these in their daily lives. Centuries of traditions, religion, rituals, faith, cultural habits permeate the lives of Indians with seamless boundaries. A piece of artistic expression can just as well be a religious experience in its finest sense, a small religious act can just as well be a form of cultural expression. These complexities and the way they are juggled, make Indians one of the most resilient, adaptable, diverse and flexible people around. There are extremes and I am not making a generalist statement.
We parted with a hug, she thanked me again for bringing it to her attention and giving her an opportunity to reflect on her behaviour. I later learnt that she went and apologized to the other resident Indian artist about her comments.
I just logged in to post my two pence worth of blog and was intrigued to find blog posts from someone called Shelley Shea on the CLP website. No relation to culture or cultural leadership or the arts in general. Am I missing something here? I think someone should tell Shelley that this is the wrong site for her blogs. Anyhow, rambling finished.
Happy New Year Everyone!!!
Welcomed the New Year in a very memorable way - surrounded by artists from different parts of the world, huddled in a cosy room, candlelit, some music playing on Kyong's laptop. We all toasted to a New Year, different to the one just gone. We wished that the traffic in Delhi runs between the two white lines on the road, that the internet works properly and that the taxi drivers turn up on time. My new friends also gave a toast for my future and wished me success with my plans. So nice of them.
With all that behind me, I turned up for work today. Of course, so did others. And most of the population in India.
Another opening! This time it was the Palette Art Gallery that showed the latest installations and mixed media work by Anjum Singh. The place was heaving.. with family and friends, the art collectors, curators, other gallery owners, some artists – well known names, such as Subodh Gupta, Bharati Kher, Gigi.. and of course, some pre
sence of foreign cultural councils too. The work was certainly far more interesting than anything I had seen so far during my time here, but nonetheless less risqué. May be symbolized by an installation of four rather large eggs that attracted huge curiosity from the visitors. Two of them were broken in half. One of them was lined with rusty sewing pins in hair like manner and the other had tiny pieces of drinking straw stuck on like a honeycomb. The other two were whole eggs; one of them strewn with metal nuts and the other had pretty map d
rawn all over it. (Sorry folks, no pics.) I stood in front of them, sipping my wine and munching on the delicious finger kebabs, deciphering the meaning behind the egg with a skin of rusty pins and wondering about the bubble that I was in.. the ‘Delhi Art Bubble’…
But the evening kicked a high point for me when I met with Aranyani Bhargav, a contemporary dancer who helped to shed some light on the plight of the artists, especially dancers in India and a genuine need for the arts managers to step in to help them with the day to day management of the companies. Equally interesting was to learn about the role of the gurus (not the spiritual ones) in the artists’ lives and the tightrope they have to walk in order to find a balance between their respect for the established and their ambition to be independent. This is seriously serious. Aranyani established her credibility in her own right as an artist, but also by having a famous guru. Later she left her guru to establish herself independently and this was the acid test. We spoke at length about leadership within the Indian cultural sector. Certainly in the dance sector here, there is a need for a dialogue on this. But it's not that simple either. There are semantics around 'leadership' that need to be understood and agreed before. There are many young artists who are carrying out pioneering work purely based on their passion, but there is little to support them either at the top or at the ground level.
Charged with Aranyani’s passion, I then went to my next event, a dinner hosted by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations (ICCR) to welcome Rajesh Gopie, a South African artist/actor. I met with both the incoming and the outgoing directors of the British Council, India and Sri Lanka. We were later (much later) joined by a theatre producer who demonstrated the most perfect example of ‘how to make a sales pitch’ (to secure funding for the touring of her play). There was poise, persistence and passion. By telling us a story about how she persuaded the American cultural attaché to support the touring of her play in America, she was able to convince us all about why her play deserved to tour in Britain. I was quite impressed by the way she weaved various stories together from the past and present which gave an idea about the range of people who knew about her work. She was effortless and undeterred. She was on stage and she was acting like it.
It was time for some self-reflection on my own style in marketing and the approach to securing sponsorships! Needless to say that I’ve just lifted the lid on that.
On a slightly different but related note, I never realised that a book on marketing/entrepreneurship could be so interesting that I would finish it on a two hour flight. This was ‘The One Minute Entrepreneur’ by Ken Blanchard, Don Huston and Ethan Willis.
Saw the opening of ‘Oil on Canvas’ yesterday. Subodh Gupta opened his solo show of sculptures last night at the Nature Morte, Delhi to a bustling crowd from all corners of the art fraternity in India and I am glad to have attended it. There were art collectors, gallery owners, curators, artists, rich folks and of course, some who were simply curious about his work. Here I also met with artists such as Nidhi Agarwal, a rising artist and Narayan Mondal, an established voice who expressed reservations about some of the works displayed. This was yet another layer of the Indian art scene that fascinated me, but this was one evening when I didn’t want to question anything. It was sublime and I simply wanted to enjoy it.
Indian kitchen utensils were there, his signature medium and this time they took the form of three eggs in an egg carton and a serpentine spewing out froth. There were also empty canvases on display and questions were raised about the meaning behind them. My favourite was ‘Twins’ two Indian tiffin-carriers in white placed on a huge box made of concrete. The man himself was there, gracefully networking, greeting and accepting warm reception from the crowd. I met him briefly at the show and congratulated him. Equally freaking was the fact that he was born and raised in the same little town as myself – Khagaul. This had to be the most fortuitous coincidences ever, proving the theory around six degrees of separation. I never thought that I would meet anyone from this little place – inconspicuous by all means and has no reason to produce famous sons. It made it more human talking to him about not just his art, but about his childhood, where he grew up and studied. I hope to see him again when we can have a little more relaxed conversation.
I came back to Sanskriti and in the dining hall, I got introduced to Rajesh Gopie, an established actor, director from South Africa by a resident theatre director Tina Johnson. A deeply inspiriting person who wants to produce a ‘heritage theatre festival’ in Durban. We had a long chat about the ‘hows’ and the ‘whys’. In the end, he asked if I could help him structure the idea and develop the project. I thought it was a very interesting twist to the day and left me feeling hopeful.
Uncovering the layers have been one of the most unsettling parts of this placement and of late, I was beginning to get a little frustrated and even disillusioned about the Indian arts sector. But meeting someone like Rajesh Gopie lifted my spirits and I’m now looking forward to my lunch with Gigi Scaria today, a visual artist, who uses video and installation as a main medium of work. I'll keep you posted if I ever get to have that coffee with Subodh Gupta..
I’ve been curious about the way the cultural sector is growing, in fact, thriving in India. There are currently at least 100, if not more, private galleries in New Delhi and artists are busy showing their work, making work as well as selling their work. The questions I came here with were ‘how the Indian arts sector was preparing itself for the future in terms of the global economic recession? What kind of leadership is required to prepare the organisations to cope with such economic climate?’ Interestingly, the director of a leading arts organisation commented that India is no longer in a recession, hence the question about ‘the impact of economic recession in the arts’ may not be that relevant for the Indian arts scene. This was echoed by the artist Nidhi Agarwal who is currently showing her work at Nature Morte, a leading contemporary art gallery in New Delhi
. However, the questions around ‘what kind of leadership’ is practiced in this growing economy and the lessons that we can take back to UK continue to preoccupy me.
For the past couple of weeks I’ve been exploring the topic of ‘cultural leadership in India’ and various individuals have given differing views which led me to some basic questions, such as ‘how is the notion of 'leadership' perceived in India?’ and ‘how does this manifest itself in the cultural sector?’. Needless to say that I am not anywhere near finding any answers, may be I won’t in the short period that I have been here in New Delhi. What I have understood though is that there is a greater need to assert the notion of ‘arts management’ than to discuss cultural leadership here.
The only way I can sum up about what I had understood about the sector so far is that people just get on with what they want to do and don’t wait for any policy or a strategy to guide them. As much as policies are important, but they can sometimes be a hindrance for an organic and spontaneous growth.
Though unrelated, but equally important: Winter has been formally welcomed with great festivity and prayers. It officially began yesterday and the sun feels different on the skin.
Last weekend I met couple of dancers Anusha and Avanti who are organising the first ever 'Contemporary Dance Festival' -and calling practitioners to take part in a seminar on increased advocacy for contemporary dance to be given same status as the Classical dance. I attended this with Piali Ray, artistic director Sampad who is currently touring her new piece, In the Further Soil in India. Very interesting to hear ideas for shifting the ground where infrastructure support is not well defined or pronounced. We talked about the structure, tried and tested models of dance initiatives in the UK
, networking as a way of
strengthening the sector. Here I was looking at how artists were considering strategic development, but more importantly they wished to create a u
nified noise and be heard by the right people, such as the practitioners, policy makers, senior officials.
I've finished drafting the brief note on 'Cultural Leadership in India' and have begun talking to the people who might be interested in this. Listening to Anusha and Avanti made me realise that what they are doing is indeed about leading and making a difference. We've agreed to meet up in near future as they wished to seek my input into the 'networking seminar'. Well, it all gives us a great platform for sharing each other's ideas and practice.
Three sector lead organisations, Arts Council England, Creative & Cultural Skills and the Museums, Libra ries and Archives Council have formed the Cultural Leadership Delivery Partnership, a unique cross-sector collaboration to support the Programme.