It has been a delight engaging with writers from all over the world to ponder the potential and challenge that are tethered to the theme of sculpture. India has one of the oldest sculptural traditions in the world, which Dr. Seema Bawa and Dr. Hugo Weihe describe in their survey articles on Indian antiquities. Dr. Bawa points out the “increasing cultural amnesia that is afflicting both art practice and education,” and in this issue we found it important to anchor the exciting contemporary practices in India with a solid grounding to the past. With such an impressive history of sculpture, why do we see comparatively little of it celebrated in India today?
As the Founding Director and Chief Curator of the Creative India Foundation, I have been supporting the development of sculpture in India since August, 2010. I am thrilled to have observed platforms for sculpture improving significantly over this time through many initiatives: Anish Kapoor exhibited in India for the first time (helped immensely by the local expertise of Amrita Jhaveri, Priya Jhaveri, Mark Prime, and Vishal Dar); the Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum began giving a platform for monumental sculptural interventions in its space (and will soon realise a new commission by Reena Kallat in partnership with the Zegna Foundation); commercial spaces such as Phoenix Market City in Chennai backed by co-promoter Vijay Choraria, as well as Maker Maxity backed by Manish Maker in Mumbai have been realising commissions and raising awareness about the need for public art; the Kochi Biennale includes amazing monumental sculptures which I plan to see next month; and three of the four short-listed artists for the Skoda Prize are sculptors. I am excited to announce Creative India’s first public art commission in India which will open on Carter Road in early February: Shilpa Gupta’s Light Sculpture I Live Under Your Sky Too. The work will be up for several months to introduce contemporary art to people who might not otherwise encounter it.
Shilpa Gupta has exhibited all around the world, but her public projects are rarely seen in India, and we are glad to have been able to remove the hurdle of funding from the many challenges sculptors face in this country. In this issue, Shilpa Gupta will share an out-TAKE with us – a proposal that never happened due to a simple factor, snow.
Reflecting further on sculpture in India, I think it is incredible that here women dominate a traditionally male art form in an art world given to valorising and valuing male artists. The sculptors of Indian origin who are being collected by respected international museums are increasingly female. Recent acquisitions by the TATE, MoMA, and the Guggenheim include works by Zarina Hashmi, Shilpa Gupta, Shambhavi Singh, and Ranjani Shettar. If you look through the list of gallerists and other members of the art world, the percentage of women at the forefront of this field is astounding. This doesn’t mean that it doesn’t come without its politics…but I digress. I would like to extend a huge ‘Thank You!’ to another amazing woman who is the force behind TAKE on art, Bhavna Kakar, for creating and running such a great magazine, and for inviting me to be a part of it.
When I was in Berlin in October at a residency at NBK, I had a fascinating breakfast with another inspiring female sculptor, Nairy Baghramian, and we discussed some of the problems of sculpture. Baghramian will share her manifesto of these problems with you in the next issue, but to reveal two of her points, she believes that visual proposals kill the potential of what a sculpture can be by limiting expectations (despite this “no-visual-proposal code,” she has managed to successfully show in Münster, Venice, and the Serpentine without any problem), and she is against art prizes because they dis-incentivise achievement and maturity for the hype of the young and the chic. There needs to be more support and recognition for mid-career artists as well as overlooked artists from an older generation. This issue features the work of Louise Bourgeois, an artist who found success late in life. Zarina Hashmi also falls into this category, and I am longing to see her beautiful paper sculptures at her retrospective in the Guggenheim. While he is not normally written about in a contemporary art context, Nek Chand features prominently in the issue ahead, and his mad commitment to his rock garden is finally beginning to win him international acclaim. Outsider artists fascinate me, and I look forward to learning more at the Hayward Gallery’s upcoming exhibition on the subject.
This issue is by no means a comprehensive survey of the topic of sculpture, but I hope it leaves you with some new ideas about the achievements thus far and the potential for sculpture in India. In a country where the climate makes it difficult to maintain any material object, does art have to be permanent? I was privileged to spend time with six artists in conversation about ephemeral sculpture. Their dialogue raised many questions in my head, including obvious ones, how can I support the type of work they are talking about? What is the process to take an idea into a newly commissioned work? How can platforms for public art improve in this country? What are challenges to curating exhibitions with sculpture, especially in the context of the failed India survey exhibitions?
There are several inspiring private initiatives in India such as the Devi Art Foundation and the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art. As most of Creative India’s activities to date have been abroad, many readers have yet to see the exhibitions and works we have enabled. I feel that this personal letter is the most appropriate way to share our plans with you.
To the questions about the sculpture park, I have answers. Hari Kiran Vadlamani, the founder of Creative India, spends most of his time in Singapore and Hyderabad. Kiran, as he likes to be called, is extremely passionate about art, and the process of creativity. He has funded all that we have done over the past two years to support over 25 Indian artists in international residencies, exhibitions, art fairs, biennales, etc. in order to allow them to tangibly think about creating public sculpture.
Why sculpture? According to Kiran, “Shuttling between Singapore and India is a contrasting experience. On one hand public art & sculptures seek your attention everywhere in Singapore, while statutes of political figures stare at you from every traffic island in India. At this stage in our country’s development, it appears that we value our political figures more than an opportunity to use the public spaces for creative expression. Consequently Indian artists do not get an opportunity to think big, think monumental. My idea for the sculpture park and even before that, sponsoring Indian sculptors for overseas residences and productions grants for global parks and fairs is to fill this gap.” He elaborates that, “I love sculpture as an art form the most because it is a multi-dimensional and a multi-material form of creative expression. To me, a good sculpture is snapshot of energy in flow that is frozen at a point in time. Energy that is in transition. Energy that is being transformed.” Our process is one of meritocracy – the institutions we work with make the primary decisions about the artists that we support. We also give artists the freedom to make mistakes. We open the door for them, but we do not dictate what they do. To quote Cornelia Parker, “All the great patrons of the arts, the ones that people write books about, were those who had the nerve to allow the artists to be themselves.”
To quote Okwui Enwezor, “In traditional societies and countries where the art world is in a state of development, the act of commissioning is especially important…as is the role of art residencies or workshops, both in serving as a contact zone for research and new ideas and also in providing a context for artists to meet each other and to engage with new material.” In 2013, we will be beginning our first six commissions for our future 100-acre sculpture park, and bringing in international artists, curators, commissioners, and museum experts to begin a wider dialogue between Indian artists and the rest of the world. We are starting a mentorship program on an application basis for the Creative India Visual Arts Academy, and 10-20 artists will be selected in Mumbai and in Hyderabad to attend a year of intensive workshops and proposal development sessions with these visitors as well as Indian professionals. Please check our website on 15 February for more details.
Just as you cannot just ‘make a sculpture’, you cannot just ‘build a sculpture park’. I developed the framework for our initial exhibition after in-depth research at Yorkshire Sculpture Park, Wanås, the Cass Foundation, Hundred Acres at the Indianapolis Museum of Art, Storm King, Louisiana, de Cordova Sculpture Park, and Inhotim, amongst others. At an Independent Curators’ International Curatorial Intensive at Inhotim, I was able to work with some of the most respected curators from around the world to develop a plan to bring learning and contemporary art to an audience who probably has never experienced it before. The first exhibition has a tongue-in-cheek title of ‘Work in Progress’, and Marilá Dardot (Brazil), Oscar Tuazon (USA/France), David Brooks (USA), Hemali Bhuta (India), Asim Waqif (India), and Rathin Barman (India) are invited to explore what progress means in a place with rapid urban development, but with a literacy rate of ~68%.
Rather than show up with an ‘alien landing pad’ of big sculptures, these artists will use materials local to the area that its current agrarian inhabitants would be used to seeing in their daily life. The framework for maintaining the park will be developed around these six works, and it is my goal to make the local people custodians of the park just as Inhotim achieved in a remote town called Brumadinho in Brazil (1,000+ people now work there). Once the daily operations of the park are smooth and the six works are perfectly maintained, we will begin to invite established artists from India and abroad (as well as continuing to support emerging and local talent).
While I hope that the park will be ready in 2015 for readers to come visit, and that you will love the exhibition, you are not my target audience. For art to be able to survive in public against vandalism, theft, and poor maintenance, it has to belong to the local people who live around it. The artists will engage with the local communities when making their works, and the local communities will also be part of the production process when applicable, and they will be paid in order to drive an alternative economy of cultural production in Andhra Pradesh.
I spent a lovely afternoon with Olafur Eliasson who explained something to the effect of, “the challenge is not to meet the King…that is not a challenge. The challenge is to reach the least important person, in the most far off village, whose life you can change with art.” This is very utopian, however, I agree. Eliasson believes that what all human-beings have in common is (1) the ability to create and (2) the desire for beauty. I hope that by focusing on these common points, and placing art in the open-air, this project can help lessen divides between communities. Again, the idea of I Live Under Your Sky Too returns. Deepika Sorabjee shares her research about sculpture for social good in this issue, and I hope this can open readers’ minds to possibilities for sculpture beyond the object.
While my involvement with Creative India has been to develop a sculpture park and contribute to the visual arts academy’s program, this is only a very small part of what Kiran wants to create. The sculpture park will be part of a school called the Creative India Academies for Art & Culture, a school that explores all facets of Indian culture and provides platforms for exchange with other cultures around the world. Culinary Arts, Dance, Music, Literature, Wellness, Spirituality, these are just some of the topics this space will explore. This is all at its very early beginnings, watch this space, and if you have ideas, please share them!
Collaboration has been key to all the projects I’ve been involved with, and I hope that this issue brings about new ideas for artists, gallerists, collectors, curators, fabricators, the general public, etc. to expand their creative horizons outside of the studio, gallery, etc. and into the public realm. For example, the art program that I am involved with at Phoenix Market City in Chennai stemmed out of art lover and businessman Vijay Choraria’s vision, and demonstrates what great teamwork in the art world can accomplish. This is a positive indicator for the future of public art in this country and makes me optimistic about the development of new initiatives such as Kiran’s. There is, however, a large responsibility when creating public artworks. It has to be something that the public wants to see! Balancing the individual and the collective will is an age-old and difficult task, and the ability to be able to manage the two when they are in conflict is a necessary skill for anyone working in this space.
Thanks for reading!
 Buck, Louisa and Daniel McClean, Commissioning Contemporary Art: A Handbook for Curators and Artists, London: Thames and Hudson, 2012. p. 81
 Buck, Louisa and Daniel McClean, Commissioning Contemporary Art: A Handbook for Curators and Artists, London: Thames and Hudson, 2012. p.51