(Article first published in www.cartanart.com on 12th May 2014, edited by Johny M.L and Sushma Sabnis, New Delhi, during the occassion of the first anniversary of Rangoli Metro Art Center, Bengaluru)
The administrative governance and contemporary art activism do not gel well in the Indian context. The gap between their ‘expectations’ and ‘results’ is always the lengthiest thing that the country has creatively produced in the field of creativity, since independence (remember the likes of Lalitkala Academies, Bharath Bhavan). In this background, Rangoli Metro Art Center (MAC), an initiative of BMRCL, in Bangalore, seem to reduce the length of this gap, unusually. Begun exactly a year ago on 6th May 2013, its success lies in bringing serious art to the common man in the latter’s own den; and often has experimented and experienced in simultaneously catering to the ordinary, mundane and the specialist taste as well. Similar such administrative attempts earlier, over the decades, through ‘Venkatappa gallery’, ‘Freedom Park’, ‘Kalaagraama’ and the likes, only irked the mainstream visual art/ists and were at their best when they availed spaces to artist-run-initiatives like ‘Kala Mela’, ‘Ananya Talks’ series. Their own attempts to both promote urban-elite-visual culture and negotiate that with the popular visual culture, saw red within the framework of red-tapism. On the other hand, the more contemporary artists-initiatives (‘Bar1’, ‘1shanthiroad’, ‘Jaaga’ etc) drifted away from the claws of the governance basically existing within an insular premise, where the known and the acquainted alone (who-is-who-like personalities) mutually appreciate and endorse mostly the mainstream visual cultural activities.
In this background, Rangoli Metro Art Center (Rangoli-Mac) has proved as a third front in the history of historicising visual culture of Bengaluru city: Neither completely a government project, nor an insular elitist art community away from ground reality; it included the once popular and lately defunct Boulevard walkway on M.G.Road into its geographical premise. R-Mac opened with other’s scepticism and its own anticipation and the older citizen’s nostalgia. Located at the prime road of the city — M.G.Road – it offered three galleries, an intimate theatre, a children section (its curator Surekha designed the improvised ‘Snake and Ladder Game Playground’ on the ground, which is played by people with no age bar, throughout the day, especially during the crowded weekends) and stalls for crafts and artefacts as well. This starkingly contrasts with the almost haunted Venkatappa museum, just half a kilometre away. This is true despite the latter arguably being the cheapest government gallery in the country!
The first thing one remembers about Rangoli’s year-long activity is about the showcasing of the newly discovered, archived photographs of the older Bengaluru, in a series of prolonged series of exhibitions. Collected from the collections of photographer Clare Arni, historian T.V.Annaswamy and others, this recurrent show in black and white colourfully presented a bright history of Bangalore, which is an ambiguous yet interesting play between myths and facts, though was invisible till recently. The permanent-‘Info-Wall’ similarly traces the chronology of the city from reliable sources, which is nostalgic for the older generation; and a matter of curiosity to the newcomers, owing to the fact that this is the city of pensioners as well as maximum migration, respectively, throughout the country.
While these activities in the open space were availed throughout as ‘info-tainment’, the little and big theatre groups and stand-up comedians, (especially ‘Punch-Tantra’ group) found the auditorium apt to recurrently reflect upon the history of the city and the humour between the attempts to establish fictions as facts; and less the other way round. Whether Rangoli-Mac was responsible or not, the curious case of self-introspective city’s history has been expressed not only in ‘print’ and ‘images’ but also through ‘performances’ at this venue. This is the only venue wherein a classic Design Centre’s demonstration in clay-pottery, a conventional art school painting (by rural art school graduate), a contemporary interactive performance (by a group of nationally recognised artists like Smitha Cariappa, Suresh Kumar, Dimple Shah), a series of’Kaavya Sanje’ (poetry workshops by Mamta Sagara), a monthly drum jam involving the public (headed by actor-singer Vasundhara Das) and a hoard of children’s’ paintings have coexisted and co-performed, with almost little difference in time and space, in between, in the history of Bangalore.
While the urban, elitist, mainstream artist-initiatives watched it curiously, Rangoli began to define and redefine itself, in a trial-and-error method. For instance, many schools involved in preparing images of the city by the children, which have become permanent hoarding throughout this premise. This has become a permanent venue for sand-sculptures (artist Gubendiran), which is a new populist genre, never seen before, since the city lacks waterbodies now due to the loss of the city’s lakes (there were about 1600 of them, it seems), which have become apt yet ironic venues for such an expression.
The stranger case of graduating art students shows held in this venue, outside their institutions (like Chitrakala Parishath and Srishti school of Art and Design, from Bangalore and other institutions from Gulbarga, Raichur, Gadag etc.) brought the emerging artists face to face with the harsh reality and curious eyes of the commoner and art lovers. The permanent set of artworks decorating the Rangoli premise since its inception were graduate-works shown at CKP galleries in 2013, installed permanently now at Rangoli; and have been modified into mementos and perhaps adore lakhs of laptops/walls and strangers documents as memorable-imagery. The image-making attitude of the convention of art schools have been metamorphosed into image-circulation-exercise, by/at Rangoli the news of which has spread to (and through) the art students throughout the State.
Ideally speaking, there is news that Rangoli-like-artistic Centers would be initiated underneath every new Metro stops in Bangalore. Utopias are possible but impossibility are not. The footfall at Rangoli-Mac space is unbelievable mainly during the weekends (about 5000 people per day). Artistic Curator Surekha, along with Vasanth Rao (the main brain behind its operation) has been able to withhold this every ambiguously drifting yet successful-yet show of blending the sacred and the mundane, together. The Jnaanapeet awardees visit and participate, the regional and the international are commixed, the mainstream has provoked the populist, Kannada blends with English in such a way that all those regional ruggedness and the international elitist arrogancy are meaningfully blend. In a way, the harsh reality points out that one year of Rangoli activities is next to impossibility, of commixing the governance and the artistic; and the subcategories within the latter. When the regional and the global refuse to politically collaborate, they do so artistically. One year of Rangoli’s activity has proven this beyond doubt. Now the question is: can ‘glocalisation’ be a static and permanent aspect? //