No answer in sight, but Bengaluru's artists keep up the questions on VAG

"This space (VAG) is meant to appreciate art and not the jazzy fittings that the private party would bring in"
No answer in sight, but Bengaluru's artists keep up the questions on VAG
No answer in sight, but Bengaluru's artists keep up the questions on VAG

After weeks of controversy over the public-private-partnership concerning the maintenance of the government art gallery in the state capital, Bengaluru’s artists are happy, even though their demands haven’t been met.

Early this year, a section of the artist community in Bengaluru began protesting against the MoU the state government signed in June 2015 with the Museum of Art and Photography (MAP) (a division of Bengaluru-based Tasveer Foundation) over the maintenance of the government-owned Venkatappa Art Gallery.

Weeks after they began opposing the move and organizing meetings and art protests, they take stock of everything that has occurred and despite the refusal of the government to budge, they say they will not give up as long as the core issues remain.

On Wednesday, a two-day art marathon concluded with the participation of painters, sculptors, poets, and theatre persons, who created their work at the gallery premises on Kasturba Road.

Watch the video here:

Bengaluru-based artist who is a part of VAG Forum, Suresh Kumar, says that the government is refusing to change its stance while the private foundation is mum on the details of its plans for the gallery.

“Just after the MoU was signed, Abhishek Poddar, who is one of the trustees, said that Tasveer should have a say on what work is going up if they have invested the money,” he alleged. “Now they might say they would have first-come-first-serve basis, but nothing is in writing and we can’t risk our space based on what they are saying now.”

But whatever is in writing is unclear. According to the MoU: “All curatorial, exhibition, and programming decisions shall be governed by MAP, its curators and advisory panel.” Referring to this, artist Akshaya Krishnamoorthy says: “When the MoU is so loosely worded, especially in connection with curatorial rights, how are artists to be feel assured that they would get a chance to use the space?” asks.

This is in contrast with how the VAG functions under the government and symbolized by Wednesday’s protest, says Naveen, an architect who curated a series called “Doodles of an Architect”. “Everybody is invited to show their work (at VAG) and there is no definition for art. But when a private body takes over, we are afraid there would be rules and many of us would be outcast,” he says.

The government is barking up the wrong tree by focusing on footfalls, says Naveen. “It (MoU) is all for profit and footfalls, whereas this space (VAG) is meant to appreciate art and not the jazzy fittings that the private party would bring in.”

However, Nathaniel Gaskell, associate director of Museum of Art and Photography said in an interview in February, that the rents would be increased to affordable limits only and that there would be days when the deserving artists can use the space for free.

“Who is going to decide who “deserving artists” are? If they really want to do good to the art scene in the city, let them set up a new gallery and run it the “democratic way” in which they claim they would run this one,” Suresh says.

He has more salvos to fire. “In fact, how has their private gallery impacted the art scene in the city? If they are looking at increasing the footfall here, why don’t they set an example in their own gallery?” Suresh says. He said that the artists wanted to engage with the government, not with a third party to resolve matters. 

Despite the refusal of the government to given in to any of the Forum’s demands, they are not disheartened.

“In the last four months of art-protests, more people know about the gallery and also the controversy, while the government seems to have put the issue in cold storage. And we are happy to make our presence felt. We will continue to protest until the government comes out with a comprehensive answer to all out questions,” says Suresh.

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