Art And The City

I am obsessed with Bhubaneswar, the city and with the soul of the city. Almost a city state. Born out of a piece of art, scenic topography dotted with architecture since the 3rd century BC, is today an emerging gateway to ASEAN regional geo-social-economic play. That’s the future, whether I, the shy Odishan likes to believe, or is scared to believe or don’t believe. The joy of Bhubaneswar is it being coy.

While laying the foundation-stone of the city, Nehru had observed that Bhubaneswar “would not be a city of big buildings for officers and rich men without relation to common masses. It would accord with an idea of reducing differences between the rich and the poor. The New Capital would embody the beautiful art of Odisha, and it would be a place for beauty, so that life might become an adjunct to beauty”.

To embellish life with beauty, Lokanath Pradhan, the firebrand, young artist from Kendrapara is creating unique pieces. His past has not been privileged, his life experience has been tumultuous and, yet his dreams remain fresh, untainted and his creations are stunning. I am not his PR agent but was a part of his audience in an art show in Delhi recently and would consider it my privilege to be his advocate any day. He clearly needs support in ‘art activism’. He represents the brimming energy of new Odia Art and the art commune. Odisha is fertile with so many Lokanaths. They need handholding.

Contemporary Odia art warrants activism – active individuals and collectives vocally supporting quality work and artistes behind the work – swiftly, strategically and contemporarily. Odisha art work has been majorly unsung but is growingly finding a place in national platforms and shows. But this is primarily through individual networking, outreach and connections. Art promotion can be fruitful if institutionalised. Bhubaneswar Art Collective is a welcome platform in this direction. It has recently conducted a visioning workshop for Art in the Smart City and was lauded as an inclusive effort, creating a large fold comprising of administrators, artistes, social workers, senior citizens of the city, intellectuals, entrepreneurs and many others.

Odisha Art’s travel to the world stage should be preceded by homestead recognition. Researches have not been able to depict clearly the relationship between Socioeconomic Status (SES) and art patronage making it a bit obfuscate to propose a directional relationship between the two. However, it is common sense that art under ‘old Odisha’ thrived with the benefaction of princely families, rulers and art lovers with means. Konark, the epitome of romance, was sculpted under royal coffers and blessings.

In ‘new Odisha’ there are over 110 crorepatis or HNWI (high net worth individuals) but mostly businessman-turned politicians or former royalties and businessmen belonging to the extraction sector or basic industries. There is a perceptible difference between enterprise-based money making and endowment-based rental income. There have not been much philanthropic activities in Odisha from the HNWIs. But the onus is on me, the thinking Odisha citizen, to lend glamour to art patronage, besides the financial incentives in art investments. This has the potential to trigger a new wave of concerted and consistent support to art.

We should no more remain buried under the ‘poor’ tag. The pace of poverty reduction in the state has been one of the highest in the country (by over 24 per cent between 2004-05 and 2015). And more than half of 4.55 Crore population of Odisha are below the age of 35 which means we have abundance of energies which needs positive channelisation. The well entrenched, artistic proclivities of Odisha people should be given a powerful impetus and sustained encouragement. Art colleges should attract the best of the line of students. I should not perceive the world of art a place for the ‘non achievers’ and no-gooders. That has been the bane of my Odisha stereotype (that art is for people who are not good otherwise), which is fast changing.

If the state of Odisha today prides being the ‘soft powerhouse of India’, then it is principally because of the art which exists in each household of the state and its influence on the personality and character of it people – soft, aesthetic and creative. Our art and culture has etched our state identity – the soul of India. Our deity, the Lord of the Universe is the fountainhead of all forms of art – pottery/ceramics, drawing, painting, sculpture, designs, crafts, literature, performing arts, conceptual arts, textile arts and architecture. Our art is our distinctiveness but surprisingly we have relegated art and artistes to the fringes.

A beautiful Smart City can be much more than painting a few flyovers. How do I enhance the profiles of my artistes and give them their due podium? The density of NGOs in Odisha is probably the highest in India but there is virtually no civil society movement to resurrect, the glorious past of art in Odisha. Mostly middle class, Odisha must believe more on its art and its global appeal. We have the talent, but they are migrating to cities outside the state. We want to become the Art Capital of India. Bhubaneswar smart city proposal has been adjudged the best in India and the American Planning Association has announced the Pierre L’Enfant International Planning Excellence Award 2017 for the Bhubaneswar smart city project. The award is ‘a recognition of the citizen-driven vision planned to ensure economic growth and improve the quality of life in Bhubaneswar city with the help of technology’. If we are on our way to be the Smartest city in India, we can be the Art Capital of India. Rather than individuals, art collectives must take up advocacy and policy drives. Smart city mission should be supported by the collectives. Sharing of global experiences, good practices is important and so is team building to try out the innovations.

In the recently-concluded ‘Art in the Smart City’ workshop, the presentations on the Seoul Biennale, Kochi Biennale and others were well received by the art community. More scholarships need to be given to aspiring young talents. Art has to be Glocal. The patta chitras need new colours, patterns and life. Bhubaneswar canvas is longing for rejuvenation. The Art world is flitting by and we need to catch up. The stone carvings, sand art, silver filigree, applique works, brass and dhokra works, horn bone craft, paper mache, tassar patta, ikat, coir craft look tired and worn out. The art fraternity is looking for new ideas, technologies and enabling ecosystems. Ecosystems do not mean conclaves and workshops only. They mean profitable market linkages, dedicated budget line items for art in the city, rewarding government patronage in Smart city work, at least a couple of energetic residency programs in Bhubaneswar bi-annually, special schemes under tourism to facilitate international exchange programs, smooth land allotment or infrastructure for Art Labs without red tape, special grants and incentives to Art colleges, regular recognition to lesser known, struggling artists from different areas of the state and quality training programs of international levels to be organised in Bhubaneswar.

How I wish the artist to “look the world in the face like you had a right to be there’. (James Baldwin). The time is ripe to change the praxis and paradigm, because the purpose of art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls, as Picasso had said once. And Odisha is the soul of India. I can’t imagine Odisha without art and its creators, for they impress my divinity and make me unique in India.

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