Thursday, June 6, 2013

‘Where’s the official Indian pavilion?’

Pointing to ‘lack of India in the ongoing Venice Biennale’, art scholar and expert Vishakha N Desai questions in a column, if Estonia and Angola can showcase themselves to the thriving global art world, why India fails to do?

She starts off by mentioning in an article in The Indian Express: “As we were perusing the Angola pavilion and picking up our share of printed photographs from the award-winning installation at the Venice Biennale, my American friend stopped and asked with a surprised look: "Where is the Indian pavilion? Why is India so glaringly absent here?" The questions are clearly discomforting.

Over the four days she spent at the Biennale, she heard this sentiment expressed by many of her art literati friends from across the world. Making a stoic point, she adds: “There are 88 national pavilions in the historical Giardini and scattered throughout the city. Close to a thousand artists from all parts of the world are represented in exhibitions, national pavilions and collateral events. Some 35,000 art leaders and enthusiasts have gone through the Biennale in the first few days of the preview alone.

“Around 5,00,000 people are expected to visit this extravaganza by the time it closes in November. Most countries realize the enormous opportunity to project their cultural strength at this oldest, largest and most prestigious global art event. So, Estonia and Angola can showcase themselves to the thriving global art world, why India fails to do?’

As she was asked this question, it was interesting to hear the plausible responses from some of her colleagues. "Is it because the Indian government does not want to spend this kind of money when there are such pressing issues of poverty at home?" asked a well meaning academic colleague.

"It is embarrassing that our government can't even get its act together to pay enough attention to the country's most important soft power tool, its vibrant contemporary art scene, to present it to the world," remarked a well known collector of contemporary Indian art, lamenting the fact that the effort expended for the previous Biennale was not followed up this time. She repeated the commonly heard refrain that in India, all big things happen these days in spite of the government, rather than with the support of the government.

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