Review by Subhra Mazumdar
February 15, 2018


Review by Subhra Mazumdar

First International Kala Mela
February 4-18, 2018
Lalit Kala Akademi in collaboration with IGNCA, New Delhi

Art platforms of various kinds are fast becoming a familiar platform for display and interaction among artists and the community at large. While in the past such occassions have worn an elitist tab, the International Kala Mela organised for the first time by the Lalit Kala Akademi (LKA), New Delhi, has formatted yet another approach to the practice of art display and outreach. Though kala melas in the past were an established norm at this institution, it had seen a discontinuation. The current mela is a revival of the practice after a gap of 20 years and has been hailed as a god-sent by the mid-level art practitioner who have steadily seen an erosion of their visibility with the rise in elitist platforms and the influx of foreign interest in Indian art. With a sizeable collective of 325 stalls booked by artists and the fraternity and a sizeable participation of 20 foreign countries represented at the venue, this affair with art has certainly revealed the lesser known and yet significant sector of Indian art.

On the part of the organisers, such fairs present an opportunity to showcase the inclusive persona of the institution. In the public gaze, the LKA is associated with the prestigious National Exhibition of Art (NEA), a competitive platform that is aspirational and which attracts the best art talents in the country. The NEA Awardees in time rise to be the country’s leading artistic lights, by and large. On the other hand, the event has created a lopsided idea about the institution and hence the Kala Mela as also other efforts, go a long way in rationalising such developments. Its other face is best revealed when one scans through the variety of participants at the Mela. On display are saleable works created by artists who are inmates of the Tihar Jail and their output is as appealing as those in other stalls. On view also are the works of self-taught practitioners such as Kiran Soni Gupta who is a high-powered bureaucrat of Additional Secretary rank and whose works have drawn attention not just at this venue but also abroad at the Louvre, in Paris, where she exhibited her works in December. Visitors also, to this venue are drawn from all quarters, ranging from the Nobel Laureate Kailash Satyarthi to art educators and children, who are carried away by the riot of colour and the fascinating forms that were placed all over the grounds.

Having the montage of a colourful fair, it became a platform where senior level artists also were visible through art associations that represented their art. Thus one was privy to the works of artist Shyamal Mukherjee alongside a photographer who had taken classic shots of Malta, highighting the characteristic Mediterranean architecture in its window formats. Elsewhere there were awardees of this year’s NEA, such as Amit Dutt, a current awardee with a reputation for producing incisive and thought provoking forms that question societal norms. Veterans of past melas, too have come forth to showcase their art, which has seen several avatars and changes through their long –drawn practice. One such artist on display is Harish Srivastava, a veteran of the first and second Kala Mela of the LKA. For him, this mela is a manifesto reiterating the past, with accents of the present. Though he finds the variety and the participation increased manifold, the administrative facilities of the event is wanting, as display boards were not erected on time and names of artists were not displayed by the time of the inauguration.

But it is the outstation artist more than others who have welcomed the opportunity with open arms. Artists such as Uma Sharma, whose collages have won her the UP State Art Award this year, as also the International Book of Records Award for producing the world’s largest collage art, this event is an opportunity to bring to the larger public her unique talent. With her stall located close to the entry point of the Mela, she has seen a constant stream of visitors, as word has spread of her producing the world’s smallest paper sculpture three and a half inches. “I use hand-torn paper to create my works which are three-dimensional as well as wall art.’ It is a painstaking process requiring immense patience as also an eye for conceptualising forms that gel into landscapes, portraits and sculptures,” she elaborates.

In the case of Karnataka artist N.K. Bhaskaran, the Kala Mela has given him an opportuity to prove that the traditional Tanjore maker can also excel in contemporary art in the western technique. “The Tanjore art is my heritage and I have been making it since childhood, but my landscapes are what I have been trained at and for viewers here it has been an enigma and a pleasure. They have remarked that they find my works of river scenes very peaceful and calming. It also shows my concern to protect our nature,” he adds.

There was no dearth of visitors at the kiosk displaying the works of the Mexican participant, who had displayed a set of prints produced with artistic and technical expertise. His fluent English and his perfect elaboration of what his works conveyed made him an artist sought after for professional exchanges as also others who peered inquisitively into the prints that had come from overseas.

The parting echo reverberating round from stall to stall was that the event was a much needed answer to artists’ longings. Thus, while cards were exchanged and personal details were noted down, they frenetically wished to see each other again the next year, at the next edition of this exhibition milieu.