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Workshops, community projects help art push new frontiers


New Delhi: Aesthetic exchanges at interactive workshops that give a sense of purpose, involvement of the community and new populist idioms have helped art reach out to the widest cross-section of people over the last decade.

The change, as Robert Loder, founder-director of the Triangle Arts Trust, Britain, said has been “brought about by the new interactive nature that art has acquired as a result of workshops and public projects that rely on people’s participation to carry art forward as tool of communication and mass awareness”.

Loder, known as the “workshop man” for pioneering the concept of art workshops across the globe, was in India to launch the Khoj Book – the country’s first ever printed volume on community, workshop and interactive art – at the British Council here Friday.

“I think the art workshop experiment has been the most successful in India when compared to other countries across the globe. It has brought about a big change in the artistic temperament of the country. Artists can now articulate and express themselves in more creative ways,” Loder told IANS.

Loder, who had hosted one of the earliest art workshops at New York in 1982 followed by Africa, India and China, said “the artistic exchanges at workshops honed individual aesthetics”.

“The movement, subsequently, spread and the artists who attended the workshops replicated the model in their respective countries,” he said.

This year, the Triangle Trust is concentrating its efforts in the Middle East.

“We will conduct a series of interactive exchange forums in Jordan, Lebanon and Syria this year,” he said.

For actor Naseeruddin Shah, who attended the launch Friday, “workshops are important because they give art a sense of purpose”.

“Art must have a sense of purpose. But, unlike films, which integrate every component of art and is constantly assimilating, I don’t know what kind of assimilation takes place through artistic interactions. I see no reason to promote the artistic elements separately. But I think the country still does not have enough art; there is always room for more,” the Bollywood actor told IANS.

Contemporary Indian artist Subodh Gupta, a Khoj pioneer, told IANS: “The Khoj project would not have been possible without Robert Loder. In 1996, he suggested that Indian artists should initiate an exchange project. Twenty-five of us from the country’s artistic fraternity got together to host a residency-cum-workshop.

“We raised money through private donations. It was the beginning of a new era in the popular contemporary art movement in India. Later we christened the project as Khoj,” he said.

The compendium edited by Pooja Sood, director of the Khoj International Artists’ Association, and Sarah Bancroft, a British editor, features five lead essays by eminent art critics and interviews of 101 Indian artists.

The 680-page tome boasts of 1,000 coloured images of art works.

“As art takes time to evolve, workshops always enrich the practitioners and exchanges open new creative vistas,” Gupta, who is preparing for three new solo shows this year in Seoul, Glasgow and New Delhi, said.

Leading graphic novelist and artist Sarnath Banerjee, who has been associated with Khoj since its inception, said “community-based art projects and interactive exchange programmes help art penetrate the cultural landscape.”

“It is art at its most advanced stage that is raising the cultural bar. The Khoj programme has helped several artists find voice in the international arena,” he said.

Sood, who spent three years compiling and editing the book, told IANS: “With no models to emulate, Khoj, as an ‘alternative’ space for contemporary art practice, has traced a distinctive course. It has been a journey of shifting definitions, of freedom and responsibility and a route marked by opportunities lost and seized.”