Dr. Balamani recently co-curated the much successful exhibition called Constellation at the Bihar Museum. ReReeti had the opportunity to interview her on her experience in the world of art and history.
GJ: Bihar Museum in collaboration with Sarjan Art Gallery recently hosted an exhibition “Constellation” which was co-curated by you. Could you please tell us a bit about the exhibition – it’s message and theme?
Dr.Balamani: I am glad I was chosen to co-curate the exhibition at Bihar Museum on 5th of April 2018. I was given the responsibility to conceptualize the exhibition, writing the catalogue, explaining the theme and display of works. Museum site curator shared the responsibility of collecting the artworks and the administrative work required to coordinate. This exhibition has chosen the collections from Sarjan Art Gallery of Baroda and also from the collections of private art collectors of Bihar.
After going through the collections I chose a theme related to ‘Historicity of Indian art journey’. As a broad classification, the art from India before the British period was called Traditional Indian Art. The British Raj period and early independent India is called the period of Indian Modern Art. Contemporary concerns are sliding in phases since ’70 when social changes started causing the changeover in the art field too. Whether it is Modern to Contemporary period or within the phases of Contemporary concerns, no period is separated with a watertight mark or with a boundary wall. Many experimental thoughts and concepts of artists’ works kept on continuously changing as per the situations.
Modern and Contemporary art of India is different and has its own specificity. The transition of Modern art to Contemporary art is a process in continuity. Indian Modern artists worked on asserting Indian identities against the British Raj in line with ‘Swadeshi Movements’. Nehruvian ideas of early independent India too influenced art world creating artworks for structuring Indian identities. After ’60 when the questions of individual identities and equality were raised like ‘who am I? what is my identity? questions on minority, questions of women, tribal, folk arts identities, the society was being questions, that was one of the points of the beginning of contemporary concerns expressed in the art field. This transition did not happen overnight and is still going on with the modified form of questions along with changing social situations. There are back and forth references from the modern and contemporary period.
When I looked into the art collection given for exhibition at Bihar Museum I realized this will be an exhibition that can exemplify the transition period of Indian Modern to Contemporary art concerns.
Collection of this curatorial exhibition –‘Constellation’ – is of those star artists’ works who gave the transition a definition. Constellation has another reference too. This is that all the stars congregated at one place when Prince Siddhartha attained enlightenment and that moment marks the transition of becoming Lord Budhha. As this exhibition is happening in Bihar, seat of Budhha and many star works of art exhibited, I thought it is an appropriate title for this curation.
GJ: The exhibition hosted artworks from about 60 artists. What were the challenges faced that were unique to this project? How was hosting the exhibition in a museum different verses an exhibition in an art gallery or an art festival?
Dr.Balamani: Hosting the exhibition in a museum is certainly different from art gallery and art festivals because the latter is meant only for those people who are coming to see Modern and Contemporary art. The museum is different. People come here to see the art and objects from the ancient and medieval period. Modern art has to be made relatable to visitors. A lot of publicity was done through social media, hoardings and newspaper articles.
This museum gallery is huge it was also a challenge to make it meaningful as well as visually attractive. Sometimes due to a paucity of time often the curator has to take decisions on the spot as it happened in this case. In such conditions, of course, experience works but, we have to take the decisions intuitively. Many a time artists and organizers too have their conditions in dictating their preferences. The curator should be able to convince one and all with a conviction about the theme chosen.
GJ: How was Constellation received by the public and the art world?
Dr.Balamani: ‘Constellation’ exhibition attracted people because it had a reference of Budhha, his enlightenment moment and that happened in Bihar. But it takes some time for visitors to grasp the meaning of Modern art. The Art from the Modern period travelled away into it’ s own niche of celebration and somewhat away from the society. Now the art has started coming back or at least trying to make a comeback. This is one such happy idea of exhibiting in museums where generally people wish to visit the museums as a holiday package. I think the art world is quite happy about this move and their positive response is the proof for that.
GJ: How did you come into this area of work? What are your motivations and driving forces?
Dr.Balamani: My entry into this field was incidental. I had Master’s degree in pure sciences. Out of interest, I joined Dept. of Art History & Aesthetics, Faculty of Fine Arts Baroda for pursuing M.A. when my children started going to school. I chose Criticism as my specialization despite everyone warning me about the difficult syllabus. But I did complete the curriculum with great interest. I started working on independent projects and have not looked back since.
GJ: What would you say to aspirants working in this field – where recognition is hard to come by? How to stay motivated and on track?
Dr.Balamani: Earlier curation was not taken seriously. Just by organizing an exhibition itself, one felt entitled to call themselves as curators. Curation is a serious activity. Art Historians and Art Critics are specially trained and conceptualizing the themes for bringing the exhibitions of the display. They bridge the gaps between the society and art practices. Art is a special aptitude for visualization. It needs special practice to read and interpret.
Nowadays, I can see the difference. Curation is seriously taken and accepted. Curatorial work demands administrative and organizational skills along with the academic understanding of Art History and Aesthetics of Art practices. Basically, it connects with the field of art practices.
Curation need not restrict only to art and display. Every activity can be organized and thematically processed. Even organizing the historical events and objects of general interest can be thematically presented and can be made visually attractive. It is the role of the curator to conceptualize. It is the matter of how innovative and enthusiastic you are. These are the keys of every professional to become successful.
Dr. Balamani (M.Sc; M.A; Ph.D) is an Art Historian, Art Critic & Art Consultant. She has lectured at many institutions, curated art camps, workshops, thematic exhibitions on Modern and Contemporary Arts. She has published articles in English and Telugu that include national and international publications and short stories in Telugu.
ReReeti works with museums, galleries and heritage sites across India to plan strategies, design systems and implement programmes to increase audience engagement and institutional/ company visibility. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org for a free consultation or to collaborate on an upcoming exhibition.