Publica 2016: A campaign to place art in the public domain

Publica 2016: A campaign to place art in the public domain

By M. SAAD | | 6 February, 2016
Installation by Rajesh Ram, entitled Farmer, which will be displayed at the DLF Cyber Hub, Gurgaon.

The role of art remains questionable in the bourgeois world. But without a doubt, art has a tendency of putting one in a state of equilibrium with the surrounding world. Art is seldom approached by an artist with a particular audience in mind, it is created for everyone. Yet people with modest bearings aren’t expected to frequent the big art galleries. A large section remains bereft of the mind-enriching conversations and engagements that art offers.

Art is merely a substitute of life rather than life itself, yet it has the power to enlighten the human spirit. The Dutch painter Piet Mondrian once alluded the possible disappearance of art. Reality, he believed, will displace art from the world. But instead art has continued to burgeon which suggests that art was not only a necessity of the past but will always remain so. But why then, should it remain accessible only to the elites?

This exclusivity is something that Surbhi Modi is trying to change with her initiative — a public art festival called Publica, which attracted over two million people in a month during its first edition in 2013. Surbhi, who curates the festival and is also the founder of the Floodlight Foundation, which supports and mentors young artists in the country, recalls how once while taking a cab to an art gallery in London, her cabbie exclaimed in admiration, ‘Oh! You are going to see David Hockney’s works”. The influential English artist, Hockney is popular across the social divide in England. This kind of awareness of arts is clearly missing in India. The waning art culture is at odds with the flourishing art market of the country. Surbhi is trying to change just that with her push to promote art with the public at large.

“I strongly feel the need to support public art projects to enrich the cultural landscape of our cities and to expose more to people to art,” says Surbhi.

“While in England, I conceptualized the idea of the foundation. Art always had a special place in my heart. In India, the public sector, in spite of our strong tradition and understanding of art and craft, has failed to support art education or even promote the arts to a wider audience. Even Delhi’s top public galleries and museums remain underfunded and lustreless. It is very difficult to build a culture from scratch, but you have to begin somewhere”, says 32 year-old Surbhi, who holds a Masters degree in Contemporary Art from Sotheby’s Institute of Art, London.

Hordes of people frequent public places such as street markets, cultural centres, metro stations, parks and shopping malls. The goal of Publica is to bring contemporary art presence to such places to create a dialogue between art and people. Venues for artworks in this edition include Indira Gandhi Airport, Shanti Path, Nehru Park, Children’s Park, Vasant Kunj, DLF Emporio, Select Citywalk Mall, Nizamuddin Basti, India Habitat Centre and DLF Cyber Hub, Gurgaon.

“I strongly feel the need to support public art projects to enrich the cultural landscape of our cities and to expose more to people to art,” says Surbhi. The city will become the backdrop for a series of visual art performance with installations created by a range of Indian and International artists. Publica 2016 will include artists like Gigi Scaria, Anant Mishra, Owais Husain, Deepjyoti Kalita, Krishna Murari, Tushar Joag, Jasone Bilbao, Bhuwal Prasad, Ratktim Parashar and others. The festival for the first will travel to Mumbai and Modinagar; and will run throughout February.

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