Art can be an exciting idea, not something one physically owns. This is the spirit that drives the newly-opened Gallery SKE in Bangalore.
(This article was originally published in October 2003)
A shrinking community: Mahendra Sinh portrays the Parsi.
IF YOU'RE art-alienated, it's time to take a look at the new Gallery SKE, launched on October 18, an open space for ideas that could redefine Bangalore gallery trends.
The brainchild of Sunitha Kumar Emmart, who earlier managed Sakshi Gallery, the space takes its name from her initials. Its contemporary, globally-styled area, bamboo greened beyond sheet glass, boasts of supporting wall text. The gallery opened with Mumbai-based Mahendra Sinh's black-and-white Parsi photographs that grow beyond documentation to lyrical insights.
"I learnt so much from the energy and experience of Sakshi's Geetha Mehra," says Sunitha, who'll be shuttling between Bangalore and the U.S. because that's where her American husband, Niall Emmart, runs a software company. "But while visiting private galleries in New York and London, I admired their strong, exclusive commitment to select artists."
So, Sunitha opted to focus on three artists whose work she had a gut feeling for — photographer Sinh, and Bangalore artists Krishnaraj Chonat, and Avinash Veeraraghavan. "When I moved to New York, I knew I wanted to be involved in Indian art, but I didn't know in what way. I needed a back-up space here," adds Sunitha.
Gallery SKE opens at a time when art as commerce governs media matters, when installation and innovation are replacing oil on canvas and standard sculpture, when art is defined by ideas, not conventions. "I admire Mahen for being such a stickler for detail, from the Ilford paper he prints on to the pasta he makes at home," Sunitha recalls. "He's taught me so much about photography."
What shaped her stance? "The commodification of art bothers me. With the lack of public spaces and museums here, I feel it's important for artists to have a dialogue with other people," Sunitha says. "Ten years down the line, I have a vision that younger people might want to support art, perhaps by lending transport to an international artists' camp like Khoj."
In a society that bypasses visual culture in daily life, how would Gallery SKE bring this about? By creating cross-strata children's workshops that unfold the secrets of colour or famous art. By staying open on Sundays, so that senior citizens can join their families en route to dinner or other destinations. By inviting the corporate sector to send its young employees to expand their art horizons. By enthusing schools to share a show, despite exam-centric pressures. By throwing open the gallery's collection of books/catalogues to art students. By organising artist juries to help young talent present work impeccably. Perhaps, even by training teenagers to curate their own virtual art shows, an idea Sunitha encountered at the PS One site, affiliated to New York's famed Museum of Modern Art (MOMA).
As a first step, Sunitha is planning 16-week annual educational modules, perhaps Sinh introducing the work of various photographers. "Art could be an exciting idea, not something you own in a physical sense," she stresses. "I joined the Young Collector's Council at New York's Guggenheim Museum. You're invited to their openings, after which the artist lectures on his/ her body of work. They even recommend books to follow up on a show."
Sunitha sketches in her approach to catalogues. Sinh's show engages us through poet-critic Ranjit Hoskote's essay, dramaturge Rustam Bharucha's response, and the photographer's own perceptions.
In the future, she hopes to coax Canada-based novelist Rohinton Mistry to write the text for an expanded book of Sinh's Parsi visuals.
"I don't see myself as a curator, but I can identify people's potential. My skill lies in bringing talent together. I'm just the facilitator," concludes Sunitha, dreaming aloud for Gallery SKE. "People should be free to fix a time to come and discuss their ideas, whether they are finally formalized or not."
(This article was originally published in The Hindu Metroplus, Bangalore, on October 27, 2003)