Tuesday, October 09, 2007

Artists of the Governmental Realm

I have had it with government offices. Finito! Khatam! Never am I going back there into the dusty, upswept government offices after having been in it on Saturday. What I see there nauseates, um, makes me cringe.

On Saturday I had visited two government run auditoriums to see if I could book them for the Kitab Festival starting in February 2008, as the organizer had requested my help to find a venue for the festival. And I was told - hold your breath - that the organizer had to pay an astronomical amount in advance to book the hall, and in addition a deposit of another princely sum. Why an astronomical amount (huge by any standards) and a deposit? The deposit was to see that no seats were torn or upholstery stolen by stealth. NO concessions for booking the auditorium for three days and NO concession for literary events. Niceties are definitely not followed for promotion of the arts in this hallowed precinct, was my guess as I dejectedly left the premises where some sort of talent hunt contest – of the Indian Idol variety – was in its incipience.

Next stop was National Gallery of Modern Art where the obsequious clerk clearly told me that they don’t do bookings in advance and that it could only be done a month in advance as it is owned by the Central Government, and they are all central government employees (this said with no mean pride!). If the government needs the auditorium for a function on the date we have booked, they will have to override our bookings and shift us to some other date.

The irony of it all. The government in its noble aim to promote arts takes over this huge three-storied heritage building using the taxpayer’s money with the purported aim of promoting art and culture. And what happens to this so-called temple of culture? They turn it into a quasi-government, officer-chaprasi affair in which anyone with government authority can treat them as their doormat. The drone there said, “If we make bookings and the government decides to hold a function on the same day, we have no alternative but to cancel your bookings.” Can they hold a full day program? No, there is only one auditorium attendant and he works only in the evening, I am told a bit abashedly.

So that’s that? The government spends taxpayer’s money to make the National Gallery of Modern Art (it has lacquered wooden floors and close circuit television cameras) for the public to appreciate art and they dominate the auditorium with their parties, or, whatever. No wonder as I roam the gallery there are not more than a canoodling couple (yes, since most of it is empty, it’s the best place for necking!) and a few drowsy gallery attendants in the premises, and me, of course. I thought such a place should be swarming with people on a Saturday with cultural shows and exhibitions. And the gallery in the dome of the NGMA was empty. Don’t we have any art or artist to display there? Read this article about the goings on behind the galleries of the NGMA.

Sad to say, what was on offer at the gallery was not even the works of an Indian painter. Nothing “National” about this exhibition at the National Gallery of Modern Art as the show was a collection of paintings of a South American artist. Sad to say, I forget which artist, but his sketches were good. The reason the South American artist was chosen was that the president of that country is visiting India! As if we didn’t have enough artists of our own.

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