Fighting for a Public Space

Sunder, Sumithra (2017) Fighting for a Public Space. Seminar, 694. pp. 65-69.


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Abstract: ON 27 March 2016, a group of artists stood outside the Venkatappa Art Gallery in Bangalore, holding printed A4 sheets of paper. On cue, they crumpled the sheets and then pretended to eat them – and choke. The dramatic skit was an act of protest against the Karnataka state government’s plans to hand over management of this public institution to a private foundation. The sheets they were unable to swallow represented the agreement between the government and the Tasveer Foundation, which had been granted permission to renovate and manage this iconic state-owned art gallery. The incident spurred many conversations about public spaces in the city, specifically in relation to art. In this essay, I draw on the struggle around the Venkatappa Art Gallery (VAG) to reflect on what constitutes public resources for the city and why various ‘publics’ organize around claims to public spaces. In February 2016, the artist community in Bangalore was up in arms against a proposal by the Government of Karnataka’s Department of Archaeology, Museums and Heritage to allow a private foundation to ‘adopt’ the Venkatappa Art Gallery (VAG). The VAG is a premier public space that embodies the history of contemporary art practice in Bangalore, and has long been a democratic and accessible space for artists from the city and across the state of Karnataka. The fact that the government’s decision to ‘privatize’ this space led to an immediate and widespread protest underscores its symbolic value for artists in Bangalore. The Venkatappa Art Gallery was set up in 1967 to commemorate the contribution of the artist Venkatappa, and to serve as a museum of modern art complete with auditorium facilities. The VAG has traditionally been an important space where students could hold their first public shows at no or nominal cost. Almost as a rite of passage, students from local art schools as well as from other cities in the state would usually display their work in the gallery after completing their studies. For this reason, the VAG has hosted the work of a number of now prominent artists. It is this status and history that has created an important identity for the VAG in Bangalore, especially as a space that has nurtured young talent.
Item Type: Journal Paper
Additional Information: Copyright belongs to the Author
Subjects: School of Humanities > Fine Arts
Programmes > Heritage Science and Society Programme
Divisions: Schools > Humanities
Date Deposited: 12 Jul 2017 07:12
Last Modified: 12 Jul 2017 07:12
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    Funders: UNSPECIFIED
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