A good artist should be isolated. If he isn’t isolated, then something is wrong,” said Orson Welles, the American actor, writer and producer of many films.
This is the exact sentiment of all the artists in the universe. To create their masterpieces, they want space, they want ambience, they want ‘me time’, and of course, sometimes they need mentors who can discuss their work, channel their thoughts, or just be there to bounce their ideas.
“I live across, but I use this studio space to get away from the chaos of my daily home life. I want to constantly think of my work, and here in this small room, I can do that. This room may appear chaotic, but I like it that way and I needn’t worry about what others think about it,” says mixed-media artist Ratna Gupta in her mid-30s, who is busy working on a sculpting project using resin and fibre glass. Bang in the middle of the next room, she has a large tree stump just waiting to be worked on.
“Here I get time to think, contemplate, plan on my work and art. And I also get time to interact with other artists, read books related to my work, and imbibe the art atmosphere without constant demands from the other aspects of life,” says young Dishakha Yadav, who uses lithography and water colours to create her work.
These two artists are residents of WAA? (What about art?) and Space 118, two prominent artist-in-residencies (A-I-R) in Mumbai. As we enter 2017, suddenly it appears as though the word A-I-R, which hitherto was quite common among artists in America and European countries, has started gaining momentum in the Indian art world too. What had started as a trickle in the beginning of this century seems to have caught on the fancy of many, and we are seeing the mushrooming of several A-I-R in every Metro and II-tier cities. In the artists’ world, the names of KHOJ (Delhi), Pepper House (Kochi), Periferry (Guwahati), BAR1, 1Shantiroad (Bengaluru), Sanskriti Foundation (Delhi), Piramal Art Foundation (Thane), WAA?, Space 118 (Mumbai), ANVI (Raigad), TIFA (Pune) and many others are becoming their anthems. Young, senior and veteran artists from all over India, including far-off places of North East, are talking and using the facilities offered by A-I-Rs.
An artist in residency is an invitation to creative people from all spheres of life — painters, sculptors, installation artists, performers, sound artists, video artists, curators, academicians, textile designers, fashion designers and any others who create beauty. A-I-Rs are places where artists can reflect, research, discuss, explore or practice art, interact with other artists, interact with galleries, theatre groups, general public if they so need, or do what they feel would enhance their work and help in their overall growth.
In the time of Internet and media explosion, there is no need for any A-I-R to advertise their presence. An artist who is interested in attending a residency, googles it and gets all the information. And if he or she belongs to any school of art, they come to know about the residency’s work and benefits during their course of studies. Every A-I-R invites applications. There is a strict selection process. Sometimes the artists are asked to make a presentation, discussions are held, and then admissions are given to deserving artists. And no A-I-R ever promises the sale of their works. At the end of residencies, open exhibitions are held where collectors, art critiques, other artists and general public are invited to view the work. If someone buys any work or commissions the artists, then it’s between the artist and the person. Also, after availing the facilities provided by the residency, if the project presented at the time of admission fails, the artist isn’t penalised.
Opportunity of ‘anywhere’
There is no universal model for A-I-Rs. Depending on the people involved in running the place, and the funds available, the model differs from one to another. They can be part of universities, museums, galleries, studio spaces, festivals or artist groups. They can be 24x7, seasonal, or one-time events. They can be held in urban spaces, villages, container ships, abandoned boats (Periferry is located on Bramhaputra river), and of course, in wilderness. Financial models also vary from each residency. Some are fully funded, some give stipends, besides covering all the expenses of the artist’s stay, whereas some others are fully paid residencies.
“An artist otherwise has to struggle to meet the galleries or hunt for their muses, look around for the material they want to create. We become facilitators for them. We either introduce them to people they want to interact with, or we give them information from where they can get what they want,” explains Saloni Doshi, director, founder and owner of Space 118 in Mumbai. “Sometimes I have procured horses for artists as they wanted to use them for their creation,” she says.
A lover and collector of art work from her early days, 37-year-old Saloni’s one desire was to create space for artists where they can work unhindered. So in 2010, from her businessman father, she borrowed a part of the warehouse located in the industrial belt of Mazagaon in Mumbai and made five spacious studios which she leases out to artists for a month or two. In exceptional cases, she allows artists to stay on for six months also. At any given time in her residency there are one or two emerging artists who benefit by mingling with other senior artists also. As Space 118 hasn’t yet got any funding, she charges a nominal fee per month of stay and food, and she also doesn’t restrict artists from creating what they want. Her residencies aren’t theme-based.
In contrast is Thane-based Piramal Art Residency. Each residency is organised around a particular theme — art, history, science, literature — or even mediums like painting, drawing, installation etc. Located in the sylvan locales of Thane, the residency is a dream place to stay in. It consists of four studio rooms where six artists can work for a period of three weeks. Fully funded, the residency even offers a stipend depending on the experience of the artist, and four meals a day!
“Generally, artists think we are in Mumbai and so hesitate when they hear the name ‘Thane’, but once they step in, they forget everything,” says the young manager Prutha Girme. Having been an artist herself, Prutha is able to understand the needs of the artists well. So she is involved with the other board members right from the time of conceptualising the theme, selecting artists, to looking over their work, and helping them interact with galleries in Mumbai.
Where it began...
In fact, the concept of A-I-Rs isn’t as recent as we think. In India, BAR 1 (Bengaluru Artist Residency One), was supposed to be the first of its kind of A-I-R started in Bengaluru way back in 2001 by artists like Surekha, Christoph Storz, Suresh Kumar, Ayisha and Smitha Cariappa. It’s a non-profit exchange programme by artists, for artists, to foster the local, Indian and international mutual exchange of ideas and experiences through artist residencies in Bengaluru.
Surekha, an internationally known contemporary artist based in Bengaluru, says, “The charm of this residency was its personal and hands-on way of functioning. It has been run and conceptualised from within the local Bengaluru artists’ community. More than 100 artists have been a part of this residency. But now, as so many residencies have come up in Bengaluru itself, we have stopped the residency programme. But we always come together when we take up an event.”
At the same time as BAR 1, KHOJ in Delhi was established. Though KHOJ started conducting annual workshops almost two decades ago, it became a fully functional residency around 14 years ago. It’s one of the leading A-I-Rs in India which is known, respected and coveted by artists from all over the world. In fact, a residency in KHOJ enhances one’s CV! Many foreign artists who are funded by their own governments, or other organisations, come here to participate in projects including workshops, residencies, exhibitions, talks, and public and socially engaged practices.
KHOJ Studios, conceptualised by artists like Subhod Gupta, his wife Bharati Kher, Anita Dube, Manisha Parekh and Pooja Sood (present director), based in Delhi, has catalysed a community of artists into networks across India, and has actively developed the South Asian Networks for Arts (SANA).
“Over 200 Indian and 400 international artists from countries such as Argentina, Brazil, Cuba, Uganda, Kenya, Turkey, Pakistan, Japan, China, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, South Africa, Zimbabwe, Thailand, Korea, UK, Germany, France, Mexico and America have been through KHOJ. We host five artists at a time and they are completely funded, plus get a small remuneration also,” explained Sitara Chowfla, curator and senior programmes manager of KHOJ International Artists’ Association.
In India, getting funds for artists is yet to catch up. Except for Inlak Shivdasani Foundation and a few others, people aren’t bothered about helping artists. Inlak is of course the most coveted organisation for funding. They even finance deserving candidates to attend residency programmes abroad. Some corporates do step in to help some artists, but a lot of lobbying needs to be done to get funds. And they invariably look for some mileage in return!
“Mithun Das from the Baroda School of Art is sponsored by Inlak Foundation, whereas Ratna Gupta is a self-funded resident,” explained Niyati Upadhya, manager at WAA, while introducing Mithun, a multimedia artist. The two-year-old residency, started by French arts manager Eve Lemesle, offers affordable studio spaces
in a space-crunched city like Mumbai. WAA caters to both the needs and economies of emerging artists. The residency is open to artists working in all fields of visual art. It collaborates with The Darling Foundry, Canada, The Heritage Hotel: Art Spaces, Goa, Mudra Foundation, Odisha, Ladakh Arts and Media Organisation (LAMO), Leh. So artists here get the benefit of interacting with all these organisations.
Most of these A-I-Rs are bang in the middle of the chaos of cities. But one-year-old Anvi, located in Raigad, almost appears to be located in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by the greeneries of Western Ghats. Sandeep Manchekar, renowned ceramic potter, who is considered as the guru and father of nearly every ceramic and studio potter of Mumbai, has started Anvi, the only ceramic potter’s residency in Maharashtra, just a year back.
“Many come here to learn ceramic pottery. Others come to polish their skill, and some others come to experiment with their work. Because of lack of space, Mumbai potters can’t afford to have a kiln to bake their products. So they are very happy to stay with us and work on their project. At present, we can’t afford to fund the artists, so we charge for their stay and food,” says Manchekar.
There are very few A-I-Rs which are held in remote villages, involving villagers and spreading social messages. Contemporary artist Chintan Upadhyay was probably the first artist to start a rural art residency. With his NGO, Sandarbh, he set up residencies, workshops, and promoted arts by raising awareness about contemporary artistic practices in a small village called Partapur, Rajasthan.
Almost at the same time as Chintan, another contemporary artist and sculptor, Bhupat Dudi, started an NGO, Sowing Seeds, to create awareness of the environment and the issues that concern villagers in their relation to the contemporary world.
Held in several villages of Rajasthan during the winter months, Bhupat says, “Rural Rajasthan is rich in tradition and culture. Its raw art form could be developed to bring economic gains to the region, and in turn improve the social status of its inhabitants. Rural art has to undergo a metamorphosis to become contemporary. So each year we take different themes: social, educational, environmental etc, and create art around that theme.”
Sowing Seeds has become so popular that when they announce the residency programme on social media, they get 400-500 applications from all over the world. After a tedious selection process, five artists are selected.
“We completely fund the artists from their journey ticket, to stay and everything else. As getting funds is a real problem, we can’t offer five-star hotel facilities to artists, but they enjoy the village stay and interacting with locals. The best part of our residency is that we involve volunteers from villages so the residency becomes fun to locals, and also the participating artists!”
The Artist-In-Residency may have some problems for both the artists and organisers. There may be some complaints, some heartburns from both sides. But the trend has come to stay. The best example is the ongoing Kochi-Muziris Biennale.
Both national and international artists are participating in this event held in Pepper House, Kochi, and it’s in its third year, and has managed to garner the attention of both national and international media. It’s become THE residency event in India.