Public art high on culture minister’s priority list

February 12th, 2011 - 7:58 pm ICT by IANS  

Sonia Gandhi New Delhi, Feb 12 (IANS) Conservation and more initiatives in public art top the new Union Culture Minister Kumari Selja’s list of priorities.The ministry is mulling a registration law that will list public art and heritage relics, monuments apart, in the capital and frame laws to punish offenders who violate heritage laws and desecrate public art.

“People must learn to respect public art. I want to see more installations across the country. The metal sprouts near All-India Institute of Medical Science (AIIMS) in the heart of the capital look so nice. I have a public art project in mind, but I have to talk to the Delhi government and the NDMC before I announce it,” Selja told IANS.

The minister said: “Art should be brought out from the confines of the museums to public spaces so that they become more interactive and mass-oriented.”

The need for registration of public art and relics of aesthetic value has become imminent with the growing threat of vandalism and the need to ensure long-term protection, secretary of culture Jawhar Sircar said.

“Public art is not about sculpting and public installations, but it also includes the art at the metro rail stations in the country, public gateways, architecture and artistic buildings. Art should be treated in totality, it is a holistic concept,” he said.

“The proposed law will act as a deterrent to vandals and encourage artists to place their art in public places and instil confidence in the community,” he said.

Sircar said: “There are techniques to identify vandals and criminals who deface art works like in other law.”

The culture minister and officials echoed National Advisory Council chairperson Sonia Gandhi’s concern about the safety of public art in India and her call to encourage more art in public domains.

At the recent three-month exhibition of installation art works by Anish Kapoor at the national gallery of modern art, “security of public art works, some by the artists” dominated the discussion relating to how safe it was to host public displays of art in the country.

Last month, M.F Husain’s works were pulled out from the India Art Summit 2011 in the capital following security threats and concerns.

The culture minister’s commitment to public art has opened a dialogue between the artists, promoters of art in public spaces, critics and the government.

“Before we can be proud of our public art heritage, we must review the legacy of art in public spaces. An aesthetically-inclined committee must look into the conservation of public art in India and the kind of art that the country requires to commission in public spaces,” art critic and writer Ina Puri told IANS.

Puri said the “history of public art in India and it’s experiments with new-age installations can be traced back to Shantiniketan.”

“My first encounter with public art as a youngster were sculptures of Ramkinkar Baij at the Visva Bharati university complex of Shantiniketan. The Kala Bhavan premises were dotted with public sculptures,” she said.

Later, a giant mural painted by alumnus K.G. Subramanyan on the wall of the design department at Shantiniketan occupied a pride of place as an important example of public art, she said.

Public art projects are important in a country like India because it can help people think differently, says Pooja Sood, director of Khoj International, a public art promotion platform that connects Indian artists with their brethren outside the country.

“It transcends language barrier and visual aesthetics - blurring the line between art and issues,” she said.

For Puri, the discourse on public art addresses a continuity in history.

“India’s legacy of public art is as old as the first civilisation itself. The historical monuments and the ancient artifacts form the vast link between the past and present,” Puri added.

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