The latest happenings in the FLAME Community

My father was a self-taught artist. Mornings he was busy in the factory. At night, after we all went to sleep, he would paint. During weekends, when the rest of the extended family went out watching movies and eating out, he would take us to exhibitions, museums, galleries, and theatre.

We were allowed to hear the latest popular music, whereas he loved classical music. Sunday afternoons he would relax, play his favourite Vilayat Khan or Bade  Gulam Ali  khan LP. He believed that he cannot stop us from hearing popular music, but while he was listening, we will automatically cultivate an understanding of Classical Music also .

Going on a long drive, he would encourage us to look out of the window, instead of talking, as there was enough to engage the eyes and the mind. We did rebel, but it did work.

Many years later, when my brother was out for a casual stroll in a street in New York , exploring the neighbourhood, he stopped after seeing an Art Gallery. It was about time to open, so he stood there, waiting. To his surprise, within a few minutes, there was a long queue behind him, waiting for the gallery to open. This is unheard of in India. We have never seen people so eager to watch what an artist has to share. On the contrary, people are very apologetic, when they get to know that I am an artist. ‘I don’t understand Art’ they tell me.

My family shares the same sentiment, but once in the gallery, they do have opinions. They may have not read about the art and the artists, but they do connect and respond to a painting spontaneously.  These are the genuine critics I have at home.

Sudhakshina, an artist friend was narrating her experience when she was visiting her friend in USA.  Both were meeting after a long time. Along with their kids, around the same age of 12, they visited MOMA, the Museum of Modern Art. To her surprise, her friend's son was excitedly running, pointing at the paintings, identifying the master’s names and their works. To her embarrassment, her daughter was dragging her feet, bored and disinterested.

Art history is one of the many subjects taught in the school curriculum there.  Every city has sculptures installed around the city. The public is continuously exposed to the latest and best works of art.   

Art is about expression and communication. For an artist, the process does not finish until the artist has the audience to communicate with. Art evolves to a higher level, only when the viewer is knowledgeable to challenge and comment on the artist’s creations.  It is a vicious circle and raises the city’s intellect on the whole.

Art has no purpose, but at the same time, it is an important part of life. After the basic need, food, and shelter, one needs to celebrate to complete the life circle. This is where the ART comes.   AS Leonard Bernstein says, “the point is, Art never stopped a war and never got anybody a job. That was never its function. Art cannot change events, but it can change people. It can affect people so that they are changed... because people are changed by art- enriched, ennobled, encouraged. They then act in a way that they may affect the course of events... by the way, they vote, they behave, and the way they think”.

Inspired by these thoughts, in 2015, I invited my artist’s friends, to plan on an annual exhibition, in a public space. These were the artists' buddies, Sujata Dharap, Indranil Garai, Raju Sutar, and Vaishali Oak, with whom I have had innumerable discussions regarding connecting art with masses.  In the end, we realized that giving workshops or talks, is like taking the horse to the water, but we cannot make him drink.

The exhibition was to be designed in a public space, but it was not so simple.

Most important was to identify the space, which is most central and public in the Pune city.

‘Mahatma Jyotiba Phule  Mandai’ was the unanimous choice.

 Mandai is a word for the market in Marathi.

Mahatma Jyotiba  Phule Mandai is a heritage  indoor vegetable market,  built-in 1882, during the British rule,  by the Poona Municipality. Designed in Gothic style, it has eight wings, taking on an octagonal shape, having eight gates to enter.  In those days, each wing was assigned to different kind of vegetables.

But how do we exhibit in public space?’, was our concern.

“Maybe we will stand in an open space, with a basket of paintings, along with other vendors” were my thoughts till I walked into the building. Discovering the history, the architectural spaces, the exciting vegetables, and the interesting stories imparted by the Mandai vendors, I thought that, why not sit amongst them. This is how the “Art Mandai/ Art market” evolved.

‘Who will buy our art?  and at what price?.

Maybe we will give away free to whoever stops to interact.

On second thought, not a good idea.

Selling is important as there is material cost and labour cost.

Also, it is important to own an art piece, it is a process, which takes some time.

“The first painting I bought, took me a long time to decide.” A collector friend was telling me. ” After that, there was no looking. Now a day my parents have come to stay with me. Earlier they would get bored, but the other day, my mother was telling me that when I am gone, sitting alone, they look at the paintings. It seems that they have developed a new relationship with the paintings. Every day they discover a new joy, a new dialogue to indulge”.

To encourage people to buy Art, we decided to make it affordable.

Announcing 50% of the sale proceeds for the social cause made the deal very attractive.  

Now that everything we settled, deciding on a date was a task. In today's life, everyone is so busy. When someone suggested 26th January, our final hurdle was sorted.  This date turned out to the best, not only for us but for all.   26th January being republic day, PMC hoists flag to mark the special day, which we very happily added to our event.

Many artists joined in with enthusiasm for the cause, not only taking out time from their busy schedules but also especially creating paintings, sculptures, and installations for anyone/everyone in Mandai to buy at affordable prices

We, Artists, begin our day by joining the flag hoisting, have to breakfast at Mandai food stall, and settle down for sale by 9.30 am.  Besides, Art enthusiasts, young collectors, many people, other than art connect visit Mandai. They are curious, interactive, enjoy the performances, and at times join in with the performances. By 1 pm, we call it a day.

Earlier the vegetable vendors would not come at all, either because it was a public holiday or they were sceptical of our intentions. Today, they sit with us, in their regular stall, selling their vegetables and enjoying the event.

On our 5th ART MANDAI 2020, we have installed a water fountain (pan poi) for the Mandai vendors.  It’s a long way to bridge the gap, but it is happening. We have made a small mark in the Pune event calendar. 

- Prof. Gauri Gandhi, Assistant Professor – Fine Arts

*Views expressed are personal.