An award of opportunities

Recently, I was part of the jury for the Punjab Lalit Kala Akademi’s annual awards along with the brilliant artists Sudarshan Shetty and G.R. Iranna. Our task was to identify 10 artists from the 28 shortlisted youngsters from Punjab, Haryana and Chandigarh. The task was unenviable. They were all of a high calibre, and it was difficult, even saddening, to choose only 10.

Every artist had personal stories of struggle. Many came from far away, travelling hours by train and bus, carrying large and delicate sculptures, paintings, etchings, drawings and sketch books. Along with celebrating the 10 who won, I also wish to applaud the ones who did not. The recipients get 01.2 lakh each. This may not seem like a large amount for art production, but, for artists from humble backgrounds, it would be a huge relief. For young artists, such an award goes a long way in encouraging their practice.

Tata trust award-winners at the pepper house residency programme, kochi Tata trust award-winners at the pepper house residency programme, kochi

In 1999, I was a student at Goldsmiths college in London, doing my master’s in visual art theory and practice. Sudarshan and Iranna, used to visit me and stay at my little room on New Cross Road. Iranna was attending a six-month painting workshop at Wimbledon College. Sudarshan was in Bristol at Spike Island artists’ residency, a beautiful place. I remember his kinetic sound installation of a boat created like a violin. All of us had received the Charles Wallace India Trust Award. We used to spend a good amount of our time at exhibitions and artists’ studios. It was a very important time in our life and career. Those days Inlaks scholarships, Fulbright scholarships, the Charles Wallace India Trust Award and Mid-America Arts Alliance Awards were very prestigious.

Diwan Manna, chairman of the Punjab Lalit Kala Akademi, is working hard to activate the academy and its programmes. He is almost a one-man army. He was happy to hear about our residency and educational days in UK. He keeps organising talks of eminent artists and curators at the academy.

There should be more of such awards and residency opportunities for our young artists. There are a few in India, like the Khoj Artists Residency in Delhi, TIFA Studios in Pune, the recently opened Space Studio & Distillery in Baroda, 1 Shanti Road in Bengaluru and Space 118 in Mumbai, among others. The Pepper House residency programme developed by the Kochi Biennale Foundation (KBF) is another important opportunity.

We have to create opportunities for youngsters to travel. They have to be able to see exhibitions, participate in residencies, and have curatorial and educational mentorship. I am happy that as part of the Students’ Biennale, the KBF instituted the Tata Trusts Awards for the best works at each edition. It has been given at the last two editions. This edition, the jury comprised of the eminent artists K. Madhusudanan, Deepika Sorabjee from Tata Trusts, and myself. Students’ Biennale sees the work of very good young artists from art colleges across India, and to choose three or four recipients from around 100 projects, curated by six experts, was again difficult.

The awards allow the winners to travel to major exhibitions like the Venice Biennale and documenta, and also also receive residency opportunities at the Pepper House programme in Kochi. These are occasions where they can be exposed to contemporary artistic practice, meet artists and curators, and also see masterpieces at museums and important collections. The residency awardees also get time to explore their practice in different ways. Like it was for Sudarshan, Iranna and me, I hope this will turn out to be great learning experiences for these young artists. An award is a recognition, a patronage and an encouragement.