Emma Sumner finds an innovative, experimental and internationally respected creative scene in India’s buzzing metropolis…
Perched in the middle of India’s Deep South, the city of Bangalore is probably best known as the country’s aviation and information technology capital, earning it the moniker ‘the Silicon Valley of India’.
Having risen to become India’s fifth most populated city, Bangalore has experienced an overwhelming surge in development over the past decade and is now one of modern India’s buzzing cosmopolitan metropolises. But this city is not just a corporate cosmopolitan hub; it proudly boasts an internationally respected and wholly unique art scene.
Amongst India’s arts elite, Bangalore holds a strong reputation as a city which nurtures resident artists and where innovative and experimental arts projects are developed and celebrated. Playing a central role within this environment is 1Shanthiroad studio gallery, a welcoming space where the city’s creative community gather to see exhibitions, debate cultural issues or drop in for a quick cup of chai and a friendly catch up. Founded in 2003 by Suresh Jayaram, 1Shanthiroad has been integral in generating engagement with the visual arts in Bangalore.
As Jayaram explains, the space “brings together artists from local, national and international practices… [we] have built a platform for experimental work and focus on the process of dialogue, debate and nurturing. These innovative approaches are significant to challenge the boundaries of academic art practice and be a recourse and nodal point for visual culture.”
With international partners like the Goethe Institute (a German international cultural cooperation with hubs in several Indian cities including Bangalore), 1Shanthiroad has become an internationally reaching organisation housing artists from all over the world through its global residency programme.
One of the most prevalent elements of Bangalore’s art scene is the huge amount of artist-led activity happening in the city, a large proportion of which is initiated by pro-active performance artists like Smitha Cariappa, who in 2011 established Live Art, Bangalore. Involving international and local artists, Live Art — and its subsequent bi-annual Live Art Labs – creates an interactive platform to discuss the possibilities of, interact with and perform new and experimental works with the aim of bridging the gap between artist and audience.
“More often in Bangalore”, Cariappa told me, “visual artists embrace performance art for the joy of making art outside the white cube, and to receive an immediate response from the audience/spectator, and to keep it real. The growth of the city has become an incubator for creative/performative expressions, with the raw, found, unconventional spaces becoming the chosen platforms to reach the common man, the target audience.”
On the other side of the city, Gallery Sumukha has nearly two decades of experience in supporting and developing local artistic practice. Operating as an international commercial gallery with a portfolio of artists, the gallery exhibits at numerous international art fairs, with sales of work helping to fund their work with emerging makers and their schools outreach programme. The gallery is also proud to host a regular Art Camp (an important part of artistic development in India), which provides an opportunity to develop a deeper relationship with the artists involved, and develop audience participation through student visits and public openings.
Another commercial gallery working with supportive ethics at its core is the internationally respected GALLERYSKE. Established in 2003 by Sunitha Kumar Emmart, it was the first Indian gallery to be accepted to London’s Frieze Art Fair in 2008 and now regularly participates in international art fairs including Art Basel, Art Basel Miami Beach, and Art Dubai. Housed in a square, white, colonial bungalow, SKE tests the possibilities of the white cube whilst developing its audience’s interaction with their represented artists. The only gallery in India to run a purely contemporary art programme, SKE has a strong reputation for displaying cutting-edge work.
In 2013, Sunitha Kumar Emmart, in collaboration with artist Tara Kelton, established T.A.J RESIDENCY& SKE PROJECTS, an experimental interdisciplinary residency programme. Either by invitation or application, the scheme hosts up to five residents at a time, which range from curators to academics, architects to musicians, scientists to visual artists, in a diverse mash-up of creative skills designed to encourage cross-disciplinary collaborations.
In 2009, Bangalore became home to the National Gallery of Modern Art’s second satellite gallery, and I found it to be a most welcoming place. Established in the converted premises of the Manikyavelu Mansion, the gallery is set in a substantial and perfectly kept garden, which leads you into the numerous intimate gallery spaces in the converted rooms. Carefully watched over by security guards, you are prompted into each gallery in a prearranged order to view a carefully curated selection of works from India’s national collection of art, including works by Nalini Malini and M.F Hussain.
“Bangalore will no doubt continue to play a central role in India’s cultural output”
In contrast, there is no better space to illustrate Bangalore’s innovative creative community than Jaaga Startup. Perched on the sixth floor of a central office block within walking distance of the city’s art spaces, Jaaga was founded in 2009 by artist Archana Prasad as a way to help her plug into the local creative network, and has grown to become a hub where entrepreneurs, activists, designers and artists meet. Holding Archana’s personal manifesto — ‘you learn by doing’ — at its core, Jaaga is a nurturing environment for new businesses, providing infrastructure to grow in a diverse social environment.
A city that hosts such a large and energetic creative community who consistently engage with and establish new activity, Bangalore will no doubt continue to play a central role in India’s cultural output. Renowned for its nurturing environment and encouraging organisations, Bangalore is a playground for India’s upcoming creative talent and a must-see destination for any tourist.
Travel info: Flights from Heathrow will take you to Bengaluru (Bangalore) International Airport, then continue your journey by bus or taxi around the city. See Air India for flights and The Lonely Planet for further transport details