They aren’t recluses but can give their best only when they are left alone so that they don’t have to be bothered about mundane things like food, laundry, maidservants, and other necessary but trivial chores a person needs to perform to survive. They need space, time, and solitude in order to dream, experiment, and make mistakes just to try and deliver their masterpiece.
Yes, we are talking about the world of art and artists! To create something, one needs solitude. Today, in the world that we live in, we are always surrounded by chaos, and it is impossible to get the kind of atmosphere that great artists in the olden days got to enjoy, so that they could create their best works.
This is where art residencies come in.
Artist-in-residence programmes and other residency opportunities exist to invite artists and creative people for a time and space away from their usual environment and obligations.
These programmes aren’t a new fad and have been part of the international art world for over a century now. In India, this phenomenon is just about two decades old but has become quite popular now, with almost all Tier I and Tier II cities, offering a space for artists to create.
KHOJ (Delhi), Pepper House (Kochi), Space 118 (Mumbai), Periferry (Guwahati), Bengaluru Artist Residency One (BAR1), 1 Shanthi Road (Bengaluru), Piramal Art Residency (Thane), and TIFA (Pune) are just some of the spaces which have opened up for artists.
Artist-in-residence programmes offer an invitation to creative people from all spheres of life, to reflect, research, discuss, explore or practice art, interact with other artists, art galleries, theatre groups, the general public and even explore the market to sell their work.
Prakash Bal Joshi, a Mumbai-based abstract artist, and former journalist, says, “Art residencies give us the freedom to think and interact with other artists. Otherwise, in cities like Mumbai and Delhi, artists lead a very solitary life and rarely get the chance to interact in this manner. Living with like-minded people for days, exchanging ideas, and learning from them, helps a lot.”
Residencies are often held in remote areas, and this gives the artists chance to interact with locals. “That is something that is such a pleasure and stays with us forever!” exclaims Shilpa Jogalekar, an installation artist who has attended many domestic and international residencies and had also curated one such residency way back in 2012.
She fondly recalls her time spent in Tara, a village in the Karnala district of Maharashtra. It was part of the artist residency project funded by KHOJ and was titled ‘Negotiating routes and ecologies.’
She worked with school children and villagers, recorded their folk songs and made a play area for kids out of the material available in the village. “They are in touch with me till today!” says the artist who very soon will be starting a full-fledged art residency of her own near Mumbai.
Knowing about art residencies is quite easy with the help of Google. Artists are invited to apply, and the selection process is usually rigorous. At the end of residency, an open exhibition is held, and collectors, art critics, other artists, and the general public is invited to view the works.
An important point to note here is that no artist-in-residence program ever promises that an artist will get to sell his or her work. Additionally, after availing the facilities provided by the residency, if the project presented at the time of admission fails, the artist isn’t penalised.
Every residency has its own formula for functioning. It depends on the funds available to them. They can be part of universities, museums, galleries, studio spaces, festivals or artists groups. They can be 24×7 spaces, seasonal spaces, or even one-time events. They can be held in urban areas, villages, abandoned boats, and of course, in the wilderness.
Financial models also vary. Some residencies are fully funded, some give stipends besides covering all the expenses of the artists’ stay, while some require the artist to pay up.
In India, except for a few like the Inlaks Shivdasani Foundation and some others, there are very few funding options for artists. Some corporates do step in to help, but this usually involves a lot of lobbying.
Saloni Doshi, the director, founder and owner of Space 118, located in Mazagaon, Mumbai, explains, “A young and unrecognised artist struggles to meet the galleries, or hunt for their muse, 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 give them information to help them get what they want. Our residencies aren’t theme based.’’ However, Space 118 isn’t yet fully- funded, so an artist has to pay for the stay and food.
Then there is the Thane-based Piramal Art Residency, which organises theme-based residencies. The theme may vary from art, history, science, literature or even different mediums like painting, drawing, installation, etc. The residency is fully funded and offers a stipend depending on the type of residency (materials).
“We recently completed a residency based on ceramic and terracotta, and facilitated an interaction between the artists and the potters of the famous Kumbharwada of Dharavi,’’ explains Prutha Girme, the manager at Piramal residency.
They have now selected one of their participating artists to travel to Taiwan to attend the residency being offered by the Bamboo Curtain Studio.
Khoj, a not-for-profit, contemporary arts organisation based in New Delhi which provides a financial, physical, and intellectual space for artists through its various programs, is among the most respected and well-known spaces for artists in India.
It is also popular with many international artists, who come here to participate in projects including workshops, residencies, exhibitions, and talks.
Khoj was conceptualised by artists like Subhod Gupta, his wife Bharati Kher, Anita Dube, Manisha Parekh and Pooja Sood, who is its present director. It 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 visited Khoj. We host five artists at a time, and this is wholly funded by us. The artists get a small remuneration as well,’’ explained Sitara Chowfla, curator and senior programs manager of the Khoj International Artists Association.
Sustainable funding and help from senior and renowned artists will definitely give a boost to the Indian art scene and help it gain momentum. That being said, artist-in-residence programs in the country still have a long way to go and need a lot of catching up to do with the kind of elite residencies held in Europe, America and other parts of the world.