September 2020 | 1451 words | 5-minute read
The Tata Trusts — with its mandate of making positive interventions in community development, education, livelihood generation and other issues that plague this country — realises the necessity of saving the country’s rich heritage.
Striving for excellence
Deepika Sorabjee, head, Arts and Culture, Tata Trusts, says, “The idea is to work with excellence, keeping the multiplicity and the marginalised in focus — that is the driving force to affect the sector effectively.” The Trusts’ Art and Culture portfolio works primarily in three areas: conservation, art education and performing arts and is driven by the quest for excellence and the need to identify and fill gaps in the art sector.
Paroma Sadhana, programme officer, Arts and Culture, Tata Trusts, says, “We follow the practice of working across regions and art forms, and choose to support projects that have the potential to create a lasting impact in the sector.”
The sheer range and diversity of projects supported and encouraged by the Trusts is a heartening indicator of the fact that art is alive and breathing.
School for music
The fact that the community did not have access to high-quality professional training in classical music prompted the Trusts to support the Inspire India programme — a music pedagogy project driven by the Shankar Mahadevan Academy. The academy had teaching modules for both theory and practice and were already conducting online classes.
A need was felt to reach out to a different kind of learner — one who might not have the wherewithal to seek training in traditional music forms comprising Hindustani vocals and western classical instruments. The first such training began in Mumbai through the establishment of a music learning centre at Sion, while the second was set up at Govandi. The third centre in Chembur will commence classes shortly. The grant covers the cost of setting up the learning centres and their activities comprising music pedagogy, teacher training programme and community outreach initiatives.
Arnab Banerjee, programme officer, Arts and Culture, Tata Trusts, says, “Inspire India has engaged over 1600 children, enabling some of the students to shine and consider careers as music educators. Fifteen students have written the Trinity London Exams for the guitar and piano with eight receiving distinctions.”
Case for conservation
Art conservation is another area in which the Trusts see a compelling need for support. Deepika says, “While the Trusts had supported specific projects in art conservation in the past, these had not impacted the sector at large. This needed to be addressed urgently in a manner that the spread was around the country, simultaneously addressing the dearth of professionals in the field and opening up new avenues of work in the arts.”
Excited at the opportunity to make a tangible difference, the Trusts conceptualised the Art Conservation Initiative in India. Five zonal institutes are partners under this initiative. These are the Himalayan Society for Heritage and Art Conservation in Nainital (Northern Mountain zone), the Mehrangarh Museum Trust in Jodhpur (Northwest zone), the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (CSMVS) in Mumbai (Western zone), Museum of Art and Photography in Bengaluru (Southern zone), and Anamika Kala Sangam Trust in Kolkata (Eastern zone). Of these, CSMVS and Mehrangarh have the most wellestablished conservation centres.
Under the terms of each grant, the zonal institutes have hired three conservators each. The five institutes are tasked with the mandate of conducting preventive conservation training during field surveys at smaller institutes within their zones. They also conduct material conservation workshops annually for practicing conservators who will conserve the institute’s collection and fulfil the mandate of the Trusts programme.
The material conservation workshops are 10-day intensive practical workshops designed by the Trusts in collaboration with the respective institute. Paroma elaborates, “We have picked 10 materials as worthy of study. Each institute handles two materials. These are manuscripts (paper), prints and maps (paper), textiles, oil paintings, wall paintings, panel paintings, stone, wood, metals and photographs.”
This effort, part of a four-year project, includes remedial conservation training. It also covers the theoretical component, including the history of the material, the most common objects of that material found in India, its antiquity, ways to find the signs of deterioration and treat them, and the conservation techniques and processes that apply to the material specifically
The workshops will be conducted at more advanced levels, annually over the course of four years, enabling participants to enhance their learning and gather additional credits. Practicing conservators are encouraged to apply for these workshops by sending case studies of the conservation projects they have undertaken. Each workshop, accommodating up to 15 participants, is followed by assessments. The results are not shared with the students but are used to gauge the level of understanding and competence within art conservators currently.
The faculty for these workshops is identified from around the country. Craftsmen are also invited to give participants an understanding of how the objects are created. The participants in the workshops are assessed by the faculty and Anupam Sah, who is the academic consultant, Tata Trusts Art Conservation Initiative.
Conserving by degrees
For a country steeped in a rich tradition of art and culture, the academic infrastructure required to create trained art conservators is woefully inadequate. There is only one master’s degree in art conservation available in India currently, besides a few post-graduate diploma courses. Tata Trusts is currently in the process of finalising a master’s degree in Art Conservation, which will help create a pipeline of trained art conservators.
Protecting built heritage
The Aga Khan Trust for Culture is working with the Archaeological Survey of India and the Department of Museums, Telangana, to conserve and revitalise 70 monuments within the Qutb Shahi Heritage Park, the resting place of the Qutb Shahi dynasty in Hyderabad. Tata Trusts is collaborating with the Aga Khan Trust for Culture on 10 of those monuments, which were in a state of disrepair. They include seven tombs, a hamam (bath), a bawli (well) and a mosque.
Work on this project, started in 2012, will end in August this year. Completion of the conservation work is expected to strengthen the monument, employ craft persons, increase footfalls and community use, and generate greater revenue for the state.
A platform for art
An important aspect of the Trusts’ work is to do with art education, concentrating its efforts at the tertiary level where funding doesn’t reach easily. One such project is support to the Students Biennale, which began in 2014, as the education platform of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale. The programme, undertaken by the Kochi Biennale Foundation, provides art students from across India an international platform to exhibit their work. The Trusts have supported the Students’ Biennale 2016 and 2018 editions so far and will be extending support to the 2020 edition.
In 2016, 15 curators worked with 450 students from across India, who submitted individual or group projects. In 2018, the Trusts worked with only 6 experienced curators and called for applications from students. Of the 1700 applications received, 110 projects made by 200 students were selected. The best national and international entries were awarded with travel and residency grants.
The Trusts also supported the video lab of the Kochi Biennale. This entailed the creation of a massive video archive of all the excitement surrounding the event, featuring participating artists and their artwork.
Another aspect of art education that is equally significant is research and documentation. Keeping this in mind, the Trusts worked with the Urban Design Research Institute in Mumbai to conceive and create ‘State of Architecture’ and ‘State of Housing’, two pedagogical exhibitions.
These exhibitions were displayed at the National Gallery of Modern Art and the Max Mueller Bhavan gallery in Mumbai, respectively, for three months each. The exhibitions were also accompanied by panel discussions and opening and closing conferences. The organisers also conducted specific research on the most unique housing models that have existed in India since independence. These models, 80 in all and described as chronotopes, are published as one volume in a two-part series as an output of the State of Housing exhibition.
The most significant aspect of the Trusts’ work in the field of art and culture is how it is redefining the boundaries of what constitutes art while encouraging conversations around it. As these conversations get amplified, the Trusts hopes that India’s rich heritage remains a living and growing treasure.