Art takes backseat as Kalaghoda festival faces commercialisation

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Crack open a bottle of champagne, you will see life, effervescent and cellophane-wrapped, like the moonlight against a tinted car window, as darkness fumes through the atmosphere, a hazy distant spectacle of colours and noise, bubbly, while a dark horse waits strangely alone amidst chaos, art, people, and fails to figure out his self in the superfluous culture. That, perhaps, is the best way to encapsulate the Kalaghoda art festival in south Mumbai.

One could sense this hopeless elitism everywhere in the fair, in the overpriced art stalls, the fancy food joints, children workshops meant only for wards attending top-notch schools and in the influx of south Mumbai crowd. If ‘culture’ is about revisiting our ideal selves constantly, Kalaghoda art fair, which is supposed to be the biggest cultural extravaganza in Mumbai city, has certainly not lived up to its expectations.

The fifteen-year old fair in the city’s most beautiful art hub has sort of transformed into a joyous annual event that pulls consumers and businessmen for a hectic few days of sales and schoomze. The fair has also turned around the business of contemporary art in the city.

At the Kalaghoda fair, it was easy to spot a fat-pocketed woman, with an uncanny instinct of picking out the very worst expression of the painter’s art and reject at first sight, everything that was meant to be authentic. And then she exclaimed with a self-satisfied air, “I have paid the right price for a masterpiece!” And then there were people whose designer saree clad and sedan-flashing crowd necessitated a visit to the exclusive fair. In a way, art in this ‘hell of a city’ seemed to be outshined by the dazzling worldly achievements.

Even then, industry experts argue super-rich exert a considerable influence on the middling artists and help them grow. “Art world is hungry for money,” said an art dealer from Kolkata.

The festival has drawn art performers from almost all states and international destinations. While the fair has drawn around five lakh visitors this year, it managed to bring in 2.5 lakh visitors alone on Sunday, according to data from Kalaghoda committee. Some quintessential concepts such as, kitsch pastiche of Bollywood stars, dreams in tinsel town, youth anger, women rape case, Kapala’s totems made of discarded e-waste, vespa birth art, ‘cycle chalao city bachao’ theme were some of the interesting whacky displays in the fair.

The evenings also had some immersive sessions on literature with eminent authors such as Jeet Thayil, Amit Chaudhry, Ulla Lenze, Adil Jussawalla, Arundhati Subramaniam, Rahul Pandita. Jeet Thayil’s words from his book Narcopolis rightly brings in the essence of the evening at Mumbai’s art fair, “Because now there’s time enough not to hurry, to light the lamp and open the window to the moon and take a moment to dream of a great and broken city, because when the day starts its business I’ll have to stop, these are night-time tales that vanish in the sunlight like vampire dust.”


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