‘Functioning of Akademies should be left to professionals’: Diwan Manna

Conceptual artist and photographer Diwan Manna will now take charge as president of the Punjab Lalit Kala Akademi.

Written by Parul | Chandigarh | Published:October 3, 2016 8:55 am
punjab lalit kala akademi, diwan manna, diwan manna new head, punjab lalit kala akademi new head, art and culture, india news, indian express, Artist Diwan Manna. (Express Photo)

You have taken over as the president of the Punjab Lalit Kala Akademi. How do you foresee your role here?
I am looking forward to a new beginning here, creating new avenues for artists and art lovers, with complete autonomy and honesty to my work and responsibility. In the entire country, we lack trained people in the fields of art management and art administration, one of the major reasons why national and state Akademies have failed to deliver results. When art academies were formed after Independence, there was euphoria, for the Akademis supported artists from various fields. But along the way, somehow, we lost track, as politics seeped into the system and as a result, the respect and autonomy of these institutions were lost.

The departments of culture began interfering and the agendas of the governments started to be implemented through these institutions and it all came to how much pressure the person on the seat could withstand. At the national level, elections were held to select members, with a sum of almost a crore of rupees spent on the activity, with the bureaucracy calling the shots at every level. The functioning of Akademies should be left to professionals, people connected with the arts, not just figure heads, for they lack experience, passion and the drive in the management of art.

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So how do you hope to translate your philosophy and effort in the working space of the Akademi?
I wish to bring about an awareness of art among people across the region, by giving them the space and opportunity to interact with the best practitioners of art from across the country and abroad. The effort is to reach out to wider audiences and create an atmosphere that provides space that the domain of art deserves, to those who produce and consume it. This effort, sans any preferential treatment, will not be restricted to only Chandigarh, but across the region, with an emphasis to re-look at our folk art and handicrafts, for these provide a solid ground and overall direction for creating new art, or else we are only talking in the air.

It is essential that we identify, document, archive and preserve what we have, be it folk, classical or contemporary art. There is a need to provide support to young artists by providing them fellowships for research and also encourage art critics, writers and historians to write about the art of our times, for artists need a mirror to grow and move ahead. We need to establish areas, platforms, where interactions with artists and audiences can be initiated, and a conscious effort to bring streams together and encourage conversations among poets, painters, philosophers, theatre people, film makers.

How important is to introduce art at the school and college level and what is the role of Akademies in this regard?
There must be a clear vision, framework and substantial funds to reach out to schools, colleges and other educational institutes. The history of art, its influence on our society, politics and way of life, should be an integral part of education, for only if students have a basic understanding of art, we can expect the next generation to receive and appreciate what we are doing. This should not be done at a theoretical level.

Students must interact with professional artists, understand their process of creating art and also share their thoughts, experiences and work with them. Akademies must encourage and produce literature on art for students, with museum visits, screening of movies on art and artists, lectures by practicing artists. being an integral part of the curriculum. These practical steps could go a long way in encouraging the younger generation to respect and appreciate art and take it up as a hobby or profession. To introduce art at school level, we will try and convince the government to print artworks, portraits and biographies of artists, writers, theatre persons, dancers and musicians on the back page of notebooks used by schoolchildren. Preparing souvenirs or memorabilia with images of artworks of established artists, especially modern toys for children.

As former chairperson of the Chandigarh Lalit Kala Akademi, you gave it a new identity, revived its working, outlook and philosophy. What will be your effort in this regard and how you will take it a step ahead?

In a position of power and responsibility, the need is to keep away from the politics of art and not encourage it or be influenced by pressures exerted by artists. Transparency, honesty, professionalism in every aspect of the Akademi’s working, using personal experiences in the field to re-energise and reinvent its working, making a conscious effort to make artists look like stars, gave the Akademi a new identity and a name to reckon with in the country. To attract audiences and encouraging them to come back again for lectures, slide shows, exhibitions, workshops, art weeks, we established creative connects, making huge billboards, videos, attractive invites with a great content.

And it worked fabulously, as in the process, the audience was educated on how to respect an art space, know the etiquette of viewing art not only as entertainment, but as a serious and engrossing activity. In the seven years as the chairperson of the Akademi, I put the Akademi first, not focusing on my personal work, but devoting my time and energy to raise standards, never compromising on quality. My previous experience, as chairperson of CLKA, was of complete independence, with no interference. I had the support to put my vision into practice and these are some integral principles that I hope will be a part of my scope of work as president of the Punjab Lalit Kala Akademi too.
Budget cuts for the arts, as Chandigarh’s Akademies experienced last year. Your comments.
The world over, art thrives on government and corporate support. The budget for the National Lalit Kala Akademi is 10 crore for a population of 130 crore. In Punjab, the budget is 1 crore for the Arts Council (all the three Akademies) for a population of about 3 crores. The governments need to be serious about the need for funding art and corporates have to take responsibility to support artistic endeavours and institutions. We need to organise biennales and triennales and have public art across India. A country of this size and a civilization as old as ours, replete with a rich culture, heritage, should be deriving strength from folk practices and art forms. We have to provide a platform to the naturally-gifted to hone their talent and become the artists of the 21st century.

Administrators and politicians need to be sensitised to the need to ‘invest’ in art and people will then respect and value art. When I left the Chandigarh Lalit Kala Akademi in 2015, the administration had raised the budget of the Akademi to Rs 80 lakh. Budgets for art are increased, never cut, so it is unfortunate that budgets for all the Akademies have been cut. It is ironic that the city that prides itself in being the well-planned does not have a building of its own to house the state Akademies. We have a museum that does not have sufficient space for contemporary art practices like installations and video art. We need a new gallery that can be designed to accommodate new art forms and galleries across the state for the promotion of art. All these initiatives need funds and we have to demand clear-cut policies and question decisions that are detrimental to the propagation of art. Creation of monumental works of art, honouring senior artists and remembering legends, is important.

Tell us about your ongoing photography work?

I will be going to UK this month on a travel fellowship grant and to France to photograph Corbusier’s buildings for a forthcoming exhibition to be held in February 2017. I will try to use the opportunity to meet potential partners for events, programmes with international institutions.

What can the audiences look forward to in the coming months from the Punjab Lalit Kala Akademi?

Depending on the budget, we would like to organise lectures, workshops, symposiums, exhibitions of international standards, not only in Chandigarh, but other cities of Punjab, including events in rural areas. A bus with a travelling exhibition, screening of movies, distribution of literature on art for people away from the cities is a priority. Giving a platform to upcoming artists is the need of the hour and audiences can look forward to an absorbing calendar of artistic activities.