Written by Anjali Krishnakumar
The unassuming stone grey building and the sign saying Hotel Shalimar only lead to an abandoned hotel, but the bathtubs lined outside the building and the drawings on the glass windows suggest a different story. The hotel is the site for the Talera Institute of Fine and Applied Arts (TIFA) in Pune. It has been envisioned as a centre for culture and creativity, and is currently hosting the Prakalp Pune Festival, which comprises 14 installations by artists from across the city.
Planned as a larger festival, the showcase also includes talks, performances and curated walks. Trishla Talera, director of TIFA, explains that the month-long art project is a provocation for a discourse about “Punawadi – Poona – Pune”, in the rapidly changing times. A hyper-evolving cosmopolitan city, Pune is examined in the exhibition — its transient cultural, political and historical past, its present, and possible futures.
Inaugurated on December 21, the festival examines the subtle nuances that have quietly percolated into the social fabric of the city. The idea, says Talera, emerged after conversations between her, curator Nachiket Prakash and exhibition designer Pradipta Ray. All of them felt that there was a marked gap between the heritage of the city and the creative individuals who live in it. “There is rich heritage but is anyone using that heritage and research in a modern and contemporary manner?” asks Talera. She argues this is not just the case for Pune but it is true for several developing cities across India. She says the problems of the cities are changing, and so are the ways in which people are reacting to the problems — but the art in the cities rarely reflect these changes.
The exhibition is meant to speak to the history and heritage of Pune in a modern way. All the artists present their own interpretation of Pune. Many of the exhibits are interactive and encourage audience participation. Each artist is working with a different medium. Pranav Talvelkar, for example, is attempting to showcase the lasting glamour of the traditional Pune fabric, Khanh. Snehal Goyal is working with memory. Ria Rajan is experimenting with a literal mix of old and new, as she places technological glitches across pictures of old buildings in Pune. Each of these exhibits present a different aspect of the city, and a longing to reclaim older spaces.
The artists are excited about the impact the project will have not just on Pune but smaller Indian cities as well. “Kaha hai cultural capital? Kiska culture? Kaunsa capital?” Talera poignantly asks when speaking about the long history of the heritage of Pune and other similar cities. This exhibition is a suggestion presented by artists to find means to reclaim small-town spaces. “In this moment of change and in the middle of all this chaos, it’s exciting,” says Rajan.