We always try to compare the present and the past. e.g. Guru Shishya Parampara and 'Today's education system. Sometimes we say, 'Once upon a time India was a golden bird'. We also say 'wow' when we visit museums. When we see miniature paintings, we always ask our brain that how they painted in very small size, which tools they used etc. It is not necessary that old is always gold because there are so many things which are connected to that art like people, culture, religion, money, rulers, political situation etc. Art has always played a great role for social reforms in the past and present both and that is why we always cherish the golden period of any art movement.
What is Public Art?
“Public art is an umbrella term which includes any work of art purchased with public funds, or which comes into the public domain (by donation, or by public display, etc.) irrespective of where it is situated in the community, or who sees it.” (Source: Visual Arts Cork).
Public art is often site-specific, specially created in response to the space and neighbourhoods which it inhabits. It often interprets the history of the location, its community, and most likely concentrates on a social or environmental issue. The public artwork may be created in collaboration with the community, reflecting the ideas and values of those for whom it’s created. Presently, public art can take a wide range of forms, sizes, and scale and can be temporary or permanent. Public art can include murals, sculpture and memorials, integrated architectural or landscape architectural work, community art and even digital new media. (Source: Visual Arts Cork).
In this paper I am going to discuss a comparative study on 'Public Art' with specific case studies from the history and contemporary India.
A. Case Studies from Indian Art History (322 B.C.- Mauryan Period to 1947- British period)
If we recall the history of Indian Art especially for Public Art, we quickly refer the following names because these art works were well connected with the society and helped in social reforms. e.g. Lion Capital, Sanchi Stupa, Ajanta and Ellora Caves, Raja Ravi Varma's Calendar Art, Rani ki vav step well etc. Out of the above, I only discuss the Lion Capital and Raja Ravi Varma's calendar art as case studies.
1. Lion Capital from Mauryan Dynasty
Lion Capital, Ashokan Pillar at Sarnath, c. 250 B.C.E
Image source: https://smarthistory.org
The top of the column- the capital has three parts. First a base of a lotus flower, the most ubiquitous symbol of Buddhism. Then, a drum on which four animals are carved representing the four cardinal directions: a horse (west), an ox (east), an elephant (south), and a lion (north).
Four lions stand atop the drum, each facing in the four cardinal directions. Their mouths are open roaring or spreading the dharma, the Four Noble Truths, across the land. The lion references the Buddha. So, this artwork denotes the wide spread of Buddhism and peace.It was adopted as the official Emblem of India in 1950.
2. The 'Calendar Art' of Raja Ravi Varma
'Laxmi', Raja Ravi Varma
Image Source: https://www.saffronart.com
'Saraswati', Raja Ravi Varma
Image Source: https://www.saffronart.com
Raja Ravi Varma (1848-1906), popularly regarded as the father of calendar art, is accredited with pioneering the perfecting of western models of representation. He pioneered the setting up of one of the earliest lithographic presses in India. The invention of lithography and its mass circulation in Indian consumerist society profoundly transformed the patterns of communication with individuals, society and with gods in both private and public spaces. The cheapness and ease of production along with the portable nature of lithographs soon turned them into weapons of anti-imperialist propaganda that inflamed nationalist sentiment.
B. Case Studies from Contemporary Indian Art(After 1947 to 2019)
1. Wildlife Projects: Indroda Park & Puhit Van, Gandhinagar
Indroda Park entrance gate, Gandhinagar
Image Source: https://geerfoundation.gujarat.gov.in
Life Size dinosaur sculptures, Indroda Park, Gandhinagar
Image Source: https://geerfoundation.gujarat.gov.in
This park is also known as dinosaurs' park. There are life size sculptural models of dinosaurs and fossils of various ages e.g. Jurassic, Triassic and Cretaceous. These sculptures were made by Mr. Vinod Patel and his team from Faculty of Fine Arts around 2002. The main concern of this Public Art project is to educate the people about dinosaurs, their life and habitat.
Nakshatra Van, Punit Van,Gandhinagar
Image Source: https://forests.gujarat.gov.in
Rashi Van, Punit Van,Gandhinagar
Punit Van is also a new development which has various tree species. The spiritual activities, yoga and meditation under a specific tree help the people in maintaining their good health as well as piece of mind. This Public Art project is called 'Rashi Van'. People know about various useful tree species and its connection with planets and constellations.
2. Street Art Projects by Hanif Kureshi
Street art by St+art India foundation, New Delhi
Street art by St+art India foundation, Hyderabad
The St+art India foundation is a not-for-profit organization that works on art projects in public spaces. The aim of the foundation is to make art accessible to a wider audience by taking it out of the conventional gallery space and embedding it within the cities we live in - making art truly democratic and for everyone.
Hanif Kureshi is the co-founder of St+Art Foundation, co-founder of Guerrilla, an underground art and design studio based in Delhi. He is also the founder of Hand painted Type. He is a street artist, saviour to traditional type artists, organiser of large-scale art interventions; currently attempting to change the visual landscape of Indian cities, enabling young artists to express public opinion artistically.He says, 'Street art gives freedom to artists, a wider canvas and gives those who have never had access an avenue to appreciate art'. Through these types of projects Indian artists are breaking all the conventional notions of creativity.
3. Photorealistic Rangoli Art by 'Swastik' group, Vadodara
Rangoli of Sachin Tendulkar by Swastik group
Rangoli of Amitabh Bachchan by Swastik group
Rangoli is an ancient traditional art form. It has been used to decorate the entrances of homes, a floor painting that provides a warm welcome to visitors. 'Swastik' group was formed in 1985 to promote this traditional art form. This group has experimented a lot to create photorealistic rangolis. Mostly they exhibit their works at Kirti Mandir, Vadodara during Diwali festival.
4. Scrap sculptures - Public Art from scrap for Vadodara City's circles
Ratri Bazar circle, Vadodara
Fatehgunj circle, Vadodara
These public sculptures were created in the 'Spirit of Vadodara' camp organised by Vadodara Municipal Corporation (VMC). These sculptures are placed on circles and crossroads in Vadodara city.
5. 'Nilkanth Dham' – Sculptures at Swaminarayan Temple, Poicha
Pradarshini Area, Nilkanth Dham, Poicha
Temple Area, Nilkanth Dham, Poicha
Nilkanth Dham is one of the beautiful constructions established on the lands of Poicha. It is dedicated to Lord Swamy Narayan. It is constructed at the riverbank of the sacred river Narmada. The Dham has many sectors like the exhibition zone, the park zone, Kids Play zone, Food court and many zones. The Dham looks spectacular in the evenings especially the light show grabs the crowd.
6. Statue of Unity
Statue of Unity, Kevadia, Gujarat
Detail, Statue of Unity, Kevadia, Gujarat
The one who won over British leaders in the Satyagrah of Kheda and Bardoli, Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel was the Bismarck of Modern India, who led the welfare of farmers. He is renowned as the architect of independent India, as he united all diverse 562 princely states to build one great Republic of India. Shri Narendra Modi decided to pay honourable tribute which will be cherished for centuries by the whole world and it will become a matter of pride for every Indian for this great man. Built in less than five years, it is the world’s tallest, grandest and giant statue. It is a tribute to the man who united India, Sardar Patel.
As per the above case studies if we compare the Public Art of past and present, we find only a few similarities and major differences in representations. King Ashoka wanted to spread 'Buddhism' throughout his empire. Religion was on the centre of Mauryan Art. Similarly even today if we take a reference of 'Nilkanthdham- Poicha', we can find that they want to propagate and promote the message and life of Bhagwan Shree Swaminarayan. But on the other hand they are more concerned to create a balance between spirituality and modernity. Most of the Swaminarayan Temples are nowadays highly commercialized and have become the centres of secular harmony among all the religions. The sculpture of 'Bhagwan Sahjanand Swami' is almost 200 ft. height. The hugeness of this sculpture attracts the visitors immediately.
Wildlife Public Art projects help in creating awareness and educate the people in a creative manner. Dinosaurs of Indroda Park are life size models. So, people can imagine the actual size of them. They might get knowledge about their habitat, food and time period etc.
Punit Van is also developed on the basis of zodiacs, stars, constellations and planets. This is completely a new idea of connecting people with nature and astronomy. The signages are displayed in large scale with the list of tree species and effects of zodiac when anyone sit and meditate under a specific tree. It is an effort for the urban society to get connected with nature and environment. It also promotes the specific tree species to be grown more in the future.
Street Art projects by Hanif Kureshi are creating a powerful impact on society today. Street Art enhances the beauty of the city. People can relate and respond individually when passing through the city walls. It also represents the life of the local people, likes and dislikes, socio political situation etc. The major aspect is the use of huge scale in today's street art. Recently there were giant cut-outs displayed on various locations in Goa. The tourists were curious to know those people e.g. Aunty Maria. Another example is street art for 'Kumbh Mela 2019'. The government has taken initiative to glorify the 'Prayag Raaj' through street art. The whole Allahabad city has become painted city now. It also helps in promotion of tourism also.
'The best out of waste' was the main idea behind the sculpture camp at Vadodara. This project was executed in 2017. Artists were given a freedom for working on various themes. This project represents the creative experiments of artists. The people enjoy their ride with an individual dialogue with scrap sculptures in various locations of Vadodara city.
'Statue of Unity' is the recent development in Public Art. The main idea was to unite the people through this project. 135 tonnes of iron was donated by farmers to support the project. The Statue of Unity is the world's tallest statue at 182 metres (597 ft). It rises 54 metres (177 ft) higher than the previous record holder, the Spring Temple Buddha in China's Henan province.
At the last, I should say that our society is highly influenced by Public Art projects in India today. These kinds of creative projects would always play a great role in the development of society, love for the nation and to enjoy happiness of life.