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Night Watch by Dutch painter Rembrandt van Rijn was coated with a dark varnish which gave the incorrect impression that it depicted a night scene

Elizabeth Dilts focus

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amously jaded New Yorkers are getting swept up in the hype over Banksy, the renegade graffiti artist, who is leaving his mark across the city this month. Known for his antiauthoritarian black-andwhite stenciled images, which have sold at auction for upwards of $2 million, the British street artist is treating New Yorkers to a daily dose of spray-painted art — while eluding the police and incurring the wrath of New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. “Graffiti does ruin people’s property,” Bloomberg said in a press conference on Wednesday. Reactions from other New Yorkers to the pieces — which appear overnight, usually on side streets in Lower Manhattan and Brooklyn — have ranged from the defacing of images to offers of huge sums for walls Banksy has painted. “Somebody offered me a million dollars if I took down the bricks,” said Jose Goya, the manager of a Williamsburg, Brooklyn, building that Banksy spray-painted on Wednesday night. Goya turned the buyer down and had Plexiglas placed over the Japanesethemed image of a man and a woman crossing an arched bridge. The art has a black squiggle spraypainted over it, the work of an apparent Banksy hater who, according to Goya,

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MONDAY | 21 OCTOBER 2013 | NEW DELHI

THE ASIAN AGE

Buy it or hate it, NY flocks to Banksy’s art

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Increased interest in contemporary arts A

Some of the graphic art that is part of the “Better Out Than In” collection in New York

was stopped mid-defacement by a group of men who tackled him. The mysterious Banksy is calling his month in New York his “Better Out Than In” residency. Among his works so far: the image of a Ronald McDonald statue getting his red clown shoe shined, which appeared in the Bronx on Tuesday, and a live stock truck adorned with children’s stuffed

farm animal toys — a mobile installation Banksy calls Sirens of the Lambs. Every morning, he announces the location of each piece on his website and invites people to call a hotline for droll descriptions of the artwork’s inspiration. The art is defined in part by the artist’s mystique. It is still uncertain whether Banksy, who remains unidentified since emerging in England in 1993, is one artist or a group. In the 2010 documentary about Banksy, Exit Through the Gift Shop, which received widespread critical praise, the artist is always shrouded in a head covering or his face is hidden in shadows. “He’s sort of like Batman,” Matt Adams, a Williamsburg resident, said as he photographed the Japanese-themed stencil. “No one knows who he is, he does his work under cloak of darkness and everyone in New York is looking for him.”

VANISHING ACTS The New York Daily News reported this week that the New York Police

Banksy’s ploy ● Every morning, he announces the location of each piece on his website and invites people to call a hotline for droll descriptions of the artwork’s inspiration Department is searching for the artist to charge him with vandalism. An NYPD spokesman would not confirm or deny a Banksy manhunt, but said the department’s vandal squad investigates all graffiti complaints. New Yorkers have flocked to Banksy’s art, eager to view pieces before they are defaced or removed, possibly by rival artists or those who think Banksy’s work is shallow and his fame undeserved. “I will hand it to him that it’s clever, but it’s one step away from really smart marketing,” said New York radio DJ AndrewAndrew,

who works with a DJ partner also named Andrew. The DJ duo — both of whom are contractually obliged to use the name AndrewAndrew — criticised Banksy’s work on the air last week as less skilled and less meaningful than some other American graffiti artists like Shepard Fairey, who designed thered-and-blue Obama Hope poster. An image of the Twin Towers destroyed in the September 11, 2001 attacks that had been spray-painted by the artist on a wall in Brooklyn Heights was removed Thursday night after less than a week in place. It is unclear who was responsible. Last Sunday, Banksy set up a table in Central Park selling small canvases with his trademark image of a rat for $60 a piece, according to his website. Six people, unaware of the art’s worth, bought canvases, including a Dutch tourist who bargained the price down to $30, according to Banksy’s website. Banksy’s art has sold for as much as $1.87 million, according to Sotheby’s auction house. Among the hundreds who arrived to see Banksy’s art on the Williamsburg wall was Evan Mannell, an Australian musician visiting New York who has rushed to three Banksy images. “Think of it like a jazz solo,” he said. “Unless someone records it, it’s all finished and it’s over. I want to see Banksy’s pieces before they’re gone.” — Reuters

frican tribal art has long been treasured by wealthy Western collectors, but increasingly the continent’s contemporary art scene is the one making its presence felt at museums, auction houses and art fairs. The trend is spurred by wealthy Africans supporting home-grown talent and European collectors searching for the next big thing. Several London galleries focused on African art have opened in the past few years, the flagship Tate Modern has set up an African acquisitions committee, and this year’s sale of African art at the auction house Bonhams has passed the 1 million pound ($1.6 million) mark. London’s Somerset House is hosting the 1:54, the British capital’s inaugural contemporary African art fair, this week. And the mood there is buoyant. “People are caring more in the press, collectors are opening their doors, and museums are showing more African artists,” said Mariane Lenhardt, whose Seattle-based M.I.A Gallery is selling fierce-looking, nail-studded busts by London-based sculptor Zak Ove. Bonhams auctioneer Giles Peppiatt, whose annual Africa Now auction took in a record 1.3 million pounds ($2.1 million) this year, said he has never seen so much interest. London now has four galleries focused on African contemporary art, three of them opening in the past three years: The more established October Gallery, an early champion of acclaimed Ghanaian sculptor El Anatsui; the Jack Bell Gallery, opened in 2010; the Tiwami Contemporary, a Nigeriafocused gallery that opened the next year; and GAFRA, only a few months old. The Tate, home to the capital’s best-known collection of contemporary art, launched an African acquisitions committee last year. Frieze, London’s high-end contemporary art fair, is this week featuring two African galleries. It’s a tiny figure, but double last

Sculpture White Magic, an adapted Madame Tussauds wax work of Tony Blair (clockwise from top left), Exit Ball, the Zuma Throne made from recycled weapons and metal and Richard Mudariki’s The Last Judgment — AP year’s total. Market watchers say some of the excitement stems from the fast-growing economies of subSaharan Africa, some of whose new-found wealth is being reinvested in local artists. Also important is the slow death of the notion that African art consists of wooden masks, carved statues, and tribal talismans, said Neil Dundas, whose South Africa-based Goodman Gallery is displaying at Frieze. What makes this contemporary art “African” is as a question as complicated as the continent itself. Some artists, like the Ivory Coast’s Aboudia, live in Africa and tackle explicitly African issues. Others, like Ove, were born outside the continent but draw on its culture to shape their work. There are signs of new interest. Among the Africa initiates at 1:54 was Belgian industrialist Guy Ullens,

known for his huge trove of Chinese contemporary art. The art baron was impressed. “The quality is very good,” he said. The price is also relatively cheap, at least compared to art from other developing markets. Anatsui’s mesmerising metallic tapestries can sell for more than 500,000 pounds ($800,000), but many of the works on display at 1:54 — like Ove’s Black Astronaut, which features aviator goggles and an alligator head — carry a price tag of several thousand pounds. Overall, the African art market’s figures remain small compared to the millions brought in by its counterparts in other developing markets. But Peppiatt, the Bonhams auctioneer, said the growth over the past five years had been striking. “I just think of where we’ve come from, which is: ‘Nowhere,’” he said. —AP

Honouring the traditional craft skills of India Alka Raghuvanshi artscope

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ne of the most abiding loves of my life is a hand woven sari. I have sported hand woven fabrics for as long as I can remember and it is almost like a crusade with me. The feel, the design, the colour, the aesthetics all have the power to transport me into a rapturous state. In my conversation, writing and usage, I have been a votary of the handlooms and the crafts sector, opting and supporting it to the exclusion of other machine made fabrics and creations. As I often tell people, a beautiful hand woven sari is like a painting or even like poetry in its perfection. Well before “designers” were even born, our weavers had the aesthetic sense to create saris that were in tune with the occasion, life style, weather and area. In fact, this whole debate about the bling didn’t even exist for the simple reason that zari or zardozi and other embellish-

ments would be done with so much elegance that it was not even in the realm of the bling! After the farm and agriculture sector, the craft sector employs the maximum number of people — a mind boggling 54 million. Village clusters and many unorganised sectors and filial situations where the entire family gets involved in the creation of crafts or handlooms are the rules rather than the exception. I feel that craft as a social, cultural and economic force, despite being marginalised due to urbanisation a n d

Some of the displays from Nature Bazaar (above) and Error 404 (below). industrialisation has the strength and potential to play a vital role within the economic mainstream of the country. While they have kept the flag flying high by their creative genius, the one area where we have failed them is the education sector. We have given them the dream to become a “bada aadmi” after “padhna-likhna”, but robbed them of the pride in their own artistic brilliance. We have not created policies and programmes to educate them in the real sense of the term. We have given them half-baked literacy or so-called education and robbed them of their vocation, we have

eroded our heritage and legacy that was ours to protect and take forward for we are also repositories of culture. Creating education programmes for children of craftspersons would have been relatively simple for there are easily identifiable pockets and regions where such “vocationally oriented” schools could have been created. Instead, we have created lumpens who have little pride in their artistry and are desperate to become peons in offices rather than take pride in remaining artisans. We have a lot to learn from Japan. When the Kimonos and their artistry got elbowed out by Western modes of dressing, they created museums for them.

They started supporting and honouring their craftspersons like “living heritage”, but this happened after much was lost. Will our saris have to get the kimono way before we will awaken? Considering the increasingly fewer young women who wear saris in daily life, and have reduced it to being a mere ceremonial outfit, I won’t be surprised. But it was heartening to see many designers use hand woven fabrics in this year’s fashion weeks. In this scenario, it comes as a relief that still there are people like Laila Tayebji and Jaya Jaitley that are concerned enough to actively do something for the handloom and craft sector. I have immensely

— ASIAN AGE

enjoyed reading and looking at Jaya’s book Crafts Atlas of India published by Niyogi Books. I remember the simply beautiful maps when they were first created in the early 90s and I am so glad she has made a book of them. But equally heartening is when Dastkar holds its annual Nature Bazaar, this time in partnership with Delhi Tourism, to develop a year-

round hub where traditional and innovative crafts and culture meet natural and eco-friendly products. This year, it will showcase over 160 crafts groups, NGOs and small producer groups, as well as new designers working in contemporary ways with traditionally skilled craftspeople. The crux of Dastkar’s programme is to help craftspeople, especially women, to use their own traditional craft skills as a means of employment, income generation and economic self-sufficiency. It guides the process of developing a craft — from identifying the skill and creating awareness of its potential, in both the craftsperson and the consumer, to developing, designing, costing and then marketing the product, and finally suggesting the proper usages and investment of the income generated. The crafts sector can flourish only if the end product is competitive, not just in its worthiness of purpose or the neediness of its producer, but in cost utility and aesthetic — so that a consumer does not buy out of compassion!

It was at the National Lalit Kala Art Exhibition at Kolkata that Arun Pandit’s graphic strength and elegiac power was recognised. His last show at the Visual Arts Gallery in Delhi was yet another milestone in the evolution of a sculptor who uses personal experience to create sculptures that speak in the rhythm of the human metaphor. Now looking at Pandit’s works in this show he recalls the words of Harold Rosenberg even as he creates images that are blurred in the light of the internet frustrations and experiences that happen as we are faced with the kinetic words: Error 404. Arun explains his experience and his journey. “For me, the Internet experience is a kind of disorientation which is the beginning and end, and in that way it’s like a closed question, that operates in a basic perceptual textbook in the human psyche. I’m always interested in questions that I cannot answer. I don’t even want to answer them. But it is the tension that is generated in the questions that becomes the subject of my creation and frustration — as the unanswered-ness of the unanswered question.” Complicated? Well yes and no. Take your pick!

Dr Alka Raghuvanshi is an art writer, curator and artist and can be contacted on alkaraghuvanshi@yahoo.com

Error 404 Exhibition, October 2013  

vis à vis india / press coverage

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