Why our cities need art

To become technological morons should not be the inevitable fate of Indian citizens.

 |  4-minute read |   17-03-2018
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Art occupies or, in any case, ought to occupy an important place in civic life. A city without art would be dull, barren and uninteresting. Even Indian villages, howsoever underdeveloped they may have been in economic terms, have been rich in culture and, through many festivals, fairs, etc, have provided space and opportunity for arts, both visual and performing.

Lurking violence

However, our urban towns have been sadly lacking in this respect. It can even be argued that our cities’ haphazard growth, their lurking violence, lack of civility, by and large, listless youth lured to crime etc are partly due to the lack of a culture of creativity, imagination, dialogue and accommodation which can be largely provided by arts.

Some cities in India have all too often reduced arts to instruments of entertainment. The arts do delight but also instruct: they are participative and provide communities to mix beyond caste and creed.

In an ethos where offence, aggressiveness and violence have become the order of the day, there ought to be the soothing touch, the expressive opportunity for anguish and pain, the interrogative space, the plurality of viewpoints etc as embodied in arts.

Under the British rule, town halls and libraries used to primarily be cultural spaces. You cannot have smart cities without several spaces for arts. Arts the world over are acknowledged to be both civic needs and civil facilities. In Europe, many major museums have been established, traded and maintained by civic authorities.

Be that as it may, arts cannot entirely be the responsibility of State or Central governments whose priorities and concerns do not invariably include culture and arts. They can, if favourably inclined, build and maintain auditoria, museums,art malls, etc but the real cultural and artistic inputs have to be provided by non-government and private and community initiatives. The governments must pay a facilitating role by making the necessary infrastructure available.


Humane view

It is in this context that the Raza Foundation established and funded by the iconic Indian modern painter, Sayed Haider Raza, is playing a modest though hopefully important role in Delhi. Not that Delhi lacks cultural spaces, events or opportunities. But they all too often are devoid of any well-thought vision and integration.

Recently held Raza Utsav was a multi-arts and multi-venue festival which featured visual arts, classical music and dance, theatre, ideas, poetry and cinema. The attempt was not only to project contemporary creativity and imagination in all its rich plurality but also to discover and sustain a core audience which can enjoy all the arts and poetry without being fixed on one or two arts.

While culture has its rituals and formal aspects, it is not significantly contained in them. It goes and works deeper. It evokes empathy, gives us a more humane view of the world of objects, it joins us in mirth and celebration and overall humanises us in many different ways.

If this role is socially recognised and understood, there ought to be more space, opportunity and need for culture in our cities. The financial resources can come from many players; the human factor is the most crucial component. It is the citizenry which should engage itself in the civilising, humanising processes of culture and arts.

Unfortunately, the lure of the uncivil, almost anti-cultural menu on electronic media is so constant and enormous that the citizens are all too often glued to it. It deprives them of many things including the community feeling that culture creates and sustains: it reduces them to mere watchers without any participative role. The citizens must be made aware of this undesirable deprivation. To become technological morons should not be the inevitable fate of Indian citizens.

Soulless habitats

In other words, the cities would need culture, its tangible presence in myriad forms only if the citizens similarly need it. One of the tasks of cultural initiatives is to convince the citizens at large, both its youthful and senior parts that without culture cities are soulless habitats, subhuman and uncivil.

Culture is a human construct in the sense, it is construed and nurtured by humans and its monumental achievements are all there for us to see, enjoy and feel proud of. Our cities need not only safe environment, a public healthcare, smooth well planned roads and corners, gardens and parks, trees and streetlights; they also need cultural spaces, theatres, galleries, seminar and conference rooms.

They would be there if the citizens demand them. Smart technologies could be employed to make these spaces efficient and accessible and at reasonable costs. Going to see a play or an art show, attending to music or dance recital, or listening to poetry, all these activities should be encouraged so that it becomes a civil habit rather than merely a matter of taste.

Also read: Why shoes change a woman every time she slips into a pair


Ashok Vajpeyi Ashok Vajpeyi

The author is an award-winning poet; essayist and literary critic.

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