Déjà vu. That’s the feeling I was left with after attending the 2016 edition of the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival (KGAF), which was held from February 6th-14th this year.
Over 500 events were organised during this iconic annual festival in the following categories: Children, Children’s Literature, Cinema, Dance, Food, Heritage Walks, Literature, Music, Stand-Up Comedy, Street and Stalls, Theatre, Urban Design and Architecture, and Visual Arts. While I wanted to attend some of the events in the Workshops and Heritage Walk sections, I couldn’t. I could only manage to view the installations at different venues — Rampart Row, CSMVS Museum Grounds and Cross Maidan.
I visited the KGAF 2016 on three separate days. The first was on the evening of the opening day itself. When I arrived at Rampart Row, it was to the familiar sight of college goers with selfie sticks, ‘serious’ photographers with even more ‘serious’ camera gear, families looking forward to an evening together, wailing toddlers… all queuing up impatiently for the security check. Once in, my eyes automatically sought out the installation of the “Kala Ghoda” or the black horse that the festival derives its name from. This installation changes every year and the 2016 version was a visual stunner. Fashioned like a giant chess piece, it was strategically placed in front of a horse-shaped cut out.
Once I had said “hello” to the 2016 Kala Ghoda, it was time to go look at the other installations at Rampart Row. The sights were familiar from previous years — tree hangings, metal and wire installations, mirrors, masks, post-its… It was quite clear that while the installations themselves were new, the theme was familiar as was its execution in typical KGAF style. Other KGAF trademarks like colourful stalls and installations obscured by selfie-taking crowds were in place as well ! Thanks to the crowds I couldn’t get near to see them properly or photograph them.
So I did what I’ve been doing the last two KGAFs — visit it in the morning at around 8 am or so, when there are no crowds and get uninterrupted access to the installations.
Unfortunately, on the day I visited the weather did not cooperate with me — it was an unusually smoggy and grey day with no sunlight at all. 😦
Overall, the installations were not particularly striking, and this included the ones at Cross Maidan and the CSMVS grounds. Some of them were interesting; most of them were incomprehensible for me. There seemed to be a general lack of originality and clarity.
Often, the text accompanying the installations was so convoluted that I regretted reading them. At such times, I wished that there was no text and the I had been given the choice of interpreting it the way I wanted to.
The saving grace, if you can call it that, were the installations by school children at the CSMVS grounds — they were more creative and their installations were better executed than that of the ‘adults’.
Presenting some of the installations at the KGAF that caught my eye for both good and bad reasons. Clicking on any of them will start a slide show.
My favourite installation was “Love Mumbai”, an initiative of St+Art India Foundation. While this one was perhaps the most popular prop for photo-ops or selfies, in my opinion, it also conveyed a significant message. For most of its citizens, Mumbai is the place to make money, realise dreams, fight over and exploit her resources, curse the infrastructure… It is not the city its citizens give back to and the installation is a gentle reminder to all of us to care for Mumbai, love it.
If the installations lacked originality, so did the handicraft stalls. They were colourful and pretty, and attracted more photographers than customers. Though quite a few of them were first timers to the KGAF, it felt like I had seen them before. The KGAF has been my shopping ground to pick gifts and stuff for friends and family. But this time, I didn’t buy anything as I found them to be quite uninteresting, not to mention expensive.
Presenting some of the colourful stalls at the KGAF. Clicking on any of them will start a slide show.
I have been visiting the KGAF since its inception and have tried to visit and participate in events like heritage walks and workshops. While the participation in the events has come down (you can read why here) over the years, I have never missed seeing the installations.
The visual art section of the KGAF and the installations that are a part of it is always something I look forward to every year. While I do not understand or appreciate every installation, I enjoy seeing them for they always challenge my perception of what is art. I look forward to learning something new every year at the KGAF and broadening my understanding of art.
But the visual art section of the KGAF 2016 disappointed me a lot. A LOT. Apart from a couple of installations that I have spoken about in this post, it was a struggle to understand what they were all about and why they were there in the first place. The gobbledygook information provided along the installations did nothing to clarify; if anything, they only added to the confusion.
When I began writing this post, I struggled and there was a time when I wondered if I should even write about the KGAF 2016 at all ! But as I went through my KGAF posts from previous years and read my observations and notes, I saw a clear pattern emerging — a general rise in the dissatisfaction in the quality of the installations. And this year was probably the worst. It was not just the quality; the installations seemed to be a recycled version of previous years’ installations. There was nothing that was radically new. I finally decided to write this post as a continuation of recording those observations.
I have had issues with crowd control at the KGAF, the selfie-obsessed crowds, the blatant product placement from sponsors, the way heritage walks are conducted… but have come to terms with it and have found a way to get around them. I guess, the time has come for me to come to terms with this decline in the variety, themes and general quality and rise in pretentiousness in the visual art section at the KGAF. 😦
PS: Did you visit the KGAF 2016? If yes, what did you think of it?
Read more about previous editions of the KGAF
- The Kala Ghoda Arts Festival: A metaphor for Mumbai
- The Kala Ghoda Arts Festival 2012
- The Kala Ghoda Arts Festival 2013
- The Kala Ghoda Arts Festival 2014
- The Kala Ghoda Arts Festival 2015