The Kala Ghoda Arts Festival 2016

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.

Kala Ghoda Arts Festival 2016, #HTKGAF, KGAF 2016

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.

Kala Ghoda Arts Festival 2016 Kala Ghoda 3 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. 😦

Kala Ghoda Arts Festival 2016, #HTKGAF, KGAF 2016, Cross Maidan

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.

Kala Ghoda Arts Festival 2016, #HTKGAF, KGAF 2016, Rampart Row
My favourite installation at the KGAF 2016

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?

Kala Ghoda Arts Festival 2016 KGAF 36


Read more about previous editions of the KGAF


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12 thoughts on “The Kala Ghoda Arts Festival 2016

    1. Welcome here, Arv. Thank you so much for stopping by and commenting. I’m surprised you haven’t seen pictures of the KGAF elsewhere – social media and the internet was flooded with them !

      Liked by 1 person

      1. One reason is that I don’t follow ‘ me too blogger ‘ community. they have nothing new to offer, posting similar stories and pictures. it gets boring. with limited time, I prefer to follow bloggers who offer fresh perspective and stories. Therefore, I don’t follow much of ‘professional bloggers ‘. 🙂

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  1. Sudha, I loved some of the installations at Kala Ghoda esp the one on the tree which said Religion – Comfort of Threat. I liked too the sculpture “Let’s Talk” by Trinayani. The mosaic with Gandhi and Abdul Kalam was also striking. I enjoyed most of the dance and music programmes at Cross Maiden. I attended only Heritage walk – the Libraries of JN Petit and David Sassoon and found it wanting – information parted was very sketchy. All in all I enjoyed the festival and look forward to this time of the year with great anticipation.

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    1. I have an issue with the way the KGAF heritage walks are conducted – both in content and delivery. The emphasis in KGAF is on the number of events conducted and the variety, and this is reflected in the heritage walks as well. I have been on some of the walks and barring a couple, there have been issues with crowd management and the information imparted,

      While I understand that the numbers wishing to attend the walks and other heritage-related events are high, there has to be a system in place to handle them. Also, some of the walks are only about going from site to site without going inside. I find such walks pointless for there is no sense standing outside a building and stating “This is XYS building and etc. etc.

      It is high time that the people who conduct the walks and the way it is conducted changes.

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  2. I visited the Kala Ghoda Festival briefly and, as you mentioned, very little could be seen of the installations. In fact, there was such a big crowd of youngsters posing in front of the ‘love mumbai’ installation, that, I could not read beyond ‘love’. It was only after I saw the picture clicked by you – that I realised that the bottom half was ‘mumbai’. The stalls were not impressive barring a few.

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  3. The “Betrayed” installation was disturbing. I guess it was meant to be. Having never gone to to KGAF, all my information comes from you alone. I owe you thanks. Without the blog, I’d have never known what the KGAF was or how standards have fallen

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    1. The KGAF has been focussing on child sexual abuse for a few years now. This year there was only one installation that I can recall; previous years have had more than one.

      Somehow I feel that the ones complaining about the standards are few and far in between. While I appreciate that the KGAF organisers are doing a lot for the festival and the area, this kind of unchecked crowds, nonsensical installations really don’t help anyone except those interested in selfies. I live in hope that it will change for the better.

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