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Public Art Matters

Current times demand more art in public spaces that can penetrate and address the echelons of society in a language that is familiar, says Divya Menon after meeting Indranil Garai

Art in public spaces has always been a magnificent reality in a man’s life that has traversed various landscapes over time. From being mere visual reminders of history to becoming our only respite in these pandemic challenged times, makes it all the more imperative to be viewed through the lens of renewed experience. There is something arcane about art buried in the stoic silence of galleries and museums. Bearing a crucifix called ‘elitist’ their proximity with the common man is compromised. Contrarily, art in public spaces is a force that can transform a nondescript street into a vortex of shared experiences and memories. Current times demand more of such art that can penetrate and address the echelons of society in a language that is familiar.

This sets the prelude to several overlapping stories. One, about how in 2000, Indranil Garai, a young sculptor from Kolkata, fresh from Santiniketan moved to Pune, a smaller and still growing city then and went on to establish IGA – one of the most important art consultancies in the Country today. This is also a narrative on interesting liaisons between art, space and common man.

Sometime in 2007 at Alibaug, in the ISPAT (JSW ISPAT currently) steel factory grounds, a colossus of scrap was resurrected to birth iconic pieces of flamingos designed by Indranil. His team supervised the project that was completed on site by the factory’s workers. This helped foster a sense of belonging and pride in the workers who were absorbed into the creative process on their very own turf, establishing a deep synergy. With this project, Indranil identified that the future of art in public spaces would be a chapter pegged around the words, democratization, design, space, aesthetics, collaboration and marketing. We get talking from across the boundaries of two different states over an imaginary cup of coffee and the discussion on art in public spaces demolishes several boundaries focussing on imagination! A whole new landscape and awareness unfolds as he shares his experience, insights, design and space concepts. Sometimes creation is not a process of building or learning, it may be quite the opposite too – one of unlearning and undoing, a deflection, a path less travelled.

Reminiscing the journey towards IGA, he says, “I moved to Pune in 2000 where my wife Payal, who was my fiancée then, was apprenticing under pioneer lady potter Nirmala Patwardhan. The developing city that presented great possibilities for a fresher, interested me. However, I only had ideas to sell and did not know how to go about it. Fortunately, an architect took me up on a ten walls mural job on the Clover Watergardens housing project in 2000. Then, between 2001 and 2003, two prestigious projects came my way, namely The Ruby Hall Clinic hospital project and The Corinthians Club, a hospitality project, and then there was no looking back!”

In 2009 Indranil Garai & Associates was registered in Pune as a firm practicing in designing public art spaces. He recollects, “The years following ISPAT Alibaug project (JSW ISPAT currently) were eventful. Two interesting projects, one in Bengaluru in 2008 and another at Delhi in 2010 necessitated professionals to oversee the work on site. College mates and sculptors Chiranjib Ghosh and Sumit Roy took up these roles in Bengaluru and Delhi respectively, and currently, Chiranjib heads IGA’s Bengaluru studio while Sumit heads the Pune studio as Associates”.

Indranil is the think-tank of IGA and also heads the marketing while the Associates take care of operations. IGA’s verticals are IGA Projects, IGA Landscape Pottery headed by Payal Garai, IGA Galleria headed by Zahhabiya Hamiid, IGA Open Studio, IGA Limited Edition, 360art.in, a one stop destination for art needs which is a work in progress and Adipa, a newly acquired Company specialized in handmade ceramic nameplates. IGA Galleria is a platform that showcases works of artists across all genres and IGA Open Studio offers the artist as well as the layman the luxury of exploring and understanding art through public events and workshops.

Sharing IGA’s vision, Indranil says, “Aesthetic enrichment is one of the things we try to bring into our creations. Art and architecture were cohesive entities in India at one time until British rule caused them to part ways. Aesthetics, which is sacrosanct to the Indian way of life, is but missing in most public art in our country and we are trying to bring it back”. Having said that, IGA stakes no claims to creating magnificent contemporary art, however, what they strive for is to create engaging spaces as they believe that art isn’t art until it begins to mingle with common man.

Collaboration is a keyword in public space art. The SP Shukobrishti by Shapoorji Palonji Co. Pvt. Ltd in Kolkata demonstrates this. Site study by Indranil directed him to a pre-existing miniature in the studio of Sushen Ghosh, ex-HOD of Sculpture and ex-Principal at Kala Bhavan, Santiniketan. The original multiplied in size was constructed on site into the staggering repetitive columns we see today. IGA’s works at Water Lilly in Chennai and Prestige South Ridge in Bangalore also boast of similar collaborations, at Chennai with Kolkata-based artist Nobina Gupta and at Bengaluru with Hyderabad-based Artist Kuntal Dey!

Space has an intent, energy and identity beyond its physicality. It is a melting pot of several histories, voices and experiences. Space is the most consecrated part of IGA’s business. IGA sculptures at the Swanubhooti Vatika in Pune by Chinmaya Mission expounds this by aiding the vision of this unique enlightenment park to become a self-discovery space for visitors. Materiality and form are evidently subordinate in IGA’s scheme of things. Where physical distance from people must be exercised, the sculpture may have sharp edges for instance. Those at a mall or an IT Park would permit limited proximity while those for schools would be invariably children safe and invite interaction. Recounting his journey this far, Indranil says that as the son of the celebrated sculptor Tarak Garai, growing in an environment enriched by aesthetic art shaped his ideologies and art was not serendipitous at all!

However, finding his own voice happened only during his Masters in Sculpture at Santiniketan. He discovered his calling towards large sculpture making while working on a project with B.V.Doshi, the iconic architect, recipient of the prestigious Pritzker award. Indranil also holds a diploma in Interior Designing from Jenson and Nicholson. As a Joint Director of the Pune Biennale Foundation, Indranil is responsible for the branding and marketing of the event. He believes that marketing is a misinterpreted and stigmatized word that has been equated with selling. He says, “unlike in the West, where art marketing forms part of the art course, our education system sadly leaves a vacuum when it comes to grooming art students to market their art”.

Working on his first book on how to sell art, Indranil says, “Marketing is essentially an opportunity for building relationships and sale is merely the result of that bond. And, there are so many different ways to address this negotiation”. Through each of IGA’s verticals, and designs, this bond is what they strive to create by bridging the gap between man and higher art.