The Kala Ghoda Arts Festival 2014

The 2014 edition of the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival (KGAF) ended today or rather would have by the time I publish this blog post.

A 9-day festival of all things art, the KGAF 2014 offered various programmes in the area of children, cinema, dance, food, heritage walks, literature, music, street, theatre, visual art, workshops, and urban design and architecture. This was the 16th edition of the KGAF and like previous years, every event and programme on offer was free.

Like every year, I made a beeline for the visual / installation art. And unlike previous years, I also made an effort to register and participate in some of the heritage walks as well as a workshop on offer. This meant that I was able to discover something more about this beautiful city of mine and fall in love with Mumbai all over again. :)

KGAF 14, Kala Ghoda Arts Festival 2014, Mumbai

This ghoda or horse incorporates many of the symbols that Mumbai is associated with

Let me take you through the highlights of what I saw and experienced at the KGAF 2014. First up are the visual art /installations and stalls, followed by some captures from the Heritage Walks / Tours I went on.

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The Kala Ghoda Arts Festival 2013

Today was the last day for 2013 edition of the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival (KGAF). Even as I get ready to publish this post, the handicrafts stalls must be getting dismantled as the area has to be clear for regular traffic by tomorrow morning. The installation and street art too would be dismantled (I wonder where they go). Most Mumbai-based bloggers have already published posts and photographs on the KGAF 2013. And now, it’s my turn to share my thoughts and perspective on this one-of-a-kind art and cultural festival in Mumbai.

I have been visiting KGAF since its inception and have seen it grow to the extremely popular and iconic event that it has become today. While I enjoy all the events on offer at the KGAF, it is the installation and street art that I look forward to every year. To be honest, I didn’t start of as a fan of installation art, but the creativity that is showcased is something that I find it hard to ignore. And this year, the installation art at the 2013 version of the KGAF was a sensory delight.

Kala Ghoda Arts Festival 2013 3Bangles, metal wires, insulated wires, plastic bottles, paper, papier-mache, clay, cloth, CDs, assorted hardware from computers, plastic mugs, corrugated cardboard sheets, metal pipes, spectacle frames, coins, photo frames, metal chains, cardboard cartons, plywood, PoP, jute sacks, cane, bamboo, marble, glass bottles, plastic tuns, cars, rickshaws, a bicycle, petrol tanks, dolls, living plants, driftwood … just about every material imaginable was used for the installation art at KGAF 2013. I had a hard time stopping myself from reaching out and touching or climbing onto many of the artworks clearly signposted with “Do not Touch” or Do not Climb”.

And though most of the installation art fit into themes similar to previous years — Mumbai city, social issues (corruption, violence against women, child sexual abuse), broader environmental issues, cinema — there were also those that did not fit into any of the themes and managed to hold their own. A selection of some of the installations that appealed to me are given below.

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Colour: A natural history of the palette

Sometimes, we miss the forest for the trees. And sometimes, we miss the trees for the forest. Let me give you an illustration. Take a look at the painting below (click on the picture to see a larger view).

Source: The National Gallery, London

The painting is called “Bacchus and Ariadne”. It was painted by Titian sometime between 1520 and 1523. It depicts a tale from Romanย  mythology where Bacchus (the God of Wine) sees the mortal Ariadne and falls in love with her at first sight. He is so smitten that he jumps out of his cheetah-drawn chariot towards her. The painting has captured Bacchus in mid-leap as Ariadne shies away from him in alarm.

I saw this painting at London’s National Gallery in 2009. I duly noted the story that the painting conveyed, the various characters in it, the lovingly painted animals, Titian’s trademark use of bright colours… and moved on to the next artwork. It was a nice painting, but not particularly impressive. Or so I thought. Today, I bitterly regret at only looking at the painting, but not seeing it closely enough. In only looking at the painting, I had completely failed to see the colours themselves, particularly the brilliant blue of the sky โ€” a blue which came from the ultramarine paint made from the semi-precious lapis lazuli mined hundreds of miles away in the Sar-e-Sang valley (in present day Afghanistan).

The lapis lazuli from these mines would have travelled through ancient trade routes to the colour maker in Italy, who then transformed it into the very expensive ultramarine paint through a laborious process. First, the lapis lazuli was finely powdered and kneaded into a dough along with resin, wax, gum and linseed oil for 3 days, after which it was put in a mixture of lye and water. Then, this mixture was kneaded again, this time with sticks, to draw out the blue of the lapis lazuli into the liquid. The blue-coloured liquid would be collected in bowls and allowed to dry, leaving behind a powdery blue pigment, the ultramarine blue. The process would be repeated with the “dough” to get different qualities and shades of blue (pg.290-291). These days making the ultramarine paint is not so laborious as it is made synthetically.

I read about all this and much more in Colour: A Natural History of the Palette (2004, Random House, pp.448) by Victoria Finlay. The book can be considered as a travelogue; it can also be considered as a book on art history. But for me, it is a book on the micro-history of colour as explored through an artist’s paintbox holding the colours of the rainbow and then some more โ€” violet (or purple), indigo, blue, green, yellow, orange, red, ochre, white, black and brown.

In her attempt to trace and draw out the stories of how natural dyes, paints and colours were made for a European artist’s paintbox, Finlay travelled to Australia, England, China, Chile, Italy, India, Iran, Spain, Afghanistan and Lebanon. As each story, myth, legend of the colours come into life, we realise that:

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The Kala Ghoda Arts Festival 2012

Today is the last day of the 2012 edition of the Kala Ghoda Arts Festival (KGAF) in Mumbai. This much-awaited, one-of-its-kind annual festival comes like a breath of fresh air to a city that is starved of events like this. The week-long KGAF packs in programmes and performances in literature, theatre, films, music, and dance. In addition to this, there are heritage walks, street art exhibitions as well as street performances, and workshops on various topics for adults and children alike.

While I attend quite a few of the ‘cultural’ performances and participate in a heritage walk or two every year, what I really look forward to every year are people-watching and the handicraft melas. The latter brings in artisans and their art and craft from all over the country, and is an opportunity for me to stock up on gifts for friends and family. I also look forward to seeing the installation or street art at Rampart Row, the venue of the main KGAF, not because I love installation art, but because I am always amazed at the creativity that gets shown year after year. Just see a sample from this year’s KGAF.

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