Review: Kala Ghoda Festival 2017 / Black, White and Grey of Kala Ghoda Festival 2017/ Sushma Sabnis
Some horsing around, some rare unpolished gems in the chaos of a cultural festival which has become the go-to place for Mumbai’s selfie-obsessed janta, the Kala Ghoda Festival 2017 returns this time with the original Black Horse.. observes Sushma Sabnis.
The black stallion is back to where he belongs, amidst numerous fans and restored to his former glory. The Kala Ghoda Festival celebrates the return of the black horse to it’s original spot, in a drive to restore the heritage of Mumbai’s Art district. Irrespective of the optimistic intentions and social or political reasons for bringing the mascot back to its original place, the whole fervour of the much awaited annual festival has become somewhat dull.
In the past the Kala Ghoda Festival was an event much anticipated and lovingly attended by the crowds of Mumbai, and other places around the city. It was not just for the meaningful and topical public art on display, but people thronged there for the experience of an art and cultural festival in the city that never sleeps. Kala Ghoda festival in the recent times has become a place where youngsters wielding high end smart phones and over smart cameras move in groups and literally maul the public art works, in the hope of getting the ‘right’ selfie with the art work along with their friends and groups.
There is nothing wrong with taking selfies with art works, but the risk of damaging the art works, especially public art, has been seen to happen at this year’s Kala Ghoda festival where the theme was to celebrate the return of the Kala Ghoda statue. One would see thousands of people, thronging, climbing and manhandling the art works and some of them have even been broken though the ephemerality of the works is taken for granted. The theme of the ‘black horse’ has been quite tritely taken into account by the artists executing the art works and one sees numerous interpretations and misinterpretations of the equine muse, some even inartistically rendered. The stalls for handicrafts and handlooms from all over the country appear crowded and probably made good business too.
Compared to the crowds of Rampart Row, the relatively quiet Horniman circle public art display seems to be a bit more aesthetically inclined and mature especially the work of Vikram Arora in collaboration with Shama Shah, titled ‘Genesis Eternal’ the large scale bamboo work which tries to embody the concept of infinity, while animating the polarities of eternity and genesis. Also by the same artist, is another sensitive intervention with trees in the area, which has a social message about the environment, titled ‘Kalava Movement’. the Kalava is a red thread tied around the wrist or around banyan trees and even on windows of the Dargahs for wish fulfilment. Here the artist expresses his wish to save the environment by tying these threads around the tree trunks in prayer.
Amidst all the chaos of selfie-clickers, amateur and professional photographers, voyeurs and media personnel, fading actors and advertising persons, and the numerous hawkers out to make a quick buck off the people who come to buy unwanted things, there is a small unassuming stall situated in the traffic island / parking lot at the beginning of Rampart Row, which catches the attention of the people. The placard on the stall number 51 reads, ‘Mumbai Police’. One would dismiss it as one of the booths where the law and order vigilance systems are in place to be able to manage such a hugely populated festival.
Looking closely, one would find paintings and photographs hung in simple rows. Upon enquiring about the works on display, one of the two people sitting there reveal that these are the art works made by police officials. “The Mumbai Police Department has been responsible for the law and order of this mammoth festival for years, and in this time, the association has grown as we have seen so many varieties of art works, right from well known names from Mumbai showing their art works here” says Ankush Dhupkar who works in the police department which deals with armoury maintenance. In his spare time, through a hectic work schedule and on holidays, he chooses to participate in the Sanskaar Bharati open air painting workshops conducted by veteran artist Vasudeo Kamath. Some of his colleagues also have diligently participated every Sunday and the outcome is quite obvious. Beautiful water colour landscapes on paper and some oil on canvas works can be seen in this display.
Another police officer, Ramesh Chopade who works in the traffic management department as a constable says, “I look forward to my day off, when I sit and paint. I know I am not a professional painter like many out there, but this hobby is a huge relief for me after a tiring day at work.” The Assistant Commissioner of Police, Bharat Gaikwad has displayed some of his nature photography. The works exude a serenity of the mountains and valleys in the captures. “ We have to take permission from our DCP before we have a show anywhere. We always look forward to Kala Ghoda festival, this will be our third year of display. We don’t expect much, but for us to be part of this festival as ‘artists’ means a lot’ says Dhupkar. The works of head constable Vikash Lavande are mostly in oils and vibrant, while Sanket Rathod, a crime photographer displays his landscape photography of the mountainous terrains and its serenity. All of the police officials who have displayed their works have full time jobs and lead a hectic, dangerous professional life. For them the engagement with ‘art’ be it through drawings, painting, sculpture or photography brings to their life the much needed grounding and relaxation which they require to unwind.
The Kala Ghoda Festival 2017 is a mixed bag of art, entertainment, music, drama, some disappointment, yet with some rare sparkling gems to be uncovered in all the chaos of a culture mela.
The festival will be on till 12th February 2017.
(Images Courtesy : Sushma Sabnis and Artist Vikram Arora)