It has long been a challenge for humanities higher education in India to integrate newer and alternative art sites such as galleries and author archives. This is linked to more perennial problems in humanities higher education such as the freezing of syllabi by bodies that often do not directly engage with the student—for example, in many central universities, syllabi are set by faculty that teach only post-graduate students, and these syllabi are used to teach undergraduate students. Hence there is a great distance from the creators of the syllabi to the final receiver of the syllabi. Often, evaluations too are outsourced to faculty from other parts of the country—hence the disconnect between production, reception and evaluation of syllabi is complete.
This context makes it hard to argue for the presence of newer forums like galleries and archives. Governmental authorities rarely see this as a student activity, and prefer to centralize archives (political or cultural) in national bodies. The same goes with the more nationally or internationally recognized painters and artists. To compound the problem, these national archives and galleries are under-funded, and most artworks accumulate in non air-conditioned warehouses, where they rot even as they are not properly catalogued or promoted for public viewing.
In this context, Manipal University had the good fortune to be presented many paintings of the renowned painter K K Hebbar (1911- 1996). Many of Hebbar’s portraits adorn the Indian Parliament, but he is best known for his sinuous lines depicting Indian folk traditions in abstracted line and singing colour. The family, unhappy and sceptical at the conditions in governmental facilities, approached the Humanities Centre at Manipal University to house around twenty five paintings and sculptures of his. The University volunteered to provide a beautiful lake-side space, and a doctoral candidate in the art aesthetics was appointed curator.
The gesture has been widely appreciated in the media and elsewhere, as the Centre has attempted to make the gallery not just a museum, but a dynamic space devoted to contemporary-student created art. Recently, many of Karnataka’s most illustrious writers, visiting the Humanities Centre for a Literature festival, also came to view the many temporary art-works commissioned for the festival. Many remarked that it was fitting that the University had housed Hebbar’s works, for Hebbar, though he made his name internationally and lived in Mumbai, originally belonged to the coastal belt where the University stands.
Thus an art gallery has become a rare space in an Indian University where students, litterateurs, international art enthusiasts and foreign diplomats often get to meet each other. For a University to provide a holistic education, and to save the humanities from the instrumentality and barrenness it is often subject to, galleries in Universities must be actively promoted. Classes must be held in inspiring spaces that encourage new integrations of student and community life and citizenship.
(Image attached is a famous portrait of Nehru by K K Hebbar)