Modi’s India has public funding for the arts. But it’s all about the massive statues.

Just as the Mughal Empire was known for its exquisite miniature paintings, inasmuch as ‘Mughal miniature’ is a recognized art historical term, so too will the Narendra Modi years be remembered as the season of the gigantic and unsightly sculpture, mostly made in China. .

The 66 meter high ‘Statue of Equality’ sculpture project (yes, that’s what it’s called) costs Rs 1,000 crore (that’s about $130 million), all of which have been raised, through donations, by the Sri Ramanuja Sahasrabdi Trust headed by the ascetic Tridandi Chinna Jeeyar Swamy. It honors the medieval saint Sri Ramanujacharya, known for his contribution to the Vishishtadvaita school of Vedanta, and was unveiled on Saturday by none other than Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi unveils the Statue of Equality, a 216-foot tall statue of Saint Ramanujacharya from the 11th century, in Hyderabad. Photo: Twitter/@narendramodi

To get an idea of ​​the magnitude of the costs involved, bear in mind that the Government of India’s budget allocation for the Ministry of Culture this year is Rs 3,000 crore. In other words, the cost of installing this sculpture alone is equivalent to one third of the total allocation of the Ministry of Culture.

Do you know how much each edition of the Kochi Biennale costs? It is around Rs 26 crore. A calculation on the back of the envelope suggests that you could fund 38 biennales all over India with the same scope and ambition as the Kochi Biennale with the kind of money that was used to put up that ugly statue .

Interestingly, the proposed statue of the Hindu deity Ram, which is to be built near Ayodhya, is expected to be 235 meters high. If this statue is built, it will be the tallest in the world, of course after the 182 meter tall “Statue of Unity” that Modi has already built at a cost of Rs 2,989 core. The proposed Ram statue will cost the Uttar Pradesh treasury Rs 2,500 crore. Or $334,912,557. This will be paid for by UP taxpayers, as the statue is a state government project. This equates to the cost of approximately 93 Kochi Biennale-sized interventions into the artistic and cultural infrastructure of contemporary India.

Documenta is considered the most important event in the world of contemporary art worldwide. The overall sanctioned budget of the latest Documenta (which is funded by German federal funds, funds from the state of Hesse and the city of Kassel) is approximately $44 million. Seven and a half Documenta-sized contemporary art festivals could be held in India for the price of a proposed sculpture of Ram in Ayodhya, to be built from public funds in the state of Uttar Pradesh , the third poorest state in India. In terms of size, all of Germany is only 1.47 times the size of Uttar Pradesh.

This is a good indication of contemporary cultural priorities (in terms of what is patronage and what is not) in our society. This is, frankly, in purely quantitative terms, what contemporary Indian art and culture means. All who are interested in contemporary art in India – as artists, critics, curators and scholars – could, if they wanted, reflect on this a bit. The first thing they should reject is the weary lamentation over the lack of private philanthropy and public funding for art in India. There are. For this kind of art. It is a more disturbing fact than the fiction of the absence of patronage.

Remember that the intense density and gravity of a black hole devours everything that crosses its event horizon. The reason India’s contemporary art infrastructure is in the state it is is not because of neglect and lack of funding. It is because of the black holes that populate the cultural universe of contemporary India. Let’s face it, that’s who we are, culturally. That’s what the physical evidence says.

I guess art historians of the future will have to come up with a term like “Modi-Maximal-Masculine-Monumental” (or “MMMM”) to signify, briefly and candidly, this regime’s necrophiliac obsession with the size of idols. of dead icons.

This article is based on the author’s Facebook post from February 6, 2022.

Shuddhabhrata Sengupta is part of the Raqs collective in New Delhi.

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