Frame by Frame, visual historian Raghu Rai who has captured India over four decades and believes that photography is a visual history, in an evocative dialogue with the audience, uncovered the many layers of his work through a Journey of a Moment in Time, an audio-visual presentation of a retrospective of his timeless work. In Chandigarh on the invitation of the Punjab Lalit Kala Akademi to receive the Punjab Gaurav Sanmaan, Rai got everyone closer to the story and wonder of his images, a personal and private tryst.
A few days later, the rare interaction was available for all to view, soak in and experience in the form of a video on YouTube, another priceless documentation that conceptual artist and photographer Diwan Manna added to his ongoing project that strives to bring the art and artists of the country closer to people. It’s an effort that Manna describes as immensely valuable for the future generations of artists and art lovers, a creative and precious archive that is simply inspired by the love for the arts and opens to everyone, the world of an artist.
“It is a database that students can use free of cost and access even in the remotest parts of the country and the material can be used for study, research and a source of knowledge,” shares Manna, who has meticulously designed and developed the concept, and who personally conceptualises and edits each interview, audio-visual presentation, lecture and workshop by eminent artists of our country.
It all began in 2008, when poet and critic Ashok Vajpayee presented a lecture on the value of art in our lives, and Manna decided to record it and later after editing, put it on YouTube. A lack of information in an organised manner about contemporary Indian art and its practitioners had been bothering Manna for long, he says, adding, “Sadly, we are not conscious about our history and lack the practice of archiving or documentation, which is so integral for understanding each subject. In the field of art, I found it lacking even more, for personally I would have loved to view and understand the creative journeys of so many artists who are not among us anymore. The project began with this thought and the response to the first effort was so overwhelming, that we decided to give it our best shot,” says Manna.
As the former chairperson of the Chandigarh Lalit Kala Akademi and now the Punjab Lalit Kala Akademi, Manna has curated and organised pathbreaking art endeavours, spanning from national and international exhibitions, lectures, the first-of-its kind art week, art walks and audio-video presentations, inviting the who’s-who of the world of art to share their journeys with audiences. And all these programmes have translated into archival material and a research and data base in the form of videos and films.
Till now, more than 300 videos have been uploaded, with the effort being to create quality and professional work, as a part of interviews where artists share their journeys, inspiration behind their work, philosophies, ideas and history. Separate slides are inserted in the videos to give a closer glimpse of the trajectory of an artist’s work, be it paintings, installations, digital art, films or photography. The work, admits Manna, wouldn’t have been possible without the cooperation and encouragement of the artists, with whom he shares a personal bond. “I have a copyright of their slideshows and they are both forthcoming and supportive of the endeavour, which has a unique vocabulary and idiom, with many sharing how this effort gives them a chance to connect with a larger audience. And from the articulate to the shy, we have them all,” he says.
From recording Subodh Gupta’s first lecture in India to decoding the mind of an artist by Shakti Burman, Krishen Khanna to Akbar Padamsee, Parmajit Singh to Krishen Khanna, Atul Dodiya to Jitesh Kallat, Raghu Rai to Anjolie Ela Menon, Vivan Sundaram to Anupam Sud, Mithu Sen to Thukral and Tagra — different generations of artists are part of the effort. Internet, adds Manna, has become a big source of information and for students who don’t have access to expensive art books, exhibitions or exposure to art fairs, this art information is readily available.
“I regret I was not able to archive the contributions of Manjit Bawa, Sohan Qadri, KG Subramanyan and Ghulam Mohammed Sheikh. The smaller towns and rural areas do not have resources or facilities for the study of fine arts, so what do the students do and where do they get the information. Here, we are focussing on archiving the entire spectrum. We have also started documenting artists from Punjab, in Punjabi language, and I believe every state should do this. We must create in our own language and our own thoughts and not on borrowed idioms. The younger generation must be aware of its own art history, starting from folk, classical, modern and then to world art and we hope this documentation will support their passion,” adds Manna.