How the Jawahar Kala Kendra in Jaipur was put on the cultural map of Rajasthan and why you should visit right now
On February 15, a large photography exhibition opened at Jawahar Kala Kendra (JKK), Jaipur. ‘Ellipses: Between Word and Image’ dives into the archives of Jaipur’s photographer-ruler Sawai Ram Singh II. It also celebrates 10 years of the photo journal PIX, and shows the photo-digital practice of contemporary artist Nandan Ghiya. On the same day, the Director-General of JKK, Pooja Sood, announced her resignation. She felt the cultural organisation was being made the casualty of a political clash.
JKK is an iconic building designed by architect Charles Correa in 1993. But only in the past three years, after refurbishment, has it gained national attention for the quality of its shows and performances. These included the inaugural exhibition of video and film art by Mani Kaul and Ranbir Singh Kaleka, the Indian Ceramics Triennale, and a textile show curated by Mayank Mansingh Kaul. There was another on architecture that juxtaposed Correa’s architectural philosophy in creating JKK vis a vis that of Sawai Jai Singh’s vision in building Jaipur. JKK opened the space for the children’s literature festival, Bookaroo, which had 9,000 children visiting in its first year.
Why you should go now
The three-part Ellipses has been curated by Rahaab Allana in collaboration with Giles Tillotson, Mrinalini Venkateswaran and Nandita Jaishankar. PIX, which engages with contemporary photography, largely from South Asia, has put together a vast selection of works and writings featured in its publication over the past decade. These include Iranian photographer Azadeh Akhlaghi’s politically-charged By An Eyewitness, elaborately staged scenarios of deaths that impacted the nation; photographer-writer Karan Shreshtha’s portraits of children denied citizenship rights in Nepal; Amber Hammad’s exploration of identity and changing gender roles in Pakistan by inserting herself in iconic artworks by Leonardo Da Vinci and others.
In another section are over a 100 images from the 19th century, just a peek into the vast archive of photos taken by Jaipur’s gaunt ruler. During a walk-through, Tillotsan, consultant director for research, publications and exhibitions at Maharaja Sawai Man Singh II Museum in City Palace, Jaipur, reveals that the Ram Singh images had remained undiscovered till the 1980s. The ones in the show include landscapes of the city as well as portraits, of himself, women in the zenanaand others working in the palace.
“I was happy to have left JKK on a high note,” Sood says. The director of Khoj International Artists’ Association, an artists-led organisation for contemporary art in Delhi, Sood was appointed D-G, JKK in 2015. This was one of the centres of former Chief Minister Vasundhara Raje Scindia’s cultural re-imagining of the State — from the renovation and energising of the cultural programming at JKK and Bikaner House in Delhi to the setting up of a sculpture park featuring works of top Indian and international artists at Nahargarh Fort in Jaipur.
In December 2018, after a hard-fought election, Ashok Gehlot was sworn in as Chief Minister. JKK’s Governing Council and Executive Council were dissolved, and budgets were cut, says Sood. “If you cut off my hands, how am I supposed to function?” she says of her decision to quit. Sreya Guha, Principal Secretary, Rajasthan Tourism Arts and Culture Department, who has been put in temporary charge of JKK, differs, stating that budgets had been revised for all departments as per routine procedure. “As far as I am aware, the EC and GC have not been dissolved, but I will check,” she says.
In her years there, Sood had modernised the 25-year-old building. JKK’s budget was increased from ₹1.5 crore to ₹6.5 crore, enabling them to pay artists market rates and host quality shows. JKK also opened up its library, a bookshop, reading lounge, graphic studio, cafes and wi-fied the whole campus, in a bid to make it a more public space.
Sood has now turned her attention to the Pune Biennale, to take place in December, and for which Khoj has been named curator. She’s just back from a research trip to the city she grew up in. “What we are really looking at — and it came from what the times are today — is ‘difference’. It seems all the problems we have today are based on these polarisations: political, social, racial, caste difference, economic difference,” Sood says.
Khoj has envisioned it as a public-art project that will criss-cross across centres of the city: the cantonment,the old city, and the institutional area. “At Khoj, we believe art can work for social change and social justice. It’s to make you think, to question, to critique.”
Ellipses: Between Word and Image is showing at Jawahar Kala Kendra, Jaipur, until April 30;
10 a.m.- 5 p.m. daily; entry free