Baroda’s Art Cooperatives

One often wonders why Baroda is acknowledged as one of India’s most prominent art hubs. Besides the Faculty of Fine Art at Maharaja Sayajirao University, the renowned private art school in this Gujarati city, there seems to be an ever expanding base of artists in Baroda, ranging from fresh graduates to established professionals who settle to work here.

In addition to the fact that the city offers an atmosphere that is more than conducive for art students and professional artists, an interesting development that draws artists to Baroda is the several alternative and shared work spaces that have mushroomed here. Most prominent among these are cooperative studios that have been established by patrons and collectors of art or by artists themselves.

One of the most critical phases of an artist’s life is perhaps the time immediately after his or her formal education is complete. This is a period of adjustment for artists; times when they find themselves in situations that are entirely different from the warm cocoon of art school that sheltered them. Today, rather than trepidation, many artists approach this phase with a feeling of excitement, largely due to the number of possibilities that these new workspaces in cities like Baroda offer them. Earlier, practitioners of printmaking and ceramics, for example, had limited opportunities to establish themselves professionally after they graduated from art school. Now, even these facilities are provided at shared studios, offering young graduates a number of avenues for professional development.

In Baroda, one of the largest of these shared art studios is simply and aptly called ‘Space’. Set up by Mallika and Krupa Amin, ‘Space’ accommodates more than a dozen artists at any given point of time, each working in independent studios. Its facilities not only allow artists to work in a space without worrying about infrastructure needs and costs, but also allow them to interact with fellow artists and widen their creative horizons. Spread over a large area within a beautiful landscape, ‘Space’ provides an ideal environment for an artist to be in.

Sandip Daptari, an artist who had worked at one of the ‘Space’ studios for almost two years, explains that, for an artist, “…it proves extremely beneficial to work in a space like this, where apart from interaction with fellow artists, one also finds visitors and buyers coming here more often. It is quite a task to have up to seventeen artists all under one roof. The beautiful location of the place is a big bonus. However, there is always a point when one must leave and be on one’s own, and allow new artists to come into the space.”

In several cases, private collectors also facilitate individual artists by letting out studio space and apartments for them live and work. Though facilities like these are on a much smaller scale than those provided by artist cooperatives like ‘Space’, they provide artists with several advantages in addition to the simple relief of not having to establish one’s own studio right away. Today, it is because of these facilities that it is not as difficult a proposition as it used to be some years ago for a young artist to step out of college and start focusing on defining and developing his or her body of work.

Some artists who may not be lucky enough to find a patron, who can offer them studio space, choose to work collectively towards the same ends. For Deepak Khatri and his fellow-artists Pijush and Loknath, it was the best solution to rent a house, share expenses and set it up as a sculpture studio when they graduated from art school some years ago. “It not only allowed us to have a space sooner than we would have by ourselves, it also helped us evolve as artists. If I was faltering, Pijush would correct me and vice versa”, says Deepak.

For Zaida, a sculptor who works in ceramic, the development of shared workspaces, whether institutional or self-organized, is definitely a positive one. Having worked in such an environment at the Ceramic Center in Baroda, she says, “Personally for me working in a community studio was a wonderful experience. To be surrounded by the positive spirit of fellow artists is inspiring and encouraging. I consider mature interaction beneficial to me”.

Although working in such shared studio spaces is most often only a stepping stone in the early development of an artist’s career, there is no doubt about the energy that the experience creates within the space, amongst the artists and within the art community itself. Not surprisingly, there are a number of similar cooperative studios that are in the process of opening in cities like Baroda. In addition to facilitating younger artists to work without distractions, this emerging trend also seems to be drawing artists back to Baroda, contributing to expanding and strengthening the art fraternity in the city.

Baroda has a history of patronage of the arts from the private sector, be it self-motivated individuals or small industries that provide infrastructure and technical support to sculptors, for example. With this constant support, the network of artists in the city is an ever expanding one, promising that Baroda will always remain one of India’s most prominent art hubs for many years to come.

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