CIMA AWARDS 2022
When the third edition of CIMA Awards was organised in 2019 with several co-lateral events, it had seemed that the large-scale Biennial that Kolkata deserved as the cradle and nursemaid of Indian Modernism, had finally arrived. No one could anticipate how a pandemic would descend upon the world and push back the fourth edition by a whole year, to 2022, the 75th year of Indian Independence: a fortuitous coincidence, as it happens.
In these 75 years, debates around nationhood and nationalism, their content and contours, have only grown sharper, more fractious and heated, sometimes descending to outrageously adolescent levels, as the “unitary identity” of India the early nationalists had nurtured came to be splintered in time by many competing voices. Sometimes these voices mouth facile rhetoric but the most thoughtful and meaningful among them are reflected in the arts and letters that affirm, in their very diversity, a composite Indianness at ease with international reckoning.
And that lends the fourth edition of CIMA Awards a special significance this time around.
Too varied to be unitary and homogenous
It’s interesting to recall, in this context, Edward Said’s comment on America, of its identity being “too varied to be unitary and homogenous”. Now, doesn’t that sound uncannily relevant to India? If anything, the diachronic layering of multiple eras and the serial encounter of races do, indeed, engender a synchronic skirmish of cultures and values in the subcontinent, as the assertion of claims to resources and the justice system from the social margins gets louder.
Besides, the tussle between contrary and continually shifting historical narratives has opened up the debate on History and Independence, cultural diversity and identity like never before. Conscious Indians have come to recognise that identity — scooped up by the political parties and straitjacketed into convenient moulds to gain power — certainly isn’t a “static notion” as there are diverse selves within a single social identity which could mutate from recessive to assertive under pressure.
Especially now, when user-friendly technology brings the world into one’s home through not just the TV and the computer but also the smartphone in the hands of the aam aadmi.
Not only because of the internet which even villagers without formal education have become savvy navigators of but also because of the phone camera which seems to be everywhere, recording everything. The image has further bloated in significance with the ubiquitous use of social media as people increasingly litter cyber space with daily trivia, which makes even personal information available to all at the click of a button.
To make the unseen visible and the unheard
In this dynamic socio-cultural panorama, what part can visual culture play, when communities that seem to live in different eras by different codes — from the tribal belt to the big metros — are compulsorily drawn into fluid, fragile networks fraught with attrition? In what way can an awards initiative such as CIMA’s become a catalyst to make the unseen visible and the unheard audible in order to boost fresh perceptions among people, particularly city people? Could such an endeavour interpret trends and predict the direction in which the cultural discourse might be headed? How would such an institutional role as a weathervane be critical in understanding the contentious, three-cornered relationship involving the State, society — both often overbearing and intrusive — and the creator, frequently a non-conforming, questioning younger citizen from the margins, as the clash of socio-political values gets exacerbated by the economic and psychological distress during the pandemic? And, finally, could an increasing number of similar initiatives — beyond direct State intervention — encourage a more vibrant, unfettered, democratic political ambience?
Since verbal language is a sign of class and educational privilege, it has to be visual culture and the arts that can operate as democratic levellers in this broad civilisational canvas. The long, 5000-year evolution and porous intermingling of India’s arts and crafts traditions celebrate an inviolable pluralism that is representative of the Indian creative sensibility. Especially because traditional art forms and oral lore have survived the colonial onslaught and still endure as living systems beyond smart cities and tech centres. That is why the arts can claim a unique place in trying times when social links are strained and need healing, strengthening.
The creative voice that often acts as a vigilant conscience
And this belief, the belief that the arts are interwoven into the fabric of society and cannot be viewed in isolation, seems to have been at the core of the overarching commitment that led to the formal birth of CIMA in 1993. This was after Wounds, the show that attempted to open a conversation between a society in conflict and the creative voice that often acts as a vigilant conscience while interrogating dated, often stifling, even pernicious assumptions. Since it’s in the arts and letters — in literature, theatre and cinema, music and dance, art and architecture, textiles and other handicrafts, both mainstream and marginal — that India’s robust, intricate, unsponsored syncretism is richly manifest, it is this uniqueness of sensibility that ought to be celebrated at home and projected abroad as CIMA had done through its two international shows: Chamatkara in London in 1996, and Tryst with Destiny in Singapore in 1997.
To make the unseen visible is to turn art into “a pair of glasses directed to the outside”. That’s what Proust meant his own writing to be, says Giles Deleuze in his much-quoted 1972 conversation with Foucault on power and the struggle of the marginalised; to make the unheard audible might entail bringing into focus the social fringes perhaps rife with a multiplicity of petits recits. Could such an exercise “initiate”, as the French philosopher suggests in the same dialogue, “localised counter-responses”? Not directly against a “global policy of power” in this case, but against the dominant ideologies of the day that prop up power by lending them socio-cultural legitimacy?
More than 180 works on display from February 5 to 27
Perhaps that is why, apart from a stipulation on age — participants have to be between 25 and 45 — no bar is placed by CIMA on the qualifying criteria for the Awards. None of the usual educational and other qualifications are required. Hence, self-taught artists are included as well.
Widening the ambit of participation beyond art school fraternities breaks class and geographic barriers to give a fair chance to fresh perspectives and the authentic but unheard of voices from small towns, rural communities and tribal regions; to those not usually milling around in city galleries, that is.
There will be a total of 11 Awardees
- The top CIMA Award winner will get Rs 500,000, a solo show at CIMA gallery within 2 years of winning, a trophy and a certificate;
- The First Runner-up: Rs 300,000, a trophy and a certificate;
- The Second Runner-up: Rs 200,000, a trophy and a certificate;
- Two Jury Awardees: Rs 100,000, a trophy and a certificate each;
- Two finalists with Special Mention: Rs 50,000, a trophy and a certificate each;
- Four Merit Awardees: Rs 25,000, a trophy and a certificate each
The exhibits selected through a 2-stage process, comprising more than 180 works out of 891 entries from 20 states, reveal an unhindered play of the imagination expressed in photography, prints, paintings, sculptures, assemblages, installations and videos. The range of material and subjects explored by the young talents evoke an infectious spirit of adventure and beguiling promiscuity.
Apprehensions of a third pandemic wave have led to a scaling down of the event. Hence, there will be just two venues, CIMA Gallery and Gem Cinema, where the works of the finalists will be on view from February 5 to 27, between 11am and 7pm every day, including Sundays. Imaginations, the theme of two-day symposium.
In tune with CIMA’s holistic institutional belief that visual art would be poorer without the anchor of an informed discourse around its fundamental civilisational parameters, there will be a two-day symposium at the Tollygunge Club on February 6 and 7. Imaginations: rural, urban, global — the theme of the symposium — promises to address exactly those concerns that have been part of CIMA’s vision of culture and creativity all along.