Contemporary art events are usually centered in urban settings, attracting an elite audience. Needless to say, this elite group is the most inclined to take part and contribute, intellectually as well as monetarily. This leaves a large, mostly rural, audience from being informed on contemporary photo-art, its practices, practitioners and aesthetics. We come from a tradition that integrated art as a part of everyday life. Interestingly, the invaluable bronze/stone sculptures, architectural marvels and the temple art paintings have become objects of admiration, reverence and worship, rather than being remembered as expressions of different cultures. This parody probably makes it all the more important for art initiatives to be centered in rural settings, not only so that the majority of the public can be reached, but also to help the people to look at their history and their present with renewed vigour.
Kalai Illam, a dedicated rural space for art was set up by EtP in Tiruvannamalai, and many projects targeting the local audience were undertaken during the period 2013 – 2016. Film screenings, audio-video projections, interactions with artists, exhibitions and other participatory sessions were organized on a regular basis. Photography and Beyond, a series of shows that explored the connection between photography and other art forms were organized over a year. This included three solo shows by Indian photographer Abul Kalam Azad, India based Switzerland artist Christian Uhlmann and Indian artist Ganeshbabu Chembayil. Mukhamukham – Face to Face with photographers, featured experienced photographers Abul Kalam Azad, Prasanth Panjiar, RR Srinivasan and many others, each speaking about their life and work, followed by audience interaction. A special event for the third genders was organized, during which a screening of images shot during the Koovagam festival was done.
The events initially attracted only a few, but eventually had quite a few interested enthusiasts who regularly filled the seats. Having successfully experimented such a novel idea, at present, Kalai Illam is closed for public as we are in the process of setting up a permanent place.