Lina Vincent is an art historian and curator with over 17 years of experience. She is committed to socially engaged arts practice, a commitment that reflects in multidisciplinary projects she has developed and participated in. She talks about her journey, and her plans, with Prerna SM Jain.
How did your journey into the arts begin?
I grew up in a household that was liberal, culturally tolerant, and aware. Fate brought our family to Bangalore and I got through the selection process to study at College of Fine Arts, Chitrakala Parishad. I learnt the techniques of art practice and began to understand the vastness of art practices. I came into contact with experimental artists in Bangalore – Shantamani Muddaiah, Pushpamala, Surekha, Umesh Madanahalli, Tallur LN. I completed my Bachelor’s degree in printmaking and later a Masters in art history, during which I also began writing and interpreting others’ artworks. It was the beginning of my curatorial career – only the term wasn’t being used much back in the late 90s, early 2000s. I was also drawn towards historical art research and vernacular arts practices like Warli, Mithila, and Chittara.
I started work with Time & Space gallery in Bangalore. From there began my journey in arts management. A few years later I joined Art Resources and Teaching (ART), a small organisation working towards building arts interfaces through research. With ART and its sister organisation, Jackfruit Research and Design, I expanded my repertoire, learnt how to write scholarly papers, edit, organise travel exhibitions, and work on large-budget projects in different parts of India with vastly different clients. All along, I continued with art journalism and developed a good rapport with artists, researchers, and cultural practitioners. Currently, the larger areas of my work are connected to arts education, social and environmentally engaged practices, and integration of regional arts with urban fine art.
You have many years of experience in the art industry. How do you see the economic and cultural axis shifting in the art world? From the museum down to the artist, how will the entire ecosystem take be affected by Covid-19?
I have been working for close to two decades in the art and culture industry, in various professional positions. Through my work I have experienced both the urban fine art gallery system as well as the platforms through which folk and outsider artists build outreach for their work. After the 2008-09 global economic crash, it took a long time for the art industry to recover – in India, where many artists had just begun to experience the ‘boom period’ with international recognition, good sales, and rising price brackets, it was a tremendous setback.
The period, however, seemed to provide impetus to a range of unconventional practices. These continued without being commercially driven – including installation, moving image, and performance art. The impact of Covid-19 is too vast to grasp at the moment – it is undeniable that everyone, not only those in the arts and culture industry, are going to feel long-term professional damage. The arts are considered ‘extra-curricular’ and ‘luxury’ and seem to be the first to get slashed budgets and even shutdown. Perhaps this will be a period of reviewing methodologies and systems, innovating for a better future, and exploring the virtual space further in terms of communication and experiences. AR and VR technology will begin to bridge the gaps in physical interaction. Everyone must come together to share the burden as well as responsibility for the coming times.
How are museums and galleries strategising their approach towards keeping their spaces afloat?
Museums and galleries are already adapting fast to the changed situation where art events and gatherings are no longer permissible. While some galleries like Anant Art (Delhi) and Gallery Sumukha (Bangalore) have curated special online editions for viewing, some of the prominent galleries across India and Dubai like Espace, Ske, Experimenter, Vadehra, The Third Line, Green Art Gallery and others have joined together in common online platforms (IN TOUCH edition 1) to highlight specific artists’ works from their collections. Piramal Art museum, CSMVS and a few other museums have begun to build online educational programmes for both children and adults – all of whom have suddenly extra time on their hands.
This disorienting time is being made exciting and thought provoking through Instagram live sessions, Zoom discussions, and open calls for artist responses. There is a surge of activity online but not all activities will be sustainable or long term. Organisations like ACRI (Arts and Culture Resources India) and ATSA (Art Think South Asia) have begun to build resource data and conduct sessions on what the future of the cultural industry will be like, particularly in terms of job loss, lack of funding, and closure. Across nations, diverse ideas and approaches are being shared and will soon be tested.
Would physical art spaces cease to exist, especially now that smaller spaces can no longer afford to pay rent? As a curator, how do you convey a visual story through e-platforms that lack tangibility and spatial presence?
It is indeed a fear in the arts and culture industry – when/if will spaces open? How many will be able to sustain their existence? To begin with, we do not have much footfall in galleries and museums. I don’t know how social distancing will affect people’s general interest in the arts. As a curator, will I be on the ‘not-required’ list? Will publications stop being printed and published?
We are so embedded within a commercial cycle, which depends perpetually on capitalist modes of earning and spending, selling and consuming – suddenly it seems like a barrier or limitation to creative production. At this point we can only speculate – and imagine and hope for the better. Art WILL find its space – in the open, under trees, in home studios. After the initial pain, things will build up again. We will restructure our systems and make the best of everything. We will pay more attention to climate change and employ sustainable systems.
I have dug out an old concept note that couldn’t be realised as a show. I have shared it as an open call to artists anywhere to respond to. It is called “Through the Looking Glass”. It is meant to facilitate the coming together of works that artists feel express their feelings in this period. It is an unhurried, organic process with an elastic timeline that will find online space and perhaps also physical space some day. In some ways it feels good not to be tied to deadlines and looming commitments. Technology will provide ways in which to build the experiential into virtual experiences – while it can never replace physicality, and audiences may be reduced to those who can access it – it provides rays of hope to art and heritage.
How are you spending your time right now during the lockdown? How has it changed your life?
For me, after a very hectic schedule of shows, workshops and conferences since September 2019, the lockdown has been a sudden break, a time to think of my direction and also not think at all. Priorities have changed. For the first week of the lockdown, no supplies were available in Goa and my greatest concern was to get enough food for my son and me. It is interesting that everyone has taken things in their stride and figured out different ways to move projects online, but as someone who is not super quick with technology and with a natural reluctance to spend too much time on social media, I feel overwhelmed by it all. I am learning new things everyday (practical and technological), and I hope also that I will be a better and more patient person as I grow through this. Handling all the house work, there is not so much time for creative juices to flow towards new projects, and taking one day at a time is the best process to follow. I have been trying to share discussions and dialogues with young artists who feel most vulnerable and bereft at a time like this.
What is the best compliment that you have ever received?
In 2012-13 when I was curating and exhibiting ‘Between the Lines: Identity, Place and power – Selections from the Waswo X. Waswo collection of Indian printmaking’, a senior and much respected doyenne of the art world in appreciation of my work said, “I wish there was a Lina in all our lives”. I have treasured that as the very highest compliment I could receive.
Who is your favourite artist and why?
I cannot say that I have a favourite artist, since this particular spot has changed regularly ever since I first came in contact with artists’ histories. I can, however, mention those whose work had a large impact on what I chose to study and to take up as a profession. I was deeply inspired by Albrecht Durer’s prints as well as several other European printmakers. A trip to Italy prior to my masters gave me the opportunity to view some of the greatest of the renaissance artists’ works – but the one artist that watched over me when I took up art history was Giotto di Bondone, whose awe-inspiring frescos in Padua opened up the world of art theory and aesthetics to me, and filled me with a wish to write and interpret. My learning wouldn’t be complete without the mention of Sita Devi and Jamuna Devi’s works, both Mithila artists of the greatest calibre – because of which I developed a deep interest in folk art and indigenous heritage in parallel to fine art practices.