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Culture’s not only for vultures

Sandhya Rao | Updated on January 18, 2018 Published on July 31, 2016

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TM Krishna’s efforts to take the high arts to public spaces

When the Ramon Magsaysay award committee named TM Krishna for the prize this year, it was in recognition of his efforts in recent years to make art a socially inclusive exercise, to break down the barriers that keep ordinary folk away from what is perceived as ‘high’ art.

Krishna is as classical as they come. He has trained with the most traditional teachers and his musical rendering emanates directly and richly from this. But he is also a thinking musician, thinking not just about the music but the social context in which it is nurtured and shared. He’s been outspoken about the barriers posed by caste, class and gender in the world of the arts, specifically Carnatic music, and he’s been fearlessly critical of the wide discrimination that’s kept many people out, as students, performers, and practitioners.

It’s in this scenario that Krishna and his band of enthusiasts work: one, to give all forms of performing art the respect and exposure they deserve; and to take the classical arts to public spaces so that everybody can enjoy and draw inspiration from them, uninhibited by social taboos and economic constraints.

Yes, there is a bit of an iconoclast hiding inside the man and yes, there is likely also a showman. Some may think this award has come to him too early, unlike many others so honoured — his fellow honoree this year, Bezwada Wilson, has for years been campaigning against the practice of manual scavenging. But wait: the latest programme Krishna and his team organised on the beach in Chennai (featuring sufi music, Christian choral singing, and namasankeertans) was scuppered by a doughty old lady who believes public spaces should not be ‘used’ for such purposes. This begged the question: Whom do public spaces belong to, if not to the public? It’s the very question Krishna is asking, and all those others by implication.

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Published on July 31, 2016
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