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Creating against all odds

Swati Mohan talks about how politics prevails in the world of art and the other problems dancers face

The biggest problem we face, as dancers, is getting a conducive space to work in. Dancers require a special kind of floor, but we mostly don’t get that easily. If you are a big company, then getting such space would be easy for you. But it’s not the case for freelancers. Availability of studio space is costly — paying R500 or R600 per hour is not easy for freelance artists. Thus, there’s a dearth of affordable rehearsal or performance spaces.

Recently, we had a performance where we had a really hard time looking for a space. As far as the rentals of auditoriums are concerned, it is way too much. And I don’t understand why there’s no subsidy for artists, because auditoriums are rented by artists only and thus it should be available at a subsidised rate. From where will we pay such high rents? There’s no support system in the city. I had a really tough time gathering money for our recent performance. And if we spend all our time worrying about money or trying to collect money, then when will we work? So, money is a big issue.

Presently I am working on a new project — which is related to experimental contemporary dance. But the problem I am facing again is of funds. Nobody is eager to fund this kind of experimental work. Who do I go to asking for money? There are no places ready to provide money happily. Mostly the embassies are funding such events on contemporary dance forms. The Ministry of Culture does provide funding, but the process is tedious. Also, they take a lot of time to respond. Thus, I have to fund my own shows, from my own pocket. And I am thinking of ways how to raise money for my shows.

The shows which I do with my students, for these I print some brochures and try looking for advertisements. If we get ads, we can get funds. But no one is bothered. Only those who have a personal connection in a company, they get funds easily. These organisations, even if they do fund, they have these policies that they can pay a limited amount which is not satisfactory or can only do so once a year or so. Basically, we have no support system. I am pushing against all odds to keep creating.

When a film is being made, they have proper distribution system. But how do I find different places to get my work invited to? The whole network is so politicised. The festivals are curated without even proper research — which event is going on where, and the same people are given platforms or provided support by the organisations. So, the funding bodies or auditoriums which are available, they are giving a chance to the same people over and over again. There’s a tight network they work in. They are all in their own zone. In the end, politics is everywhere, the world of art is no exception.

Last year, I was working on a research-based project on dance choreography and neuro science. I got absolutely no money. But just because I am not getting any money, should I stop working? We did a few performances on that this with zero money. Then I had to fund it anyhow.

Government doesn’t subsidise anything for artists. There’s no such rule that if you’re an artist then you will have to pay less tax or something. To make a living, artists nowadays mostly go into teaching (their respective art forms). That’s how we pay our bills.

In India, being an artist is not easy, especially if you’re into experimental art. Our country is quite regressive when it comes to understanding that art can be a career. Artists have no support system, and that’s why parents also don’t encourage their child to take up professions like dancer or painter. This is another problem all young people are facing. Even I faced such problems when I was young. Things haven’t changed much.

Youngsters thus are turning into machines, all they are bound to think is how to earn. That way, quality of work goes down. This is a vicious circle. People are not ready to give time to something which is not going to give them anything in return. In the end, they think of making a living. So basically, artists don’t get support from government nor from family. Thus, it makes the journey troublesome for all the artists.

Sometimes I lack motivation and feel like giving up, but then but I am not ready to give up. This is how I want to spend my life. It becomes extremely tiring and frustrating, but at the same time it is rewarding and gives immense joy. By the end of day, when I leave my rehearsal space I feel like ‘Oh my god, look at where you have arrived! As a human being, as a person’. But then I have to face the reality, and the reality is tough.

Swati Mohan is a dance artist and spiritual seeker with a keen interest in writing, acting and music. She is the founder and director at Danza Performing Arts.