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Art as a Pillar of Nation Building (July 20,2018)

Blogger : Sandeep Hota

What constitutes a nation—real, ephemeral, imagined and material? What does it mean to create a national identity within defined geographical boundaries that belongs in the 21st century, and what are the consequences? More pertinently can art be harnessed as capital to coin a legitimacy and an image for a nation and its people? These questions are increasingly relevant as the relentless tide of globalisation has suffered a reverse with nationalism taking centre stage in many countries and identity politics making a grand stand against an irreversible trend of people coming together.

Art has always played a key role in what political scientists call “nation-” and “image-” building. Nation-building is the internal process of creating a shared identity among citizens through policy and the allocation of public funds. Its external counterpart, image-building, deals with shaping outsiders’ perceptions of a country. The arts often factor into these endeavours: domestically, they affirm a sense of shared culture and enrich social life, while through their export, they help communicate a nation’s identity and may serve as a benchmark for international competitiveness. As countries develop, it is thought, investments in image-building can yield both economic and diplomatic returns.

An example of the above is China’s massive investments in museums, arts and culture in recent years as a bulwark against what it perceives a growing assault of Western cultural values on its society. Over time culture is to become a “pillar industry”(1), loosely defined as one that makes up at least 5% of the country’s gross domestic product. At the same time China struggles with the value systems that intellectual growth engenders in a society and reacts to it with growing censorship like pixelating Michelangelo’s David-Apollo’s privates(2) and restricting writers and artists. There are similar stories of the arts playing different roles in the evolution of a nation where it has healed nations in their initial years to growing into a soft power projection mechanism in later prosperous years e.g South Korea.(3)India has had its own story in the growth of the arts scene with an explosion in the 2000s along with the growing fruits of prosperity in a post liberalisation era. There have been reverses(4) since with the 2008 economic crises and more recently, demonetisation to name a few. But contemporary art has persevered and grown in many ways with new and exciting talent coming up all the time despite institutional apathy and a continual lack of appreciation of the role of art in the country’s growth both economically, morally and spiritually. There is an opportunity discuss in depth this neglected role of art in our society and understand what it means to us as a nation.


About the Author:

Sandeep Hota is a practising management consultant based in Bhubaneswar with an abiding interest in the arts. He spends his time volunteering at Utsha on conceptualising and managing different art projects. He has also represented Utsha at the Seoul Biennale of Architecture and Urbanism 2017.

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