If Tagore were alive today, many might consider him to be a curator, particularly as his interests prefigured the nature of interdisciplinary and transnational curating today. As well as the poetry and plays for which he is most well-known, Tagore was a political and agricultural reformist whose anti-colonial and pro-Dalit stance in the early decades of 20th Century Bengal brought him to widespread attention.
Tagore was also a cosmopolitan educational reformist; it is these aspects of his work that the network will seek to explore, particularly in the context of his development of art and pedagogy at the community and educational establishment at Santiniketan. It is precisely the experimental approach to the process of pedagogy, the openness to ideas of international modernism in the form of art, music and dance in relation to local and national traditions of craft and the natural environment that we seek to connect to contemporary visual culture in new ways, bringing disciplines together and connecting academic scholarship and artistic practice on Tagore to a new academic and non-academic public.
Santiniketan as model: While Tagore the writer is the one that is the best known outside of India and the one most researched and exhibited (for example, Rabindranath Tagore: Poet and Painter, Victoria & Albert Museum London 2011), this network will look in particular at the interdisciplinary character of Tagore’s work, and how all the different strands come together in the context of the school, university and experimental community of Santiniketan. A unique experiment, Santiniketan was an early Twentieth Century hub of avant-garde art, craft, music, dance, literature, alternative pedagogy and rural development, founded on ecological principles, individual creativity and community that mixed progressive ideas with aspects of traditional Indian life such as the forest school (tapovana). Here a strand of Indian modernism was developed in a cosmopolitan milieu that attracted artists and intellectuals from all over the world in the context of a move towards decolonization.
The research network takes up Santiniketan as a frame through which to discuss questions of cosmopolitanism, and on what terms this occurs, pedagogy and Tagore’s notion of a community of research, curating how artistic forms and concepts can produce an environment and a collective experience, and material culture, the objects and things that help develop and manifest an ideology and way of life in relation to the natural and social environment.
Curatorial context: Today, a number of major museums and galleries have hosted and curated exhibitions themed on education (for example, Disassembly, produced at North Westminster Community School and the Serpentine Gallery in 2006, or Manifesta 6 (Nicosia 2006), unitednationsplaza: exhibition as school (Berlin 2007). A long tradition exists in which artists have engaged with education as part of the form and content of their work (for instance Hélio Oiticica, Lygia Pape, Suzanne Lacy, Raqs Media Collective, Ultra-red, Christian Philipp Muller, Jakob Jakobsen, etc.), and many exhibitions have turned over the site of the gallery or museum to temporary educational facilities (from the Artists Placement Group at The Hayward Gallery in 1971 to Assembly, Van Abbe Museum, Eindhoven, 2007, Free School, Art School UK, 2010; the Wide Open School, Hayward Gallery, 2012). Many artists and curators are highly influenced by alternative educational philosophies (as was evidenced in The Hayward/Serpentine conference Deschooling Society in 2010). This reflects a wider social and political interest in the UK, Europe and North America in alternative and informal schooling at community level. Building on this knowledge base of gallery and museum education and the social implications of community education, the Tagore, pedagogy and contemporary visual cultures network attempts to practice Tagore’s ethos in a contemporary milieu by holding a number of network meetings in London, Berlin and Santiniketan, and contributing to exhibitions at Iniva, London, and NGBK, Berlin, as a material, research-based and pedagogical tool. Tagore was known to champion decolonization and promote new forms of cosmopolitan modernism in India and also, to a degree, question the imperialising nature of higher academic structures at the time. How might the questioning of education and its potential to challenge imperialism and inequality exist today? How might artistic practice still both shore up and criticize these imperialising qualities identified almost a century ago by Tagore?