College of Art Cries Out: It’s Time For Change

College of Art student protests

Whenever the phrase ‘hell hath no fury’ is uttered, our minds immediately jump to scorned women but the students of the College of Art, Delhi are all set to change this. In light of the recent protests undertaken by these students, one would rather believe that hell hath no fury like an artist scorned. Although ‘fury’ might be the wrong word, since this student body of artists has taken to expressing their discontent in a peaceful yet creative way. Armed with paints and brushes, they have turned the walls of the campus into their personal canvas, a brick-and-mortar sounding board for their views.

The protest, which started about three weeks ago, was a long time coming, according to both existing students and alumni of the institution. After years of studying with a dearth of art supplies, in ill-equipped classrooms and with rampant inter-departmental hostility, students of the college have finally put their foot down and are now demanding change. A third year student of the college revealed to The Yellow Sparrow:

The infrastructure of the college is in a deplorable condition. Our studios are poorly lit, toilets unusable and canteen food unappetising. The supply of stationery from the college has been missing for about a year now.

A large number of students have stopped attending classes, as of August 31, 2015, following the refusal of one of the departments to hand over materials to them, materials which were right there, locked away in the cupboards. The students now spend their days putting up posters, painting the campus walls and exhibiting street plays—all displays of dissatisfaction, artist-style. You will not find rambunctious rallies or violent demonstrations here. The only chaos these protesters create is on their canvases.

College of Art student protests

As of now, the college does not have a medical room or a sports field—basic amenities that are assumed to be a given at most educational institutions. A detailed list of demands has been put forward by the students—upgradation of equipment such as printers, scanners, photocopiers, availability of computers and relevant software, an e-library, professional lighting in studios and repair of the campus buildings are a few items which appear on it. What is most surprising is the fact that an institution which is supposed to nurture artists does not have the basic technical amenities to do so. State-of-the-art cameras, computers and software—all common household commodities in today’s time—are missing from this college which, on paper, teaches students how to create art with those very tools.

The decaying state of matters has been apparent for quite some time, according to students. Having visited the campus earlier this year, I wholeheartedly agree. In the few hours that I spent there, it wasn’t difficult to see the crumbling buildings, disgruntled students and less-than-polite manner of the staff. One teacher went so far as to inform me that students quake with fear at the thought of entering his department premises, something which I, a visitor in search of information, had done in a matter of minutes. I remember exiting the room with sympathy in my heart for the students. It can’t be easy to study in an environment where free interaction is frowned upon.

College of Art student protests

Alumni of the college have come forward in full support of the students’ cause. They’ve showed up in considerable numbers and stood by the students, out of love for their alma mater and hope for its rebirth. Apart from showing solidarity in person, several alumnus have also been active on social media, rallying support for the protest and spreading word. Student-run pages such as No More Ignorance have received a plethora of support from alumni as well as existing students. In conversation with an alumnus, we learned that empty promises are tradition at this college:

During my first year of college, we were promised computers for the department. They were supposed to be in place within a year. I’ve graduated from the college and there are still no computers. Even if they do arrive now, they will be obsolete.

While the need for proper infrastructure and tools weighs heavily upon the minds of protesters, they have also demanded the official establishment of a Student Welfare Association, a Sports Committee and a Sexual Harassment Committee. They further ask for student representatives as well as contemporary artists to be a part of the proposed advisory committee. It is hard to believe that in a country like India, where decisions are made for the people, by the people, there are still institutions that function without a smidgeon of democracy.

College of Art student protests

While boycotting classes, the students have arranged for eminent artists as well as alumni of the college to conduct workshops and classes, in order to impart learning in the manner of an open air classroom. Several artists and performers have already conducted sessions or have agreed to do so in the days to come. It is their belief that stepping out of classrooms to protest and fight for your rights is a huge part of what education is all about.

“This process of fighting for student empowerment is going to change things within people. This is a unique opportunity to create and engage.”

The Yellow Sparrow stands with the students and alumni of the College of Art, Delhi in their quest for change. As lovers of art and their creators, as students and learners, as fellow humans, we sincerely hope that this pursuit ends in success.


Images courtesy of No More Ignorance

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