Behind the Scenes with the Indian Art World

At the Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2014, Saffronart is supporting acclaimed artist Manisha Gera Baswani in her project, Artist Through the Lens, sponsored by the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art. Rashmi Rajgopal speaks with Manisha on her project and its evolution.


On 13 December, Fort Kochi brimmed with activity as participants at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2014 scuttled about, preparing for a long but exciting second day. Curated by Jitish Kallat, the second edition of the highly-acclaimed event is titled “Whorled Explorations”. It had kick-started the previous day, with chief minister Oommen Chandy inaugurating the event.

Artists from around the world have rallied to Kochi to display their talents to discerning and enthusiastic spectators, who will flock to the centuries-old port city till the end of the biennale: 29 March 2015. For artist Manisha Gera Baswani, acclaimed for her paintings and her photographs, it had been months since she began preparing for this moment. Her much anticipated project, Artist Through the Lens, had just opened at Rose Bungalow, Fort Kochi. Speaking to Manisha feels like you’re speaking to an old friend: she is warm, open and very honest about her work and herself. Over the phone, juggling between her kids and speaking about the project, she said, “It has been a lot of work. Since the past two weeks, I have been busy installing the project.”

The title, Artist Through the Lens, is self-evident: the seeds for her project were people from the art community she had known and interacted with for decades. As she puts it, “The world knows the artist primarily by his work. However, the intimacy with the work grows once the ‘person’ in the artist becomes known. Somewhere, that person ‘becomes’ the artist, ensconced in a private space and immersed in a personal expression… I decided to pick up the camera along with my paintbrush nine years ago, finding the lens suited to navigating the artistic world.” Artist Through the Lens began with exploring artists for the people they really were. It has since grown to include other members of the art world: gallerists, art critics, curators, and collectors: “Images of the art world,” as Manisha says.

A. Ramachandran, Manisha’s guru and mentor, with his wife Chameli. Says Manisha, “Introspective scrutiny and deep understanding. This is what Sir and Chameli aunty have given me for the thirty years that I have known them.”

A. Ramachandran, Manisha’s guru and mentor, with his wife Chameli. Says Manisha, “Introspective scrutiny and deep understanding. This is what Sir and Chameli aunty have given me for the thirty years that I have known them.”

In a casual Q&A session, she spoke openly about her project, her aspirations for it, and how she came to be involved in the biennale.

Your project was showcased at the India Art Fair in 2012 and earlier this year at Art Chennai 2014. Did you feel it evoked the response you were hoping for?

I was not sure what response to anticipate as I was very focussed on the set up. But once I caught my breath, I saw people glued to the images, often returning and sometimes paying a tribute with moist eyes. I could not ask for more.

Were you approached by the organisers of the Kochi Biennale to showcase your project? Was this based on previous responses to your project? 

It was a conversation with Riyas Komu at the India Art Fair last year which translated into showing this project at Kochi. Given the audience that visits the biennale, it would be a good venue to share this photographic panorama of the Indian art world with an audience beyond the Indian art community.

“I photographed Anjum at her solo exhibition at Vadehra Art Gallery in 2009. She makes a genie-like appearance from the ‘magic cup’. The background enhances her smoky silhouette, like an emerging apparition.”

“I photographed Anjum at her solo exhibition at Vadehra Art Gallery in 2009. She makes a genie-like appearance from the ‘magic cup’. The background enhances her smoky silhouette, like an emerging apparition.”

Being both a painter and a photographer, do you feel your approach to photography is different from art?

I think of myself as a spontaneous artist: I don’t plan or pre-meditate my paintings. The act of painting still allows a flexibility to pause and calibrate once the process has started.

Photography, on the other hand, requires seizing a moment that feels right. Over time, reviewing my own work has made me more prepared to recognise those moments. For example, I now also scan for shadows or reflections that compose themselves into a ready-to-click frame which I can almost see ahead of time.

What made you decide that you would like to document the art world through these ‘behind-the-scenes’ photographs?

It all started with me consciously capturing time with my teacher, Mr. A. Ramachandran, and that was essentially for myself. While we spoke about how photos of senior artists from their younger days were rare, the importance of what I was doing dawned on me. Since then, the project has acquired a larger significance and purpose for me.

 How did this idea strike you? Did you first experiment with it and develop it into what it is now as you progressed?

When I look back, I recall that my camera accompanied me everywhere. It went with me to all art openings, soirees and camps for as long as I can remember. I felt more and more driven to capture ‘behind the scenes’ images of the art world. By the time I felt ready to finally show select images from my project, it was already 8 years old. I was part of a project called Manthan, a platform centred around showcasing art and design practices. It was daunting to showcase in front of a discerning audience, several of whom well-known photographers. As it turned out, they were the most enthusiastic of viewers and motivated me to move forward even more confidently.

“I am reminded of the Wizard of Oz who puppeteered fantastic illusions – here, Bharti Kher keeps a watchful eye on the lifeless, yet lively, mannequin.”

“I am reminded of the Wizard of Oz who puppeteered fantastic illusions – here, Bharti Kher keeps a watchful eye on the lifeless, yet lively, mannequin.”

How was your idea received by the people you have photographed? How willing or reluctant were they to allow this ‘entry’ into their lives as artists, gallerists, collectors, critics, and as persons?

Since I am a practising artist myself, more often than not my entry into their spaces was that of welcome and openness. I have spent sometimes hours in an artist’s studio quietly capturing them in their surroundings. These sessions have been interspaced with wonderful conversations over lunch and tea.

Some artist friends were shy and needed cajoling. Some others may have found me a bit intrusive but they indulged me nevertheless. It all changed for everyone when Artist Through the Lens was showcased at the Indian Art Fair by Devi Art Foundation in 2012.

I was in parallel contributing to the quarterly art magazine ‘Take on Art’ via my photo essay column titled ‘Fly on the Wall’ which is now in its 14th edition. This brought another dimension for me as I was now also adding prose and poetry to the visual. This is a good example of the appreciation and support, extended by gallerist and publisher Bhavna Kakar.

As you photographed them, did anything surprise you about them or the way they worked? Any revelations?

Entering artist studios has been one of the most humbling experiences for me. These are borderless and often timeless spaces that have helped me widen my own perspective. Seeing their work process, talking to them about their techniques, and conversations about shared passions have all been enriching experiences I am grateful for.

If there was a revelation – it would be the obvious one of realising that if you are still painting, you are still learning…

“I enjoy the pose Probir Gupta strikes - like a conjurer making phantoms appear on the canvas in the background. His smile almost dares the viewer to catch a glimpse of the illusion.”

“I enjoy the pose Probir Gupta strikes – like a conjurer making phantoms appear on the canvas in the background. His smile almost dares the viewer to catch a glimpse of the illusion.”

What were your thoughts while deciding upon the angling and the composition of each shot?

I am not formally trained and not particularly disciplined about reading manuals. I simply take the camera and wait for the moment to come, and come they do.

You mention a closeness with the artists you have photographed, and this is quite apparent in the candidness of your photographs. Yet with some, there appears to be a distance – we see back views, we see the subject through slits and peepholes, we see their shadows and reflections, or we see them partially obstructed by their work. The reverence you bear for these artists is evident, but there appears to be a distance between the viewer and the subject. How would this influence perceptions about the subject?

Often I find an opportunity to create a composition which brings together the artist and their work, or their philosophy expressed via the environment. When I capture such a moment, I may zoom out the subject in perspective, but my closeness to the person remains unchanged. Examples of N. Pushpamala shot through the eye of a mask or Nataraj Sharma standing next to an industrial crane – both need the expanse which may foreshorten their image but amplify the artist in context.

Nataraj Sharma installing his work at Kala Ghoda in 2009.

Nataraj Sharma installing his work at Kala Ghoda in 2009

“Valsan Kolleri mentally navigates a path through the maze his sculpture creates. To me, it’s an allusion to an immortal contemplating on the pot that has spilt the elixir of life.”

“Valsan Kolleri mentally navigates a path through the maze his sculpture creates. To me, it’s an allusion to an immortal contemplating on the pot that has spilt the elixir of life.”

“I leapt at this composition as Ranbir Kaleka's  signature headgear seemed to appear like a rising sun over the horizon. The drowning fan seems to look up at him, imploring for a rescue.”

“I leapt at this composition as Ranbir Kaleka’s signature headgear seemed to appear like a rising sun over the horizon. The drowning fan seems to look up at him, imploring for a rescue.”

“Neelima Sheikh makes for a forlorn image: a traveller ready to leave, a writer who takes one last look at the manuscript. Somewhere, she is enveloped in the taperstry of her works, merging into all she had to say...”

“Nilima Sheikh makes for a forlorn image: a traveller ready to leave, a writer who takes one last look at the manuscript. Somewhere, she is enveloped in the taperstry of her works, merging into all she had to say…”

You’ve mentioned that this project is ongoing. You’ve already included gallerists, critics and collectors along with artists. Do you see a possibility of expanding this further?

Yes, the project started with photographing the artists in their creative spaces. The presence of the gallerist while the artist was installing the show, to the entry of the curator or the art collector turned this project to embrace a wider art community. It grew organically and I don’t want to impose any pre-conceived restrictions to image capturing. I know that I may thematically edit it when needed but the magic is in the expansion itself.

You will find that even where artists are concerned, besides traversing generations, it has transgressed boundaries and is beginning to become South Asian rather than just Indian.


As the biennale continues, we will bring more snippets from our ongoing conversation with Manisha. Keep watching this space for more.

Kallat for Kochi

Aaina Bhargava of Saffronart on Jitish Kallat’s appointment as the curator for the second edition of the Kochi-Muziris Biennial in 2014.


London: Jitish Kallat, by any standard, is one of the internationally most well established Indian contemporary artists.  Which is perhaps why his appointment as the next curator of the Kochi-Muziris Biennial (KMB) comes as no surprise. Declared by Hon. Mayor of Cochin, Mr. Tony Chammany, as the official curator of Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2014, he was selected by an elite and diverse panel of Indian art professionals put together by the Kochi Biennial Foundation.  Consisting of art historian Geeta Kapur, director of Dr. Bhau Daji Laad Museum, Tasneem Mehta, director of Outset India and the Gujral Foundation, Feroz Gujral, director of Gallery Maskara, Abhay Maskara, artists Sheela Gowda and Balan Nambiar, and the President and General Secretary of the Kochi Biennale Foundation, Bose Krishnamachari and Riyas Komu, they provided the following official statement in support of their choice:

“To continue the unique character of this artist led Biennale we are selecting Jitish Kallat as the new curator for the 2014 edition. Jitish brings immense international experience to the next Biennale. He possesses sound theoretical knowledge about contemporary art along with a diverse yet meticulous approach to his own practice. We are confident that Jitish will curate an innovative and experiential second edition.”

Because the legitimacy of biennials is essentially evaluated based on their constant recurrence,  the successful execution of the second edition biennial becomes imperative to its future continuation and representation of contemporary art in India.  The first edition of the KMB, already having been declared ‘the second largest running biennial in the world after Venice, with almost 400,000 visitors’, has provided the KB Foundation and government of Kerala with motive to not only maintain but progress the standard established in 2012.  Appointing Kallat as curator is clearly an attempt to cement the KMB’s reputation as a legitimate institution.  He has participated in countless biennials, his works have been exhibited at major museums around the world, so given his international exposure, critical acclaim, and commercial success as an artist his representation and endorsement of the biennial certainly adds great value to the entire event.  Even if he does lack curatorial experience, he has extensive experience with biennials, and an understanding of how they function.  Additionally, he also happens have Keralite roots, hailing from Thrissur, although he was born and bought up in Mumbai.

Jitish Kallat for Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2014

Jitish Kallat for Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2014. Image Credit:

From a political perspective, the commitment to promoting Kerala as a cultural center remains a priority, however, for the coming editions, there is a greater responsibility of establishing India as a destination for contemporary art, outside of a commercial context.  Intentions to push this standard and expand the the impact of the biennial have been voiced by the officials and organizers of the biennial:

“The first edition of the Biennale accentuated the tourism and cultural sectors of Kerala,  the biennale requires a permanent venue as it promises to return every two years, and we are searching for such a place to make this possible.” – Mayor of Cochin, Mr. Tony Chammany

“This return is required for the Biennale to develop its unique grammar and vocabulary. ” He also said that the media played a vital role in initiating a dialogue and bringing biennale to people’s home’s.” – Jitish Kallat.

As the contemporary art scene is constantly growing and evolving, the appointment of Jitish Kallat as curator is highly reflective of it’s current situations.  Kallat’s career is representative of a culmination of the academic acclaim and popular or commercial success, much like Subodh Gupta or Atul Dodiya – and since the biennial is an institution that is essentially non commercial, but is trying to navigate itself in a very commercially driven art society, Kallat could be the negotiating factor between both worlds.  He has also managed to achieve his success at a relatively young age (he is just 39) and since the KMB seeks to affect mainly the youth, perhaps a fresher perspective is the next step to progressing the already impactful biennial.  Furthermore, contemporary art is still relatively an unknown field to the general public and one of the goals of the biennial is to expand the reach of contemporary art, it is perhaps more effective to approach it with a more popular manner, rather than an extremely academic one.  Again, the mesh between the academic and the commercial becomes critical.  The notion of recurrence and repetition is essential to the longevity of biennials, and in order to keep occurring, the nature of the biennial must adapt to its current situations, and by attracting as many visitors as possible.

“That’s what art is all about. Sometimes it’s just a shift of vision…Let us hope it will be different but the genetic link will remain and it will be the continuation of the same language…I want to bring a new set of tools to work with the same set of ideas.”- Jitish Kallat

Preparations are clearly underway to ensure the next KMB as impacting as the inaugral edition, until then we just have to wait and see what Kallat’s unique vision will hold.


Maximum Bose

Ipshita Sen of Saffronart shares a note on Bose Krishnamachari’s exhibition “Maximum Bose”

New York: The co-founder of India’s first Biennale and the creator of the famous ‘Maximum Nano’- India’s first art car (which was auctioned at Saffronart on 29-30 July for over Rs 13 lakhs), renowned artist Bose Krishnamachari is in the spotlight with a solo show, after a gap of three years. The exhibition titled ‘Maximum Bose’ is on view at Gallery 7, Mumbai, and incorporates a simple output of 12 exemplary paintings by the artist, who explored the parameters of a circular frame for the very first time.

Maximum Nano, Bose Krishnamachari. Image Credit:

Maximum Nano, Bose Krishnamachari. Image Credit:

“I believe that colors can play a magical role and transform a body. They can sculpt something that is formless or abstract. They share positive vibes and represent maximum freshness, happiness, depth, layers and texture,” says the artist.

Bose Krishnamachari’s oeuvre radiates a kind of abstract dynamism that is electric.  His powerful use of rich opaque color, each shade vying for attention, whilst softly merging into one another, creates a surreal almost mesmerizing poetic language, which keeps one hooked.

He talks about the inspirations behind his bold usage of color “I refine my color to brightness. I have learnt this usage from the alternately subdued and lavish color codes of Indian ceremonies and ritual performances; the costumes, the gestures of enactment…”

After India’s first participation in the prestigious Venice Biennale in 2012, artists Bose Krishnamachari and Riyas Komu, having received support from the Government, initiated India’s first Biennale in the historically rich city of Kochi, Kerala. It kicked off on 12 December, 2012 (12/12/12) and carried on for 2 months. Featuring more than 90 artists, the art works not only adorned the white washed walls of galleries and warehouses, but also transformed public lots into spaces displaying art across different media and genres. In addition to several local Indian artists, the participating artists also came from the UAE, Afghanistan, UK, Australia and South Korea. The Biennale is thus an excellent platform for the contemporary arts in India for artists both locally and internationally, putting India on the map of art Biennales and dubbing it notable for a flourishing art market.

Bose Krishnamachari is an established and internationally acclaimed contemporary Indian artist from Kerala, India. He received his BFA from the Sir J.J. School of Art in Mumbai, followed by an MFA from Goldsmiths College, University of London. In addition to being an artist, Krishnamachari also curates exhibitions and art and design projects. He is passionate about supporting and promoting emerging contemporary Indian artists. He currently lives and works in Mumbai, India.

For more information about the exhibition visit the Gallery 7 website.

Additionally, three works by the artist are part of the upcoming StoryLTD Absolute Art Auction, powered by Saffronart, to be held on 7-8 August, 2013.

Art evoking the spirit of hospitality at Mumbai International Airport Terminal

Ipshita Sen of Saffronart comments on Rajeev Sethi’s new project

New York: Rajeev Sethi, a prominent Indian scenographer, fills up the void of public art by initiating a phenomenal art project that is not only aesthetically pleasing, but at the same time acts as a gateway to India and its magnificently diverse and unique cultural heritage.

The installation, commencing September 2013, will convert over 4,39,000 square meters of space at terminal 2 of the Mumbai Internal Airport into a large installation of art works of different mediums ornamenting it. Mumbai, being one of India’s largest metropolitan cities, attracting vast numbers of international visitors, could not have been more apt a location to house a project of such scale and motive.

Sethi says “The art programmer seek to convert the airport into a spectacular doorway into India, integrated into the fabric of the city it is located in and initiating the visitor into the experience that lie beyond its doors”

Passengers flying into the new international airport terminal will be gracefully welcomed with Sethi’s magnificent project, aiming to introduce swarming passengers at the busy terminal with Indian art and a gateway to the culture, arts and crafts of India.

Art should not be the privilege of just the rich or museums, it should be displayed in large public places” says Sethi.

The entire project is a creative collaboration between contemporary artists and artisans of the state whose arts are being represented. It is an intriguing juxtaposition between age-old tradition and continuity. It lays emphasis on India being a country of dynamism and complexity, as it exists in several centuries simultaneously. The project defines what India is and how it is through layered narratives, simplistically representing India. It will take viewers on to a unique experience, one that’s unexplored.

The artists involved in the project are a mixture of local artisans and established artists such as Gulmmohammed Sheikh, Amitavada Das, Jagannath Panda and Riyas Komu amongst several others.

A few highlights of the project will include: recently unveiled segment of the project called “Udan Khatola’, ‘Touché’ and ‘Reappearances – Below the Tarmac’ in the capital, New Delhi, before it was transported to Mumbai. This too along with several other works of art, was created mostly by artisans from different states of India in the North, South, East and West. Overall, the project is funded by GVK and is the collaboration and coordination of over 1000 artists all over the country.

“There is no dearth of vision in this country. What’s more important is how you implement an idea. And in a country like ours where we have a luxury of committed skilful people, we can realize some of the most difficult visions. Machines would stay but I believe hands would always stay one step ahead,” says the scenographer,

Udan Khatola, is a piece of work where a couple of artists have collaborated on. It is a 6.5ft papier-mâché sculpture conceptualized by Sethi, made by Sabtir Kanjania and painted by artist Madhvi Parekh. The piece is enamored by various techniques used by scenic painters of Chandan Nagar during local rituals as well as ornamented with different kinds of horses as interpreted by different traditions across the Indian subcontinent.

“It is an amalgamation of Indian mythology and machines. Its structure and colours—blue, black and silver—give it a bright and royal look, making it look like a royal carrier and yet a fantastical flying plane,” says Parekh
The project is centered on six themes. The common umbrella theme is of ‘seamless India’ and constitutes the western gateway of Molela as described by Sethi. He adds “The northern gateway displays art from Kashmir; the eastern from Kolkata, and the southern gateway represents a very whimsical gopuram with gods and goddesses flying off”

The art displayed representing Northern India will cover at least 1.5 km of the terminal space. Srinagar hosted an event for the preview of murals before it was due to travel to Mumbai.

“The force of art and craft can create bonds of unity and cooperation between artisans of different areas and cultures. These arts and crafts act as brand ambassadors of civilization, heritage, culture and detail about the people, their living and status,” said chief minister Omar Abdullah, at the preview in Srinagar.  The large 32 by 16 foot mural represents Srinagar incorporating various places of worships from Mosques to Gurudwaras. A local artist, Fayaz Ahmed Jan, one of fourteen, working on it claimed to have spent over a year working on the mural.

For a personal touch, each of the commissioned artists was given a mobile phone encouraging them to document the works being made. These would be placed near the respective works, complimenting the work of art, creating a dialogue between the viewer and the artist. Almost like a sneak preview in to the artists mind.

The project overall unfolds hidden treasures and stories, layer after layer, winding and unwinding fragments of the subcontinent’s rich histories and culture, continuing forward enabling the viewer, both international and local, to admire the riches that the subcontinent has to offer. Therefore, Sethi with this unique initiative uses art and artistic representations of Indian culture and tradition, to build a sustainable platform for Indian art, especially folk Indian art on the international market for art.

Below you can enjoy a video on the project and more information can be found here.

Symposium on dOCUMENTA (13), Sharjah and Kochi-Muziris Biennales at SAA-JNU

Manjari Sihare shares details of a symposium on dOCUMENTA (13) and the Sharjah and Kochi-Muziris Biennales hosted by the School of Arts and Aesthetics, JNU and the Goethe Institute, Delhi

New Delhi: The School of Arts and Aesthetics (SAA), JNU, and the Goethe Institut are hosting a day-long symposium exploring key issues in international art exhibitions from the recent past on Friday, April, 19, 2013.

The symposium has been conceptualized by Geeta Kapur and focuses on dOCUMENTA (13) (June – September 2012).  Speakers are invited to address the curatorial concept of this edition. And to address, as well, a peculiar call on dOCUMENTA curators to offer, in the very form of the exhibition, a virtual world-view.

In the second part of the symposium, there will be a discussion on Biennales that are placed within more precarious circumstances. The risks and gains of working with a meager infrastructure, social taboos, uncharted aesthetics, will be brought forward. A substantial debate on the newest, most proximate Kochi-Muziris Biennale (December 2012 – March 2013) is expected. Participants will be invited to discuss, for instance, how this Biennale offered ‘site imaginaries’ in lieu of a predetermined concept; and an exhibitory poetics largely activated by participating artists. Also the role of the State (with reference to India) in supporting large-scale, audience-friendly and ground-breaking exhibition projects such as the Kochi-Muziris Biennale will be put up for scrutiny.

Friday, April 19 2013, 11.00 am – 5.30 pm
Auditorium, School of Arts & Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University

Session I (11 am to 1 pm)
Chair: Kavita Singh: Introduction and Sum-up

Vision Documenta
Referring to earlier editions, but focusing on dOCUMENTA (13) (June – September 2012), speakers are invited to address the curatorial concept of this edition; and to address, as well, a peculiar call on dOCUMENTA curators to offer, in the very form of the exhibition, a virtual world-view.

• Geeta Kapur: dOCUMENTA aesthetics in the 21st century
• Vidya Shivdas: Brief introduction to the dOCUMENTA project
• Panel: Jeebesh Bagchi, Sonia Khurana, Shuddhabrata Sengupta

Session II (1.45 pm to 3.15 pm)
Chair: Pooja Sood: Introduction and Sum-up

Ideological Readings: from Documenta to Sharjah
A reflection on Biennales placed within newer, more precarious circumstances; the risks and gains of working through untested locations, meager infrastructures, social taboos, uncharted aesthetics.

• Amar Kanwar
• Ravi Agarwal

Session III (3.30 pm to 5.30 pm)
Chair: Geeta Kapur

The Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2012-2013
More than a ‘debate’ or even a measure of success and failure, understanding the conditions of production of the newest, most proximate Kochi-Muziris Biennale (December 2012 – March 2013) is important. Once staged, what are the meanings that accrue from the democratic mix of international and local viewers; with diverse spectatorship, is there a better case for state support of contemporary art? Can publics in relation to large-scale, ground-breaking projects (such as this), incite the art community into a discursive engagement with avantgarde art as a form of contextual combustion?

• Riyas Komu: ‘Against All Odds’; a presentation on the Kochi-Muziris Biennale (with visual documentation)
• Panel: Vivan Sundaram, Sheela Gowda, Subodh Gupta, Gayatri Sinha, Sheba Chhachhi
• Summing Up: Parul Dave Mukherji

For further details please contact: [email protected]

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