Amit Kumar Jain reflects on The Artist as Activist, a joint exhibition by Bangladeshi artists Tayeba Begum Lipi and Mahbubur Rahman
The Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum opened a landmark exhibition on two leading Bangladeshi artists, Mahbubur Rahman and Tayeba Begum Lipi, earlier this month. Considered as the forerunners of contemporary art practice in Bangladesh, Rahman and Lipi are also well-known for having co-founded, and currently running, the Britto Arts Trust, a non-profit organisation supporting young artists, since 2002. Their first major museum exhibition, The Artist as Activist brings together an extensive body of the duo’s collective work under one roof, which has “emerged from their shared journey as a husband and wife, and reflect their continual interchange of ideas and pursuit of like-minded themes,” according to curator Caitlin Doherty.
The Eli and Edythe Broad Museum, Michigan, USA. Image courtesy: Amit Kumar Jain
Doherty transforms the museum space effectively, by dedicating a gallery to each artist and showcasing works from various periods of their career. Lipi’s section is designed as a quiet, intimate and personal space, making the viewer look inwards to the role of the women in the Bangladeshi society. Her works look at the domestic, and how the woman negotiates the constant tussle of her personal ambitions and societal demands. As one moves through the gallery, one moves through her body, culminating in a womb-like, protective environment, where she secludes her innermost desires and emotions from the taxing outer world. This is the space where My Daughter’s Cot, an empty cradle made of stainless steel razors, signifies the vast contradiction between the personal and the societal, and gives a sense of longing in what is supposed to be a beautiful, but threatening symbol of motherhood.
My Daughter’s Cot, Tayeba Begum Lipi, 2012. Image courtesy: Amit Kumar Jain
Contrary to Lipi’s gallery, Rahman’s artworks speak for the abject, dissatisfied man, beginning with a self-portrait series of charcoal drawings that depict the artist screaming in frustration, in response to his own helplessness and inability to fight the political and social failure of his country. He approaches activism through social commentary, highlighting the plight of the indigo farmer through an ongoing performance piece titled Transformations. In Sounds from Nowhere-8, Rahman symbolically captures the pain and the loss that followed the collapse of the eight-storied Rana Plaza building in Dhaka, which caused death and injury to thousands of garment factory workers. He navigates his own identity in the contemporary political history of Bangladesh, a nation still recovering from two wars. Rahman’s gallery becomes more vocal and versatile as he adapts to multiple mediums in highlighting the struggles he shares with his fellow citizens in a postcolonial, developing country.
Charcoal drawings by Mahbubur Rahman. Image courtesy: Amit Kumar Jain
The last gallery brings together the works of Lipi and Mahbub under a common endeavour. Through their non-profit organisation, they initiated a project to work with the transgender community in Dhaka. Reversal Reality, a solo project by Lipi, compares the living realities of the artist and co-collaborator Anonnya, a transgender woman, while focussing on the struggles of the latter. While Lipi’s project takes on the individual, Rahman’s video project Time in a Limbo looks at the transgender community through their rituals, dialogues and practices. The museum has proposed to use this gallery with the LGBT community of East Lansing, and hopes to bring Anonnya to the United States to share her experience.
The Artist as Activist is the first major exhibition from South Asia at the Broad Art Museum, and will continue till 7 August 2016. Previously, the museum had showcased a project by Mithu Sen and an exhibition of works by Imran Qureshi and Naiza Khan.
—Amit Kumar Jain, Curatorial Consultant for The Artist as Activist
Exhibition details: The Artist as Activist Featuring: Tayeba Begum Lipi and Mahbubur Rahman
5 March – 7 August 2016
Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum
Michigan State University
547 East Circle Drive
East Lansing, MI 48824
Josheen Oberoi chats with Meera Sethi about identities, processes and her forthcoming projects
New York: Meera Sethi is a Toronto based artist of Indian origin. With a graphics design background and an artist’s curiosity. Meera’s art straddles many worlds; fine art and design, Indian and diaspora. Her work has been featured widely in publications like Vogue India, CNNgo and MTV Desi. Some of her works are now available on StoryLTD.
Her recent work has tackled complex questions about identity and migration with pictorially vivid imagery. She makes these questions accessible through her visual images in ways that allow us viewers to engage and celebrate them. As an admirer of her work, I was very happy to have an opportunity to learn more about her art. In our conversation below, Meera Sethi will trace the contours of her life as an artist and tell us how she creates her vibrant body of work.
Q: Meera, let’s start with the question of how your engagement with art began.
A: Although art was always my favourite subject growing up, I never planned to be an artist. I entered university interested in cultural studies, anti-colonial and feminist studies. I followed this through by completing a BFA in Art Theory and a Master’s in Interdisciplinary (Cultural) Studies. However, during my entire academic education, I was quietly working away as a self-taught graphic designer, accepting occasional freelance design projects.
Little did I realize at the time that it was the making of imagery, as opposed to its study, that would emerge as my passion. After graduate school, I went from working as an arts researcher, to being employed as a graphic designer, to eventually working full-time for myself as a freelance designer and now a visual artist. My life as a professional artist began unexpectedly after I spontaneously embarked on what was to become my first and most influential series – Firangi Rang Barangi – in the evenings after returning home from my 9-5 day job. What I saw surprised me: I had a natural inclination to combine colour with form.
Q: Where do you feel you are, as an artist, and what has brought you here?
Meera Sethi in the studio
A: It’s certainly been a journey. Now, when I look back at some of my earliest drawings and sketches, I see an interest in portraiture and depicting clothing. In fact, the only surviving artwork I have from when I was a child is a self-portrait done at age 5, in which I have attempted with much detail to convey the texture, colour and pattern of my plaid dress. When I rediscovered this drawing, I was shocked to see the similarity in my choice of subject 30 years on! Today, I find myself drawn to the cultural, political and spiritual lives of diasporic South Asians and the hybridity of our identities as expressed
Meera Sethi, Self-Portrait, Age 5
Q: That is an interesting point because your work appears to function at the intersections of art and design to a great extent. Could you tell us about your approach and process?
A: I tend to look at things through the lens of design. What I mean by this is that I look at work for its aesthetic appeal and function before I enter the deeper meaning it conveys. I tend to use this approach in the making of my own work where I am as much concerned with the beauty and the function as I am with the story it is telling. I think this comes from my long history as a graphic designer who never fully fit into the art world. Not to discredit the important conversations happening within artistic communities, but I would still rather pick up a Creative Review or Eye than an ArtReview or Frieze. At the same time, I make art, not design. My work is not solving a problem or responding to a client brief. There is of course sometimes a fine line between the two disciplines. I am most comfortable on this edge. My research for new projects increasingly involves a combination of reading popular and academic articles, looking at art, design and craft sources, and meditating.
“Intersections” in progress
Q: You have also worked with large scale formats like murals. Please tell us about the work.
A: In late 2013, I completed my first large-scale public outdoor mural. It is a massive 44 feet x 39 feet wall-painting called “Intersections” that commemorates the cultural, social and political intersections made by LGBTQ South Asian communities in Canada. It’s a giant celebration of our organizing and partying, our identities, diversity and presence. The mural itself references Rabari mirrorwork from Rajasthan as a symbol of the unifying power of incredibly diverse South Asian textile traditions.
“Intersections” in progress
Intersections, Church Street Mural
Q: Along with the large scale format, you actively work with prints and creating two different scales of the same visual images. Could you speak to that choice a little bit?
A: Much of my work is quite large in format, making the work difficult to transport and higher in cost. At the same time, the quality of line, colour and form in my work is quite even and sharp, so it translates well into a print medium. I like to make high quality, limited edition small-size prints available of some pieces as a matter of accessibility. In my mind, a simple but important intention is to have my work inspire the hearts and lives of others. To have my art seen by multiple people in daily life is one way to do this. Perhaps, indebted again to design, before making work, I often imagine it in someone’s home, where it makes a small but consistent impact on everyday life decisions by inviting a sense of beauty and joy.
Q: Tell us what comes next. Are you working on new projects?
A: I am in the process of working on three different projects. The most immediate is a new series of acrylic paintings on canvas called “On the Margins of the Divine” that look to Mughal miniature albums as a starting point. Next, is an international, collaborative performance art piece called “Unstitched” that takes a sari and creates a line of community and continuity among 108 people. And lastly, a two-part photography and mixed-media painting project called “Upping the Aunty” that celebrates our elders and their fabulousness!
Josheen Oberoi shares a note on an upcoming art benefit in New York
New York: Saffronart, New York is pleased to announce a silent auction benefit on November 21st for the New York based nonprofit South Asian Women’s Creative Collective (SAWCC). Following on the heels of the auction held to benefit the +91 Foundation in September, Saffronart continues it’s commitment to supporting the arts and artistic community.
SAWCC, an arts organization established in 1997 and dedicated to the visibility and development of emerging and established South Asian women artists and creative professionals, SAWCC provides physical and virtual space to profile their work across disciplines. Visual arts exhibitions, literary and performance art festivals, film screenings – SAWCC’s programming provides visibility to a wide variety of creative disciplines.
Featuring fifty two works by young and established, well collected artists, this auction allows young collectors to buy art at affordable and sometimes below-market prices. After a landmark 15th anniversary in 2012, featuring the retrospective exhibition Her Stories at the Queens Museum of Art, and an outstanding performance, SUBLIME, at the Dumbo Arts Festival this year, this silent auction will raise funds to sustain SAWCC’s exciting future programming.
Josheen Oberoi shares a recording of a talk between Shumita and Arani Bose and Dinesh Vazirani
New York:Saffronart hosted a preview for their forthcoming Autumn Art Auction, last Saturday in New York. The auction, which will take place on September 24th-25th, includes Property from the Collection of Shumita and Arani Bose, the co-founders of Bose Pacia and features seminal works of contemporary artists that define an epoch in South Asian artistic narratives. Established in 1994, Bose Pacia was the first gallery in the West specializing exclusively in contemporary South Asian art. Over the past two decades, Bose Pacia has held over 80 exhibitions and is internationally regarded for promoting the South Asian avant-garde.
The evening began with a conversation between the co-founder of Saffronart, Dinesh Vazirani and Shumita and Arani Bose that discussed their collecting practice and it’s inspirations, the changing landscape of South Asian art and the way forward with their +91 Foundation. The audio and transcript of the talk follows.
Date: September 14th, 2013
Location: New York City
Dinesh Vazirani: Thank you all for coming. This is an informal discussion with Shumita and Arani, its great to have them here. Let me introduce you, Arani and Shumita. Dr. Arani Bose and Mrs. Shumita Bose, co-founders of Bose Pacia. Established in 1994, Bose Pacia was the first gallery in the West specializing exclusively in contemporary South Asian art, over the past two decades Bose Pacia has held over 80 exhibitions and it is internationally regarded for promoting the South Asian avant-garde. The gallery fosters an active discourse between the contemporary South Asian arts and the international art community by featuring exhibitions that can contextualize contemporary art from this geographic region within its rich artist traditions and current social tensions. The Shumita and Arani Bose collection, you’re just seeing a part of it here, is one of the largest and most comprehensive South Asian contemporary collections in the US. With strands both in the pre independence and post-colonial spheres the collection can be viewed as a survey of the most pivotal artistic developments in the Indian subcontinent. With outstanding examples of visual art ranging from photography, painting and new media to sculpture and installation the collection represents dynamic strands of artistic practice and discourse. So welcome, Arani and Shumita.
Arani Bose: Thank you.
Dinesh Vazirani: I want to go back a long way. What got you interested in art?
Arani Bose: We were always kind of interested in art in the theoretical sense that we would go to galleries and museums and then I had a particular connection to the art world in India particularly because of my father and my uncle who was Arun Bose. He was a product of the Government Art College in Calcutta and for 30 years he was the head of the graphics department at Lehman College and Pratt institute before that. There was a certain tendency to be interested in art from a family stand point. Then in the early 90’s after Shumita and I were married…
Dinesh Vazirani: And what year was that, which you got married?
Shumita Bose: Oh boy, that was a long time. 1989.
AB: So we went to India and we didn’t want to spend all our time at the homes of relatives so we asked my uncle in New York, “give us something to do when were there” He said “well you can visit these galleries in all of these cities” so we said “Ok great” took down the names, so we visited. We took pictures of the work that we saw there, there was quite a lot of compelling stuff there and when we came back we were hanging out with our best friends Steve, who’s right there.
DV: Hi Steve!
AB: He asked a question when seeing our photos from our trip, “this particular artist, I’m sure I could get this artist here, I’d love to get this painting; I wonder who sells this work? Or represents this artist”. So that lead to an investigation of how to get that work and as you know that was impossible in 1993 to find. There was no representation of Indian or South Asian artists in New York or anywhere outside of India for that matter. And that was true at the gallery level, at the museum level and I came to realize that when we started to investigate and look for that. That started the whole process.
DV: Shumita, what about you? Was it only Arani?
DV: You know husband and wife. Both my wife and I are at the same business, Saffronart. How do you reconcile your differences in taste and the way you look at art? Are there arguments or is it always big hugs at the end of it?
SB: I’d say in that taste we have a similar aesthetic. Also with a lot of these were personal relationships with artists aside from the aesthetic sense of the work. A lot of them are friends of ours and you get interested in the thoughts and ideas it often goes beyond just pictures that you want. So both of us along with Steve felt that we wanted to support these artists. A lot of times we would purchase things that we hadn’t even seen, but conceptually it seemed interesting or we just believed in their work.
AB: A lot of people ask how I handle a work, of this scale in my home. Frankly, we often don’t. There are storage facilities for that. Then people ask why would you buy an art work to put in storage? That makes no sense. The answer is really, you’re buying a work because you believe in the vision of the artist and that is what we both agreed on. The artist, the vision and then, the work was in a sense superfluous to that.
DV: Since the opening of the gallery in 1994 how do you think the collector base for modern and contemporary South Asian work has evolved? Especially in the United States?
AB: When we started there was, perhaps, because Steve and I both have a medical connection, many of the collectors were Indian physicians.
DV: That’s interesting
SB: We should say physician.
AB: Yes that’s right. Indian physician.
SB: A very important Indian physician.
AB: It started out as often in a venture, being supported by one angel essentially. We had that angel. That gave us time to explore avenues, other avenues and nurture those relationships with other people and often times they were not United States based people, European collectors. It grew from there. Primarily for many years, it was primarily an Indian or South Asian collecting base and then starting from 2000 it started to broaden into a European and Asian collector base.
DV: If you could just explain to us briefly about how your strategy of collecting art has changed over these years. If I look at the gallery itself you had representation of Souza at one time, then you had contemporary artists, then you had Arpita, so it was a cross over from Modern to Contemporary. Has that influenced the way you have collected art? The interactions with these artists and what had happened over this last decade and a half?
AB: Yes. It definitely has impacted. The relationship with the artist is a major impact.
SB: I think we also felt, since at that time we were really the only window into South Asian contemporary art at that time, even though we had a tiny space in Soho we felt it was important to have a permanent space where people could come and consistently see good shows. We felt that it was important to see the development of contemporary Indian art. So it was important to show the modern painters, Souza, Husain and kind of educate people in the sense of where it’s coming from, what the trajectory was. I think consciously we had several shows from Souza to Husain to Bengal school and others that we felt were important just as a background to all these other contemporary artists.
AB: And in a sense one of the most pivotal shows that we had was Kalighat paintings. It was about eight to ten Kalighat works that Steve, Shumita and I acquired from Ram Gopal, this famous Bharatnatyam dancer based in the UK at the time. We went to London. None of us at the time could really afford to take a trip to London, we were residents or newly minted attendings in medicine and Shumita was a newly minted software engineer. We used our Visa card and bought these tickets to London to go see these shows, to go see this collection. We were notified of this collection by Vijay Kumar.
SB: Also I must say, he was a very important person for the gallery.
AB: Yes, as many of you may know, he’s a New York artist. He called one day and said that there is this collection of this Indian dancer in London, and you should go, and you might be interested in it. We called this guy and went to see this collection and we bought the collection as soon as we saw it and showed it to the British museum after buying it. T. Richard Blurton of the British Museum was curator at the time; he was flabbergasted that these punks from New York could swoop into London and grab this incredible work from London, and take it away. So the show got a write up in the New York Times. But it was a book that was published by the Victorian & Albert Museum called “Kalighat paintings” by Archer- in that book there were two pages, one of a Kalighat painting and the other of almost identical brushwork, almost, and the subject matter was quite similar, of Lejeune. That image of Kalighat painting, done c. 1850 and a Lejeune done c. 1910-1915 was so identical that it had to have been seen by Lejeune. The essence of that statement was so antithetical to what was being said at the time- that all Indian art production, it was felt in 1994, was derivative of the West. And this was a wonderful example of not only the untruth of that statement but the fact that it goes both ways. The West can derive from India or South Asia just as easily as South Asia can derive from the West. It was that sense of injustice, intellectual injustice that was the driving force of a lot of Bose Pacia and a lot of +91.
DV: Which we will get to in a bit. You know, you were one of the first galleries that represented Indian artists in the West. What was the reaction of artists when you approached them about exhibiting in New York?
SB: It started with Art India Now, which I think was back in 1993. We literally went to Calcutta and Delhi and much of it was thanks to Arun who had made some introductions to a lot of the Calcutta artists and we literally went from studio to studio. We had no funds to do this; we had no means of acquiring works. We just had an idea and a passion for doing it.
DV: Because artists weren’t mobile at that time.
AB: They weren’t mobile. So Steve, Mita and I would walk into Jogen Chowdhury’s house in Santiniketan and the reception would always start out being a warm reception, as it’s a Bengali house, but then beyond that it would be “ok this is very interesting please sit down have some tea, what can I do for you” and we would say “I have this gallery, I have this idea of promoting Indian art” and it’s 1994 remember, “we’re hoping to consign some work to take to the United States”. That did not go over well.
DV: You mean the work has to leave India?
AB: Yes, the work has to leave India. And then it was always about a two hour discussion and conversation and then suddenly; we remember this vividly, there was a turn and it happened almost in every instance, in every meeting, in every home over this cup of tea. Whether it’s Ganesh Haloi or Jogen Chowdhury, anybody… and the turn could be demarcated with a line. After those two hours of talking about what we were going to do, there is suddenly a realization. “Ok you’re trust worthy” and work starts to come out.
SB: I remember him pulling out drawings from beneath his bed.
AB: Under his bed! He brings out art work and goes “you gotta see this one painting, this is amazing”. So we were able to come back.
SB: Everyone was very generous and we ended up with one or two works from eighteen artists. We had the show called “Art India Now”
DV: Was that your first show?
SB: Well, our first show was called “Beyond India: Two Generations of Modern Art” and it was Vinod Dave and Arun Bose. We had rented a space in Soho, we didn’t have a permanent space at that time. We had 500 people at the opening, it was amazing. We had scrambled up a mailing list and had never hung a show before, hung this a couple of times. But the energy was amazing.
DV: I remember with Saffronart, the first showing was on the terrace of my building in Mumbai. We strung things together and just made it happen. But even you’ve been in the gallery world a while, you’ve been a collector, how do these two roles evolve? And what influences have they had on each other?
AB: I suppose the collecting, the gallerist’s role is, at least for us, an attempt to provide a professional platform, a commercial platform to showcase South Asian contemporary art the way it should be showcased. And back in 1994 there was no platform outside of India. With proper labels on the wall, in a proper gallery setting, not in somebody’s apartment or somebody’s living room. We felt that if the artwork was going to be taken seriously it had to be shown seriously with proper press releases, etc. That was the intent with showcasing the work. And then at the time there was such a discrepancy between the perceived value of the work and the monetization of the work. Work was selling for under 5,000, under 10,000 when it was being produced by one of the most talented artists from a billion people. It was a no brainer to us that this was ridiculous; it should be valued much higher. There was a point that we just couldn’t afford to buy the work ourselves. If we could, Steve, Shumita and I would have bought everything. Then we wouldn’t be able to keep the gallery doors open, so we had to sell. As we each got to a point in our careers where we could afford to buy some work, we bought work. Really, because we always knew that it was amazing work and then our budget caught up with what we wanted to do. We often sold work and then bought it back because we believed that it was still undervalued.
DV: When you’ve seen the progression of starting with more of the modern works and then you have contemporary, video art, installation, you have new media. How do you see the collectors evolving and appreciating this movement of art across genres, as a gallerist? You see new collectors developing new tastes and collections that they actually want to build. Have you seen them actually appreciating the new media as much as they do the modern and contemporary?
SB: I think recently more so. In the beginning, way back in the 90’s or 2000, it was definitely Latin American art or other genres, and it was typically from the auction catalog and it was the moderns who were selling at that point. Those were the artists that collectors would tend to start buying but then we saw over the years there hadn’t been that many shows of media artists. We started showing Raqs Media Collective or Shilpa Gupta for the first time. That was in about 2005, 2004. 2006. That was really one of the first times for Raqs Media Collective; they hadn’t really shown in India at that point.
AB: They had only shown at the Venice Biennale. We met them soon after the Venice Biennale.
SB:Ranbir Kaleka, an amazing artist and really one of the first artists anywhere in the world who did this incredible merging of painting and video; almost enhancing painting, adding things to painting, to a canvas that you can’t achieve.
AB: These were people that were pushing the barriers of art in ways that other people were not doing. That fact had to be acknowledged and supported. It really almost didn’t matter if it was new media or video installation or painting; they were doing something so novel that it had to be supported, because novelty and true inspirational work needs to be supported. The west or the non-sub continental west, is better at doing that because they expend the resource that’s necessary.
SB: Well, they’ve been doing it longer.
AB: Yes, they’ve been doing it longer and they expend what’s necessary to foster that type of collector. In South Asia, not- in South Asia or out of South Asia, we don’t really have the tendency to foster those kinds of collectors and that’s our fault. We need to.
DV: Some of the reasons for that? Why are we not able to foster them?
AB: I think the institutions for fostering those types of collectors don’t exist within India and outside of India. I was having a conversation earlier today about MOMA PS1- every small town in America has a contemporary art museum, every small village in Germany has a kunsthalle and there is not a single non-governmental, non-bureaucratic , grass roots effort in all of South Asia to develop that sense of collecting.
DV: There’s no public art either in India.
SB: Also I think in terms of getting a tax deduction…
DV: There isn’t that in India.
SB: Philanthropy, the support of it.
AB: That may be why we don’t have a lottery system like they do in the UK
DV: Or a system for grants; that doesn’t exist. Let’s just come back to you. What is the first painting you ever bought?
SB: Salma Arastu, an artist based in Pennsylvania
DV: And where is that? Is it hanging or in storage?
SB: We still have it; it was hanging for many years in the apartment.
DV: As you look at the collection here which are some of your favorites?
SB: Steve’s favorite too. The shutters are amazing. Ranbir, one of the most incredible painters to come out of India I feel. Nataraj, Seher… we have personal connections with so many artists that it’s hard to pick.
DV: Tell us about the relationships with artists you have built over time…some interesting anecdotes of these artists that you interacted with?
SB: Jitish is a good one. We visited him, after midnight.
AB: Jitish, yes. I used to make about five trips to India a number of years ago. Jitish Kallat, his studio used to be in Worli and Steve and I have gone out to the studio multiple times. It was about a two and a half hour commute, at the time, from central and Southern Bombay out to his studio. I would do it late at night; we would always end up very late at his studio drinking. One such visit he said “ I have this idea, for this work, I want to take mirrored surfaces, large mirrored surfaces and write on them the text from Nehru’s speech, the freedom at Midnight speech, and write in epoxy. I’ve done some investigations and I think it’s possible. Then I want to burn the epoxy and that will create a flame which will then indelibly mark the epoxy so that it is visible and it will warp the mirrored surface and that I think will be an interesting effect.” I had one too many drinks so I said that sounds like a fantastic idea. I’ll buy it. And he goes “yeah if you buy it then I can do it”. So I said ok. That work, now he’s done several like it, one of the works is called “Public Notice”. It’s a spectacular work, so that’s in our collection.
SB: That’s been one of the exciting things over all the years, just being able to make ideas happen. So many times with Atul, we felt it was our responsibility. As much as we could within our means to really push artists to do things that they normally wouldn’t do. Especially as the market got more and more strong and works were selling, it seemed it was even more important at that time. Because it was so easy to just keep making the same works that would so easily sell. So, often we would push Atul, one of the artists, from his project in Venice to his show at Bose Pacia, we would encourage him to “don’t worry about the sale, push the idea, just do it, just make it”. Mithu Sen with her It’s good to be queen show in New York; often those kinds of experiences. Bari Kumar with his five panel work that he was thinking about painting for years and he didn’t feel comfortable doing and we just said just do it and he painted this amazing five panel work. That has been for us very exciting and very rewarding.
DV: I’m going to ask one more question and then open it up to the audience, because it is six o’clock. Now talking about ideas, + 91, the Foundation. That’s an idea, something you’ve been thinking about for a long time.
AB: It has components that originate in what we have been doing for the last number of years. The gallery was and has been from early on and certainly in the latter years had been seen as a resource, a study center, as a place to do research on Indian contemporary art and it has been used by many people for their Masters, PhD dissertations and research in college and graduate school. So that aspect has been going on for some time. The idea that the artists, that the art space could be used as an interactive studio of sorts we have been investigating as Transparent Studio since Bose Pacia stopped its commercial operations. That’s an artist residency program where the artist uses the gallery space as a studio for about three months at a time. We have been loaning to institutions for a number of years. We’ve been keeping track since 2005. We’ve loaned from the collection to more than 50 institutions, hundreds of works of art, in five continents or so throughout the world. The Bose Archive has been an effort to take the collection and other collections and archive them, document them and make them accessible for research study purposes to the general public as an entity. The +91 idea, +91 is a nonprofit foundation we’re starting, +91 standing for the cell phone country code of India, that is an effort to bring all of these activities under one roof. To have a study center component, to have an archival component, to have an interactive component, to offer exhibition platforms all under one roof.
SB: Also, what we were talking about just before this, that idea of pushing artists… for us it’s always been such an important part and we’d like to continue that through the foundation. Working with artists that may not have commercial representation and allowing them to try out ideas and also artists that might be doing quite fine and continuing to push their practice as well.
AB: Yes, to encourage creative risk taking within the South Asian artistic community and to basically, as Sadia, our director of the foundation, who’s right here, put it quite elegantly “To mediate that risk taking between the artistic studio, the artistic practice and the general public”. That mediation is the best way to describe +91.
DV: Well thank you and congratulations on all the initiatives. I hope it really works out and does some great things. We can open it up for questions.
Audience question: I’m interested to hear – what the state of the collectors is now and was there an impact in terms of the financial crisis, not just from a financial point but as it’s caught on and everybody’s into it could become very flashy and materialistic instead of actually art.
AB: Yeah. Part of, let’s say before the crisis, the Indian subcontinent began, as the middle and upper class began to become larger they became to value the heritage of the country so there were a lot of Indian collectors. Simultaneous to that there was a huge influx of museum shows in Europe after the Tate Modern show that happened in 1999-2000 “Century City” after “Century City” there were shows everywhere Berlin, Barcelona, Manchester, Paris, Sweden all over Europe from 2000 onwards. That created a number of European collectors. As the market began to shift towards China, there are a number of Asian collectors. And then the crash affected everyone but by that time there was enough European Asian and South Asian collectors that it somewhat mitigated or allowed a bounce back a rapid bounce back of the market.
DV: I think there was a period, where especially before the financial crisis there was a lot of speculation in contemporary art, and after the crisis what I think we have are serious collectors. People look at it in a very different way as opposed to looking at it from one point of you. That’s why the point of view of Arani and Shumita is to encourage experimentation, let artists create something they are proud of as opposed to something they can sell. I think the whole mindset has changed; the way people buy contemporary art and the way contemporary art is produced.
New York: This past weekend (July 26th and 27th) Experimenter Gallery in Kolkata hosted its two day curatorial conference. The third annual Experimenter Curator’s Hub hosted ten international curators who presented on a variety of topics including how the global economy, politics and globalization create challenges for curators in the international art market. Featured curators ranged in background and came from different international institutions. Among the curators were Girish Shahane, Director of Art at the Skoda Prize for Indian Contemporary Art and Pooja Sood, Director of Khoj International Artists Association.
By reviewing their recent work, curators will present their views on the current curatorial environment and how these outside factors influence the role of a curator in our contemporary art world. Experimenter Gallery believes that this conference could not have come at a better time and that we are at a major crossroads in the curatorial world. The creation of the Curator’s Hub in 2011 was motivated by Experimenter Gallery’s desire to create positive change in the tumultuous curatorial art scene in India.
Prior to the event, participant Allessandro Vincentelli, Curator of Exhibtions and Research at Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art, Gateshead commented that curatorially, art was moving away from the western viewpoint. Indeed, this conference can be seen as a major vehicle for change in the future of how art is presented in our internationally-fused art world. Vincentelli stated “I also can see plenty of new dynamics that are entirely within South Asia, East Asia and Middle East for residencies, exchanges and for models of presentation. Ones that don’t necessarily need dialogue or mediation through Europe and America”. All of these esteemed curatorial guests are notable due to their use of contemporary ideas and utilizing new technology in their work.
The conference concluded in a collaborative roundtable discussion with other art professionals such as artists, art writers, theorists and other curators. At this revolutionary time for art in a global economy it is essential that platforms like Curator’s Hub thrive. Overall the Experimenter Curator’s Hub was successful in its mission: to implement changes and workshop resolutions to barriers in the international curatorial scene.