SINCE ITS INCEPTION in 2008, the India Art Fair has managed to pose itself as a catalyst for the now booming South Asian art scene. The fair, helmed by its director, Neha Kirpal, has successfully sustained its identity as the Subcontinent’s most-awaited art happening, despite the proliferation of similarly minded art events, including the Kochi-Muziris Biennale (now in its third edition) or the upcoming Lahore and Karachi Biennale, the Sri Lankan equivalent in Colombo, and the bi-annual Dhaka Art Summit, which is three editions old. In fact, given the significant number of non-commercial, not-for-profit initiatives it has helped launch by providing a platform for dialogue and exchange, the India Art Fair has even cemented its reputation as a fertile meeting ground between South Asia and the West, vociferously encouraging collaborations between exhibitors, artists and curators while evangelising the cause of making art accessible to a viewing public, and simultaneously creating a nexus between collectors and art galleries. We bring you a pared down list of the essential events and exhibitions that are not to be missed.
Art projects function as challenging installations that offer artists the opportunity to strengthen the corpus of their continuing bodies of work. The 2017 edition of the fair boasts a range of projects by artists who embody a diversity of artistic practices. Most exciting among them will be Mithu Sen’s Phantom Pain, hosted by Nature Morte, that will give Delhi audiences a glimpse of the Santiniketan-alumnus’ brave experimentation with the world of performance art that fuses her visual vocabulary with her propensity for nonsense. You can also see Reena Saini Kallat’s Woven Chronicles, an intricate weaving of barbed wires referencing the contours of world-wide borders and the inevitable migration of people and goods that subverts those manmade definitions of country and state. Other artists’ work to look out for include Thukral & Tagra, Anila Quayyum Agha, Sudarshan Shetty, Joël Andrianomearisoa, Avinash Veeraraghavan, Rathin Barman, Parul Gupta, Kanu Gandhi, Hemant Sreekumar and Francis Limérat.
True to its avatar as a nurturer of non-commercial activities that enhance artistic interventions in South Asia, the India Art Fair will feature a section called Platform that brings together South Asian artists and artist collectives that function as independent, community-building enterprises. The fair will showcase the initiatives of participants like Britto Arts Trust (Dhaka), Nepal Art Council (Kathmandu), Theertha International Artists’ Collective (Colombo) and Blueprint 12 (Delhi). This section gives the fair an edge in terms of promoting work that transcends borders.
Presented by the Devi Art Foundation, Intersect brings together cutting-edge contemporary visual arts with dance artists to produce new work. The Gati Dance Forum has been pivotal in making this jugalbandi possible. ‘What ideas of composition, presence and articulation become the common points of conversation between these disciplines? How is rigor manifested in cross-disciplinary works, where the body negotiates a very different set of relationships with the spaces it inhabits? How does the coming together of these disciplines extend how we conceive of performance vocabularies and structures?’ These are some of the questions that the event will address through three pieces that ‘venture into tropes of urban decay, co-existence and geometry, addressing these questions and considering space, the body, and performance from varied perspectives of thinking and making.’ The performances by Rajyashree Ramamurthi and Susanta Mandal, Surjit Nongmeikapam and Kartik Sood, and Rajan Rathore and Anpu Varkey will run in a loop over three hours at OddBird Theatre in Chhattarpur.
VERNACULAR IN FLUX
Annapurna Garimella, an art historian known for her research that delves into artistic practices that are non-mainstream, will curate an exhibition titled Vernacular in Flux that examines the role of tribal art and its relevance in contemporary discourse, throwing the spotlight on works by Gond, Madhubani and Mysore-based artists whose work underlines a historical continuum.
The most intellectual component of the fair, the one that gives it its edge, returns with a promising programme that presents artists, curators, critics, administrators, academics, gallerists and collectors in dialogue with one another. Highlights include conversations with Richard Armstrong, director of the Guggenheim Museum and Foundation, curator Sheena Wagstaff and Leonard A Lauder of The Metropolitan Museum of Art, on a panel titled ‘The Future of Museums’. The other session to look forward to is Thomas Girst, head of cultural engagement of the BMW Group, with Sheikha Hoor al-Qasimi, president and director of the Sharjah Art Foundation (responsible for the critically acclaimed Sharjah Biennale) on the BMW Art Talk, ‘The Art of Collecting’. A panel on the possibility of technology aiding the cause of art titled ‘Perspectives from Networks of South Asian Art’— with Pooja Sood, director of Khoj International Artists’ Association, Alesio Antonelli, director of Gasworks, Simon Rein, project manager for Google Cultural Institute, JaiJai Fei, digital director at the Jewish Museum, and Boon Hui Tan, director of Asia Society Museum—also promises to be interesting.
Affiliated to the fair’s central premise—to attract a collector base that’ll help sustain South Asian art—the fair will also nurture networks between Indian and international collectors, both private and institutional in nature. The biggest museums from abroad will be present to survey possible acquisitions.
EVIDENCE ROOM, KHOJ
The artist collective, Khoj, will open a selection of projects from Negotiating Routes: Ecologies of the Byways, an impressive public art initiative, the consequence of art practitioners investigating shifting local ecologies across India over a five-year-period. ‘Using a curatorial framework which re-frames documentary materials and in-site interventions in the context of an exhibition, Evidence Room creates a living archive which foregrounds the necessity for on-going introspection on changing ecological landscapes worldwide,’ reads the Khoj press release. The show is the result of work done between 2010 and 2014, during which Khoj supported 19 site-specific artistic interventions, inviting artists to reflect on development as embodied in the rank infrastructural changes taking place across the nation, alongside local ecologies.
(The India Art Fair will run at NSIC Grounds, Okhla, Delhi)