The India Art Fair (IAF) will be returning on-ground after two years. Are the expectations more this year, given the fair could not happen last year due to COVID?
We look at it as coming together in solidarity to bring everybody from this community together after two years. We are definitely excited about coming back to the physical format, under one umbrella again, because it is really that hallmark event of the year that sees participation from everyone, from galleries to museums, auction houses to artists. So we have the masters and the big names but we also have a lot of young artists at the fair this year. There will be 14 institutional participants, including the Kochi Biennale Foundation, Chennai Photo Biennale, and Serendipity Arts Foundation; they are the ones doing most of the grassroots work.
How has the fair worked towards giving more representation to young artists?
I feel business-wise, perhaps, the very youngest generation of artists were most affected during COVID and they are the ones who need more representation. The tent facade — which is probably the largest canvas in the city — will be designed by Anshuka Mahapatra, a multidisciplinary art practitioner who is in her 20s and won through an open call for artists that was held in collaboration with The Gujral Foundation and Artdemic, a platform for up-and-coming creators from South Asia. Mahapatra has used phrases from seven Indian languages that speak of the beauty of the everyday. In another new initiative, through a direct commission with BMW, a jury-led competition with public polling was won by artist Faiza Hassan, who will present Suno (a car wrap on BMW iX). In one of the outdoor projects, through Space 118, Tapan Moharana will present a work titled Lighted Cave, a light and shadow installation where he uses shadow puppetry along with his sculptural practice. In another project, we are showing works of Narayan Sinha, supported by Art Ichol.
During the last two years, like several others, you also explored the digital medium. Your website has been really active.
We have been most active in the last quarter — on the website, digitally, online through talks and workshops, as well as a few small physical events. The ambition is to grow into a year-round marathon and because of that, we have expanded our programme and activity. The first thing we did at the beginning of 2020 was to refresh our website, with newly commissioned films, stories, virtual walkthroughs, and workshops. We also started listing more events and created a notice board. We realised the strength of digital infrastructure and how it can open access to art and artists from the region. We tried to do this in an engaging manner and our voice was very much relatable. We also organised talks and a symposium for young South Asian artists and did a fun campaign called ‘#Featuring South Asia’, where people posted something about South Asia or South Asian art from all over the world on Instagram. It is also exploratory for us and we are figuring ways to reach out to new, targeted audiences.
Recently, you also organised events in Hyderabad and Kolkata. Will we see more events in tier-II and tier-III cities?
I think while digital is here to stay, we will always prefer this to be a physical event. Tier-II and tier-III cities are definitely on the agenda in terms of programming and reach. We are also keen to highlight these cities and spaces and do something for collectors and build audiences. We are looking at more collaborations and curated content similar to what we did in Kolkata in December, where, during a two-day programme, we had museum-led, artists-led initiatives as well as public walks.
As a fair, are you also promoting direct artists-audience interactions through workshops and studio visits?
We want to encourage dialogue across demographics, age groups, and gender. Typically, we are very public facing. Even though we have VIP days, there is a lot of public programming. We don’t want people to come to the fair and only buy. Workshops allow people to engage and make something. Even if it is for a short duration, it is fun. Some of the workshops are also done by our artists-in-residence and this year we have one by Gurjeet Singh.
Could you tell us about ‘The Platform’ section which will focus on indigenous art?
The section is there every year but I personally felt that we needed to elevate it. It is a springboard for traditional art forms, emerging art practices, new mediums and techniques, and lesser-known artists’ collectives from South Asia. We wanted them to be on the same level-playing field as the artwork in the rest of the fair. Curator Amit Kumar Jain has reimagined the section. This year, you will see Gond paintings by Jangarh Singh Shyam, works by contemporary Mithila masters, rare bhuta bronze masks from coastal Kerala and Karnataka, and textiles from Rajasthan, and much more.
The fair also exhibits and addresses NFT (Non-Fungible Token) art, which has become popular in the last two years.
NFT has expanded the discussion for digital art and artists, which is continuing to grow. We saw the record price set by Beeple. We have a discussion with experts such as Om Malviya of Tezos India, Aparajita Jain of Terrain.art, and artist Raghava KK, who sold his work at a record price at a Sotheby’s auction in 2021. We also have NFT works by artists such as Amrit Pal Singh and younger talents like Laya Mathikshara and Khyati Trehan. The fair is a perfect place to reflect on and give shape to current art world trends. We don’t want to judge where they are placed and what the value is, but they are definitely a part of the conversation.
Did COVID alter the way you planned the fair this year?
While we had to keep several factors in mind in terms of scheduling the fair, a lot is also being looked into in terms of setting it up. We have asked for vaccine certificates for everyone on site and there is a cap in terms of the number of people on the ground at a time. A limited number of people can attend the workshops and the auditorium will also have a limited capacity during the talks.
India Art Fair will take place from April 28 to May 1 at NSIC Grounds, Okhla. Tickets on bookmyshow.com