Not just a fair but a South Asian hub
Among the master painters lies a batch of contemporary artists and a new market for art connoisseurs. By Kritika Dua
From deconstructionist paintings and three-dimensional flamboyant sculptures to an installation made out of organic materials and human thumbprints, cries of pain and anguish breaking through human constructs or a trapped planet, the 10th edition of India Art Fair was a canvas of unfettered expressions. Over the years, it is gradually turning into a magnet for art enthusiasts across South Asian countries. So there was a strong representation of leading international galleries in terms of quality of work, enabling deeper engagement with artists across borders and introducing Indians to their creative aesthetics.
Bahraini artist Lulwa Al Khalifa showed us her two artpieces with a smile on her face. These were a part of her Schism series which depicts a rudimentary figure in the middle being pulled in different directions, shown by the movement of colour. “These two pieces highlight the fabric of society which is fine and almost fragile. This rudimentary figure in the middle is being pulled in opposite directions and energy is flowing out of it.”
Said Khalifa, “The inspiration behind it is how we live by gaining experiences in life as the years go by. And with time our assumptions, knowledge and beliefs are tested. We are pulled in different directions which at times results in questioning ourselves and our identity.” She felt that the current scenario of the world is problematic — there is more divisiveness, people are easily inclined towards hatred, hostility and negativity. They are laden with prejudices which existed before too but there was a sense of civility before which is lacking in modern times. “This side of the world scares me — it’s not the kind of atmosphere I want. It moved something inside me and thus she created these artworks. I hope people self-correct and coexist peacefully.” This is her second visit to the city and to be better exposed to the artworks this country has to offer, she needs to participate in more events like this. “I am familiar with the work of renowned Indian artist Anish Kapoor but I am keen on exploring the skilled local artists.”
The artist commented on Bahrain’s art scene, “We have a vibrant art scene, it’s the oldest in the region as it began in 1950s with a contemporary progressive movement. As opposed to Dubai where the art scene is from the 1980s, we are relatively old. We have numerous established contemporary artists, some of them are influenced by the works of Iraqi artists as they went to that country to study art.” However, it’s at a grassroot level — not well-known outside the country. “Things are gradually changing in terms of universal acceptance. With the art fairs that are happening in this country such as India Art Fair and ArtBAB, we will see more people exploring canvases of Bahrain. There are also some international exhibitions which we take part in often, the recent one being Saatchi Gallery, London. These opportunities will expose us more to the world and bring the focus to Bahrain.”
Another Bahraini artist Mayasa Al Sowaidi presented 25th hour which was based on the work of a Romanian writer Constantin Virgil Gheorghiu and deals with the aftermath of losing one’s identity. Interestingly, the monochromatic artwork has a collage of the original novel in the form of selected paragraphs which stirred the emotions within the artist and acrylic on paper is used to achieve the semi-abstract work. She explained, “I read this novel and it inspired me to create this piece of art. In the book, the writer’s subject was an imprisoned man who was behind bars for a long duration of time. He got the freedom too late, almost after 25 years. He lost his identity as everyone in prison used to refer to him by his number.” Sowaidi has earlier created an artwork using teabags and is not restricted by media. In this set of four paintings, she has incorporated some numbers in her painting including 25 and a twisted barcode. Sowaidi feels that this concept holds true with many as we are given a number when we are born; we are not imprisoned but still are caged by our mind. This painting mirrored her far-sighted vision.
Hole is an installation made of 21 circles of organic materials collected in the forests of different countries. Argentinian artist Luz Peuscovich is an explorer; she first collects natural elements which then become the physical and symbolic medium of her installations. In the process of collecting her thoughts and materials, she questions whether what we call organic actually manifests itself and she reflects upon the different forms nature adapts to. For example, same species of fungi has infinite shapes and sizes; not one being the same. As a consequence of the elements that combine into infinite manifestations, nature appears anarchic and diverse. From this process Hole is born, a symbol of a horizontal way of being linked, from where something hidden and unknown is available to be explored, renamed and re-valorised.
Motti Abramovitz, Director, Bruno Art Group said, “We have been exhibiting in this fair since 2013 and over the years the response of viewers has been really positive. Every year there are more and more collectors and the number of people coming to the fair has seen a steady increase which points towards an increase in interest and awareness towards art. The prime artist whose work we are representing is David Gerstein who is known for his three-dimensional laser-cut metal wall sculptures. We have been exhibiting his works since the time we started displaying sculptures in this art fair.” One of his 3D artworks displaying paintbrush and hearts grabbed quite a few eyeballs. The Israelis are looking at markets in south and southeast Asia. He added, “This year, we are also representing some young and prominent Israeli artists one of whom is Lihi Turjeman. The artist sat in an empty house for a year, lost in thought of Tel Aviv. The abstract painting took off by putting layers of plaster in cool hues one after the other which were pasted on the canvas. It was her way of preserving history as those old houses will be demolished and new infrastructure will be built in its place.”
Nepal and Bangladesh
Not just for Indian artists, but the art fair is being considered as a major platform for artists coming from neighbouring countries like Nepal and Bangladesh.
The Nepal Art Council, which has been participating for the past few editions, feels that the IAF has brought them into the limelight, especially in the South Asian belt. Collectively the selected artworks for IAF make a picturesque mosaic of multi-layered themes portrayed by contemporary Nepalese artists.
“Contemporary art still doesn’t have that stronghold in Nepal as compared to India. India Art Fair is a platform for us to highlight the growing contemporary artists. We may not have a good sale but have succeeded in grabbing the attention of exhibitors from various countries,” said Sagar Rana, vice president, Nepal Art Council.
“We are displaying works of seven new artists every year. Our display of works may be less compared to other exhibitors but even the limited collection speaks for itself. There lies a story in every art work,” he added. Artist Rabindra Shrestha’s work comprises thumbprints of many individuals which explains the similarities as well as differences of people.
“Ninety per cent of our work is committed to some motive; through our work, we evoke hope and prosperity amidst the contemporary socio-political crisis. Nepal is a small country and little is known about the contemporary art and artists, nobody would have even imagined about it,” Rana said.
Similar thoughts were pitched by exhibitors coming from Bangladesh who were represented by Britto Arts Trust.
“There is no appreciation of contemporary artwork in Bangladesh, also majorly because people are not even aware of concepts like sculptures, installations or modern paintings. Our community still doesn’t consider them as art,” said Promotesh Das Pulak.
“The idea of participating here is to get art across other countries. We are getting offers from Indian art galleries to display our work here. It is a big opportunity for us to get the contemporary art of Bangladeshi artists on a larger platform,” he said.
Bhavna Kakar, Director, Latitude 28 said, “We have been a regular at this fair till 2014 and after a gap of three years we participated this year. Well with a new management there is always a new energy and the same can be seen this year.”
When asked about the rising interest among Indians for contemporary art, she replied, “We always promote contemporary art and have seen a remarkable growth. We are eagerly waiting for the day when contemporary artists will get the same value as the modernist.”
Since there are around 78 galleries this year, the audience has a lot of options to purchase art from. The galleries have to deal with the competition from local galleries as well as international ones in terms of offering something new to the customers and make it saleable at the same time. Said Kakar, “Competition is always there but if one presents the right work there will always be demand for it.”
Richa Agarwal, Director, Emami Art, said, “This is the fifth time at the fair. We have seen a transition over the years — an organic change in the kind of work being displayed and also the kind of work that is being appreciated by masses. It’s good to be on a platform with like-minded people, to see art thriving rapidly but there is a lot of scope for growth.”
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