Macaws by Senaka Senanayake, 2022 (Courtesy: Grosvenor Gallery and the artist)
“2023 will probably be India Art Fair’s (IAF) largest to date. And it’s not just in terms of scale and spectacle. It’s as ambitious and vibrant as you can get,” says Jaya Asokan, director of the fair. For the uninitiated, IAF is an art gala aimed at fostering the latest trends and aesthetics in visual arts, thanks to a confluence of gallerists and collectors, artists and buyers. In the art context, if biennales focus on trailblazing creativity of participating artists and curators, then art fairs, like IAF, are a relatively higher-stake game buzzing with more commercial action. Yet, Asokan argues that selling is not their only objective. “Even though IAF is a commercial fair, we do several non-commercial activities, from workshops and public talks/lectures to something like an inclusion lab for differently abled people. All these verticals are absolutely free of cost. We pride ourselves in cobbling together a good mix of conceptual breakthroughs and a thriving business potential on a single platform. The results add to the growth of the overall picture of Indian and South Asian art.”
Since its inception in 2008, the India Art Fair brand has grown into a major marketplace for contemporary and modern art, with the number of exhibitors rising steadily from 77 last year to 86 this year. To accommodate a burgeoning interest from both viewers and applicants this time, the organisers have added a fourth exhibition hall at the NSIC Grounds. The itinerary for IAF 2023 reads like a roster of visual representations, cutting across ideologies, gender, geographies and generations. Masters of art will join forces with iconoclasts, and the local will intersect with the global. Cultural narratives around crucial topics, such as climate change, folk art, queer identity and Artificial Intelligence might help us reimagine the past and envision a new future.
Towards that end, IAF 2023’s dance between new technology and traditional folk art is a timely reminder that the past alone is the ultimate bridge to the future. Asokan is confident that the tech section will be one of the talking points of IAF 2023. Emphasising the need for a robust technological shift prompted by the Covid-19 pandemic, she says, “Technology and art are very much intertwined these days. Keeping that in mind, we have a section called ‘The Studio,’ which invites audiences to experience the power of digital art. We have a dedicated Digital Residency Hub, which will explore iPad Pro artworks by the three India Art Fair Digital Artists in Residence, namely Mira F Malhotra, Gaurav Ogale and Varun Desai. Through the theme Finding the Extraordinary in the Ordinary, the artists will reflect and build conversations around how technology is shaping the future.”
Kolkata-based Varun Desai, a self-anointed “creative coder” will showcase Dimorphism, a multidisciplinary experiment that combines his twin passion for sound and video art. Created with the help of the LiDAR scanner on his iPad Pro, it attempts to capture the duality between the material world and the digital realm and between artificial consciousness and human consciousness. “I was able to build up a library of digital models, which I will be displaying in an immersive environment to allow those present to experience being within the framework of the new digital reality,” he says.
Visitors can move between four distinct sound environments that have been created using overhead directional speakers. Desai also dabbles in music, an interest that informs much of his work including Dimorphism. “My music practice brings in the use of synthesizers and field recordings to represent the digital and material worlds respectively.”
WHILE A COMMITMENT to unlock the hidden potentials of the future is always a welcome gesture, IAF 2023’s ‘Platform’ segment seems to step away from the high horse of contemporary art to pause, acknowledge and respect the rich and old Indian visual traditions. Here’s a fitting pivot around tribal art, which involves interventions from such traditional folk exponents as Mayur and Tushar Vayeda (Warli), Dhavat Singh (Gond), AK Jha (Madhubani), Prakash Chandra (Pattachitra), S Srinivas Rao (Kalamkari), Bhuri Bai (Bhil) and the collective Charu Centre specialising in the Chamba Rumal embroidery.
ORIGINALLY HAILING FROM the Warli village of Ganjad in Maharashtra, siblings Mayur and Tushar Vayeda transform IAF pavilion’s facade with a digital mural entitled Forest of the Future. It pays homage to the Warli community’s nature worship traditions, especially the ‘energy’ that resides in all living and non-living creatures. Mayur, who is the younger of the two brothers, tells us that Warli is a form of writing. “There was a time when our ancestors recorded hunting activities and scenes from daily life, then came our forefathers who depicted wedding rituals and myths and legends. As the new generation of Warli artists, we have added our own new motifs, which include global warming, deforestation and industrialisation,” he explains. The idea for Forest of the Future partly arose in compulsion to rev up the art form and give it a contemporary edge. “We are looking for the ‘next forest’. To achieve that, we are integrating the stories our ancestors shared with us with modern knowledge to find a suitable spot for the Warli community to sustain.”
Continuing the climate-related wayfaring, Parag Tandel’s sculptural installation How to Cook Bombay Duck in Various Ways? (TARQ) is meant to symbolise Mumbai’s once-thriving form of lizardfish or Bombil to shine a spotlight on marine pollution and its impact on the native fishermen community. Visitors can take in the message of the artwork by wandering barefoot through a map of the island city on a silicon surface.
Mira F Malhotra’s Log Kya Kahenge is a myth-busting take on the dysfunctional Indian household. With her animated videos made using augmented reality, Malhotra has sought to expose gender politics and patriarchal biases common in Indian families. “I have created three family portraits from the nuclear family structure. It’s a humorous, almost surreal work representing Indian families who are always trying to project some kind of an idealised image they are not. You will see the different roles family members perform—somebody hiding their queer identity, a rageful father and overworked mother—and yet, they are repressed and rigid in their thinking. They don’t ever want you to be your true self,” says the visual artist and illustrator who also goes by the moniker Kohla.
Themes of queer aesthetics, marginalisation and homophobia recur in Debashish Paul’s sculptural performance (presented by the Emami Art gallery, Kolkata). In Me & My Pets, the artist—dressed in a costume made in Varanasi—will recreate “a dreamlike imaginative space” to express his innermost emotions and memories. Some of our leading female artists such as Dhruvi Acharya, Rithika Pandey, Shilpa Gupta and others have come together for a women-led poster zine entitled The Fire in the Belly. “It is a call to action and a statement from India Art Fair to unleash the power of women in art, inviting them to lend their voice and share ways to ignite or nurture the fire within all of us. The zine is not meant to be read, but cut, torn and used to spread the messages of equality and inclusivity,” says Gautami Reddy, director of IAF’s digital and communications.
MEANWHILE, AT IAF, international galleries have always been a constant fixture. This year, too, global giants like Galleria Continua, Grosvenor Gallery and Bruno Art Group have set up booths serving up their finest modern and contemporary trove. While Galleria Continua is exhibiting works of masters, such as Anish Kapoor and Kiki Smith, London’s Grosvenor Gallery, on the other hand, has especially commissioned Senaka Senanayake to create nature-based “knockout works that will occupy pride of place in our booth,” says its director Conor Macklin. The 72-year-old Sri Lankan artist’s compositions help draw attention to his home country’s endangered flora and fauna. In their hypnotic vibrancy they recall Wassily Kandinsky and Hilma af Klint. “Much of our rainforests have been subject to intense deforestation over the years. With this work, I hope to bring awareness of the wonders of nature in all its glory,” Senanayake says. “His paintings really resonate with young children,” notes Macklin. “Perhaps, for adults it might be more of a climate issue but for kids, nature really does capture their imagination.”
“We pride ourselves in cobbling together a good mix of conceptual breakthroughs and a thriving business potential on a single platform. The results add to the growth of the overall picture of Indian and South Asian art,” says Jaya Asokan, director, India Art Fair
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Apart from the photorealistic works of the Israeli artist Yigal Ozeri, Bruno Art Group (BAG) is excited about bringing Andy Warhol’s iconic FLOWERS silkscreens from 1964. Warhol created this series as a tribute to the US President John F Kennedy in the aftermath of his assassination. “These paintings were based on a photograph of hibiscus blossoms. Andy drenched the flowers’ floppy shape with vibrant colour and set them against a background of rich undergrowth, transforming them into psychedelic indoor décor,” says BAG’s Aleksandra Lis. Founded in Tel Aviv, the gallery today has a global presence. What’s more, this year marks a small but significant milestone — it’s their tenth anniversary at the India Art Fair. Reflecting on the journey, Lis says, “IAF is a truly cosmopolitan event. We have witnessed over the years how IAF has become increasingly stronger against the backdrop of India’s impressive economic growth. Here’s to many more years of success together.”
(India Art Fair runs from February 9 to 12 at NSIC Exhibition Grounds, Delhi)