After a year-long pandemic-induced hiatus, the India Art Fair is returning for its 13th edition that will be held from February 3-6, 2022 in New Delhi. The largest such event in the country, the fair has a new director —Jaya Asokan, who took over the role amidst the Covid-19 pandemic. In an interview to Outlook, Asokan, who has two decades worth of experience across industries like arts, culture, design, fashion and luxury, talks about the challenges of curating the fair during a global pandemic, why the digital is integral to the world of arts, the need for arts to be accessible, inclusive and provocative and more.
Excerpts from the interview:
The 13th edition of the fair promises to be better and bigger? What will be the
2022 will truly be a celebration of the resilience of Indian and South Asian art, artists and the community at large. The fair facade will be transformed into a work of art by an Indian artist, selected on the basis of an open call led by The Gujral Foundation and Artdemic. We want to put young and fresh creative voices at the very forefront of the fair, and what better way to do it than this!
Inside the exhibition halls, we will have an excellent line-up of over 60 galleries and an unprecedented over 10 art institutions, presenting a diverse range of emerging and established Indian and international artists and art projects. Something to specially highlight is our Platform section that will be dedicated to traditional Indian artforms, led by curator Amit Kumar Jain. On show will be Madhubani painting masterpieces from Bihar, textiles from Punjab and much more — our aim is to show off the rich, dynamic and ever-evolving nature of traditional art practices. There will be curated talks, film-screenings, performances, as well as hands-on workshops and free poster art by our Artists in Residence where we hope visitors will involve themselves in not just looking at but also making art!
Tell us about the kind of artists that the fair will focus on in this edition. We are looking towards the future of Indian and South Asian art — focusing on the promising emerging voices that have continued to grow through the difficult past few years.
Apart from legacy names such as Vadehra Art Gallery, DAG, Dhoomimal Art Gallery (all Delhi), Experimenter (Kolkata) and Jhaveri Contemporary (Mumbai), newer galleries will also be making their very first appearances at the fair, a very promising sign for the growing Indian arts scene. Vida Heydari Gallery (Pune), Gallery Art Exposure (Kolkata), Modern Art Gallery and Art Incept (both Delhi) will all be new to the fair, bringing a range of masterpieces and cutting-edge contemporary works, as well as NFTs by Terrain Art.
Through the year, we work with non-profit institutional partners, many of whom will have a strong presence at the fair in 2022, right from Aravani Art Project –– a Bangalore-based collective of transartists –– whose murals will decorate the walkway into the fair to Serendipity Arts Foundation who will have an open-air library of art books. Cultural festivals like Kochi Biennale Foundation and Chennai Photo Biennale will be at the fair, along with artist Nikhil Chopra-led performance hub HH Arts Spaces.
What were some of the challenges of taking over as the director of IAF amidst a pandemic?
I took on the role of Fair Director in April this year, just before the second wave hit India. Although challenging, it has also been an incredible year of learning, experimentation and development. The pandemic taught us important lessons –– I feel it was important to us to take time to think about our position in the art world, and to evolve with a changing world.
How has the pandemic impacted the Indian and the larger South Asian art scene, and how has it affected the business of art in the region?
One thing that became clear was the importance of inclusive and accessible art programming, which is something we have always taken seriously and are taking forward in an even more concerted way moving forward. We are hoping to make the fair a welcome and enjoyable space for all, with braille guides, tactile works and model sculptures that those with impaired vision can experience through touch. From Auditorium talks and performances, to artist-led workshops, masterclasses and outdoor commissions, our public programme will also be curated to speak to a diverse range of audiences from artists, collectors as well as those who have no prior experience of the art world of all ages, hoping to initiate conversations and spark fresh interests and ideas.
We are also using the strength of our digital infrastructure to open access to art and artists from India and South Asia. Offline, we have extended our IAF Parallel programme to include collaborations with design, architecture, art, fashion, music and more — bridges we at India Art Fair are actively trying to build. Educating the next generation of collectors is another key focus, which will be carried through the fair’s Young Collectors Programme. Overall, it has been great to see the Indian art market rebound with full force. In addition to the community spirit and collaborations, this is also due to the fact that the market has built a strong foundation for itself since the 2009 downturn. We have been seeing gradual growth even since, which bodes well not only for this year but also for the long-term future.
Even though the IAF is a platform intended for business, art has historically had more meaning than being just a commodity to buy and sell. Will this edition of IAF feature any provocative artworks on politically relevant issues of our times?
Absolutely! South Asia is home to some of the most powerful, creative voices in the world, and we’re proud to give a platform to not only their work, but also to themes, conversations and concerns they address.
Our 2022 Artists in Residence each speak to important issues through their work — Arpita Akhanda’s work speaks powerfully to the continuing effect of colonialism on the body, Indu Antony’s sometimes delicate sometimes outrageous work on femininity and feminism, Gurjeet Singh’s tender and playful telling of queer stories, and Haroun Hayward’s meditations on diasporic life. I should add that each artist addresses these topics in deeply personal ways. Other artists to look out for at the fair include Sudipta Das and Sangita Maity both born in Eastern India, Khadim Ali and Affan Baghpati, and Delhi-based Baaraan Ijlal, all of whom tackle pertinent social issues of forced migration and marginalisation. I am also a huge admirer of Habiba Rowrose’s female-centric photography, Arshi Irshad Ahmadzai and Bushra Waqas Khan who explore the body, conflict and ownership in their textile works, as well as international artist Noa Eshkol whose wildly feminine, nature-inspired wall carpets will be on show at neugerreimschneider’s booth at the fair.
The art world discovered the power of the online medium over the last year and a half. Is this discovery going to play any role in the upcoming edition of IAF?
We take the digital world very seriously as it gives us a way to reach artists, art-lovers and not yet art-lovers in an unprecedented way. It also allows us to expand beyond the four days of the fair, and become a year-round presence. India Art Fair’s website is already a go-to source and directory of the region’s most exciting and important artists — something we are continuing to build on editorially, along with holding live online workshops, walkthroughs and talks.
We have also expanded our IAF Parallel programme of ongoing events and exhibitions taking place in galleries, museums and alternative arts spaces in India and beyond. We’ve also inaugurated a new Noticeboard to highlight opportunities for artists and arts professionals, and are soon building an Archive that will serve as an online database for curious readers and researchers.