‘We aim to make art as accessible as possible’

India Art Fair director, Jaya Asokan gives us a glimpse into the Fair’s latest edition and highlights the importance of steering away from elitism in art and strengthening inclusion across groups
 ‘Beyond The Body and Gender’ by Debashish Paul
 ‘Beyond The Body and Gender’ by Debashish Paul

CHENNAI: Over the last few days, everyone from art world luminaries to those with a newfound love for the domain, among others, made their way to Delhi’s NSIC Grounds to witness and experience India Art Fair (IAF), which will conclude on February 12. Led in partnership with BMW India, this edition of IAF presented 86 exhibitors and showcases both modern and contemporary art from India and South Asia.

Ask Jaya Asokan, Director of IAF, whether she is nervous or excited about the Fair, and she’s quick to answer: “Nervous, not at all. Very excited”. We speak to Asokan about what the viewer can expect from this Fair, how the IAF team plans to make art more accessible and approachable, and more. Excerpts from an interview.

2023 is the first year in the post-pandemic era. Can you share a few highlights of this edition of IAF.
Building on the success of the last edition, which happened in April, this Fair has several new initiatives. We have expanded floorspace, with four large exhibition halls dedicated to not only galleries and institutions, but also digital art. We also have a few new galleries from India, which is a great thing for us — these five to six new galleries from Mumbai, Hyderabad, Gurugram haven’t participated before. We will also introduce a studio space, which showcases digital projects and artwork, including those by the first-ever Digital Artist in Residence programme that we are conducting. We have three artists — Gaurav Ogale, Mira Felicia Malhotra, and Varun Desai. So, that is very exciting for us because it’s a partnership with Today at Apple, and it’s the first time that we’re doing it.

Another new thing this year is that, for the first time, we have a posterzine called Fire in the Belly, featuring eight women artists that the Fair is publishing. These are a few highlights apart from the content of the Fair as well, which is the contemporary arts and the masters. And one exciting initiative that we have taken further is that we’ve expanded our Young Collectors Programme. We’ve taken over Bikaner House as a Young Collectors Hub and we started programming that from February 4 with a collaboration with Gallery XXL — a new gallery — to have its first-ever show. We also have the Chennai Photo Biennale showing; daily workshops; and a performance art piece by Sajan Mani. So we have a very active space in other areas of the city as well apart from the Fair, which is a first for us.

You had mentioned in an interview that IAF would not just be an annual event but a year-long event. How do you plan to achieve this?
The desire definitely is to make it a year-round platform; we do this because we promote and support gallery systems through initiatives such as gallery weekends, etc., throughout the year. We also engage with collectors through artist workshops, walkthroughs at gallery weekends. We’ve done Collector
Weekends as well — some in Kolkata and in Vadodara. Apart from this, in other biennales or festivals, we do have some presence. At Serendipity (Arts Festival) we hosted a panel; at Kochi Biennale we did an event. With talks, performances, workshops, and other initiatives, we are trying to expand out of the four-day format not only in Delhi but we’re also keenly looking at a pan-India presence.

Even today, to a large extent, art is perceived as elitist. Is there a plan to democratise the art space. If so, how?
I completely agree with you, it (art) can be (elitist). But I think our aim is to make it (art) as accessible as possible. We deal with diverse groups of people, from young collectors who want to have an experience which is a reflection of their own personality, and seasoned collectors. Our aim is definitely to make art more accessible and approachable… maybe to share a snapshot of the art world in India as it exists today. And to make a show that is inclusive — where people can come together. Yes, sometimes it (art) can be intimidating and elitist. That is why we have things like the Young Collector’s Programme, a lot of guided walks at the Fair so that we can break it down for people who are perhaps afraid to ask questions. We really want to offer that non-pretentious open conversation; a starting point really for anyone looking to engage with the art.

This edition you have 86 exhibitors. As you scale up, what are the challenges you face?
They are good challenges, I have to say. There are challenges more from an operational or point of view... If you have a fixed space, how do you grow out of it? How do you expand upon it, and how do you best showcase the art? I would say that would probably be the biggest challenge.

Also, from a curatorial point of view, how do you ensure that the fair is both diverse and inclusive?
We do that by making sure that there are artists of all genders in our open calls. Also, in our inclusion of people in workshops or in the lab, in the artists that we choose who win these proposals, we make sure that it is widespread and gender inclusive, ability inclusive, and sustainable.
We look at all these aspects when we cover different aspects of the Fair.

What:  India Art Fair
When:  Till February 12
Where:  NSIC Grounds, Okhla

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