2019 Art and Craft power list: India's Banksy and other cultural czars and czarinas

The definitive annual list of the most influential figures in India's cultural scene is here. Through their work and philosophy, these men and women have impacted the way India views art.

Published: 29th December 2019 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 31st December 2019 07:56 PM   |  A+A-

Artist Adwaita Gadanayak

Artist Adwaita Gadanayak (Photo | Instagram)

Bose Krishnamachari

Art Acharya

Because as the founder president of Kochi-Muziris Biennale (KMB), he made art a common experience from an elitist financial asset—more than six lakh people visited the exhibition last year. He is responsible for putting Kochi on the world map with KMB—last year he was made a director on the board of the International Biennale Association (IBA), a global body of organisers of such art festivals.

(Photo | Manu R Mavelil, EPS)

The importance of being Bose Krishnamachari was evident in his inclusion in the powerful art magazine ArtReview’s ‘2019 Power 100’ list that features the year’s most influential people in the global contemporary art world.

The end of the year saw the independent artist and curator come back with a solo exhibition after a gap of nine long years, named The Mirror Sees Best in the Dark. It was his only project following his mobile museum project, LaVA (Laboratory of Visual Arts) held between 2006-2011. Like many successful artists, Bose is an experimentalist which makes him a power player on the art scene. At Gallery Espace’s newest exhibition, 10 Chairs, Bose and artist-designer Alex Davis pooled their minds to create a chair described in Braille on canvas. At the Kochi Design Week held from December 12 to 14, Bose was tasked with creating art walls in the city. “Art is life, it gives you freedom. It’s like a healing balm. It makes you aware of who you are,” is his mantra.

Childhood ambition
To be a doctor

When you create art, you create your own philosophy

India has a severe shortage of art museums

Put Kochi on the world map with the Kochi Biennale

Nishant Saldanha

The line man

(Photo | Nishant Saldanha, Instagram)

Because he is the first Indian artist to have brought illustration public recognition as an art form. A jury of Sudarshan Shetty, Dayanita Singh and Mario D’Souza awarded Saldanha an Artist’s Grant at Goa’s Serendipity Arts Festival 2019.

His work was part of the show, ‘Form, Metaphor, Memory’, held in old Goa. Saldanha also features in the annual Best American Comics’ 2019 edition—a much-coveted spot for an illustrator.

2019 Power Lists

Literature: From historian Amitav Ghosh to thrill seeker Ashwin Sanghi

Design: From a master illusionist to an affordable modernist

Bollywood: From outrageous poster boy Ranveer to budget superstar Ayushmann 

Tollywood: From fantasy king SS Rajamouli to new rage Vijay Devarakonda 

Performing Arts: From habitual offender Vir Das to piano boy Lydian

Fashion: From rebel with cachet Sabyasachi to bad boy Rohit Bal

Parvathy Thiruvothu: Mollywood's braveheart with sense and sensibility

Monica Shergill: The woman who kickstarted India's streaming revolution

The icing on the cake was the request by the famous illustrator Jillian Tamaki to design the end pages of the book as well.

And he did it with ‘Mr Good Guy’, his villainous creation in an artistic exploration of the forces of good and evil; the staple core of all comics stories. The impact of these recognitions goes beyond honouring a young artist; it establishes graphic illustration as an accepted genre in publishing.

The training he received from Central Saint Martin’s College of Art and Design (London), and the School of Film/Video at California Institute of the Arts (Los Angeles) has given the young Goan artist the advantage of applying contemporary thought processes and artistic techniques.

His work will now be seen at the ‘artist-driven’ Goa Open Arts Festival in mid-February—a new multi-arts festival that focuses on community building, local impact and awareness about social issues in the state.

Fun Fact
Mixes fountain pen and Photoshop

Known For
• Mr Good Guy, the villainous protagonist of his comic
• Illustration style mixes hand-etched and digital

• Matisse-stye paper cutouts

Jean-François Lesage​

The delicate thread

Master embroiderer Jean-François Lesage this year brought together 70 brands and eight galleries at the art and design fair, Le Cabinet de Curiosites.

Inspired by the pre-modern museums of the 16th century, the fair had embroidered rooms and contemporary design, promising an immersive experience.

One of such rooms took inspiration from the 19th century Kandadu House near Chennai that he owns.

The son of the legendary French haute couture-embroiderer François Lesage, he decided to look beyond the comfort of his home brand and establish his own embroidery unit. In the late 1980s, a young Lesage arrived in India on a spiritual quest.

Heeding its call, he found himself as a 19-year-old explorer in a dingy Varanasi neighbourhood where traditional embroidery kaarigars lived. Enamoured of their skills, he returned in 1992, but this time with the intention of establishing an embroidery atelier, independent of the famed House of Lesage. The result was Vastrakala, which produces exquisitely embroidered home products for different parts of the world.

His French sensibilities compliment Indian craftsmanship at Vastrakala. He is today one of the most sought-after experts with the talent to create pieces that pay homage to the combination of French sophistication and exotic Indian crafts.

Fun Fact
• Collaborated with Christian Louboutin on the iconic shoe, Naughty Queen Mary Antoinette, in 2009, of which only 36 pairs were made
• His Chennai home has eight dogs, a cockatoo, all kinds of chicken, fishes, tortoises and exotic birds

Known For
• Desire to look beyond ordinary norms of correctness
• A stickler for context
• Enviable art and design collection

Top Projects
• Restoration of Louis XV’s crown for the Louvre
• Making draperies for Rashtrapati Bhavan
• Embellishing the king’s bedroom at Versailles

Embroidery is a universal language and Indian artisans have the expertise to take on giant projects head-on

Laila Tyabji

Crafty lady

(Photo | Laila Tyabji, Instagram)

Because her vast experience as the country’s most eminent craft activist is helping young Kashmiri craft workers into entrepreneurs: as was the vision of the late Gandhian economist LC Jain who wanted to “do something for the youth of Kashmir who were becoming stone pelters”.

This year, she introduced ‘Kashmiriyat’ to the South with an exhibition at Bengaluru. Tyabji is one of the founders of Dastkar, a Delhi-based non-governmental organisation working for the revival of traditional crafts in India, and has been at its helm for almost four decades now.

She is the driving force behind Dastkar’s Nature festivals held across India; this year at Nature 2019, craftspeople showed over a 100 different skills and traditions using indigenous technologies, natural colours, motifs, and materials.

From working with Chikan workers of SEWA Lucknow, Lambani tribals in Karnataka, Ari, mirror-work and Kantha craftswomen in Kashmir, Kutch and Bengal, this Padma Shri-awardee has helped resuscitate the second-largest sector of India’s economy: handicrafts. In 2016-17, her Sari Diary initiative on social media celebrated the six yards of elegance like nothing else before it.

Tyabji embodies a past India—a self-confessed Lutyens Delhite who is equally at ease in a Delhi drawing-room as at an artisan’s hut in Gujarat.

This doyen of the crafts, who was born a few months shy of being a Midnight’s Child, studied art in Baroda and Japan, and worked as a freelance designer in textiles, graphics, interiors and the theatre. Dastkar holds one exhibition each year; the quality of the products has only been on the rise since its inception. She is the founding trustee of Commitment to Kashmir or CtoK, started in 2012.

Under her guidance, and despite the recent crisis in Kashmir, she has managed to build her crafts base from five craftsmen to over 20 now.

Did you know?
• Her parents helped create the design and emblem of the Tricolour
• Can ride a motorbike
• Needs 10 minutes to get ready
• Gives away 10-15 saris a year
• Crafts and embroiders her own handbags

Now her moment
Came to Bombay in 1949 from Belgium, where her father was India’s first ambassador. She spoke only French but switched to English to avoid jokes at school.

Wardrobe function
Pherans, anarkalis and long kurtas with Lambani, Kutchi and Chikankari embroidery done by herself

Adwaita Gadanayak

PPP Programmer

Because he leveraged his position as the government’s custodian of Indian art through public-private partnership (PPP) at the Venice Biennale to bring the India story on the world stage.

At the Biennale, the Indian pavilion’s theme was Gandhi whose 150th birth anniversary was celebrated through the works of artists who worked with the Mahatma such as Nandalal Bose. Gadanayak wants to accelerate PPP in Indian art like at Tate and MoMA.

The National Gallery of Modern Art (NGMA) held an exhibition of Bireswar Sen’s work in South Korea and China.

His aim is to bring out all the old works languishing in the dusty storerooms for public viewing: almost 80 per cent of the NGMA’s collection had never been exhibited.

Now it’s around 50 per cent. The director is trying to familiarise art to the public starting at the school level. Since his mandate is to promote art education, the NGMA regularly invites art teachers from various colleges to explain their challenges.

Next on the agenda is to educate government school principals on the importance of art education in schools, for which he is ready to offer support.

The NGMA plans to invest in skill training with studios for printmaking and ceramics for the first time. Keeping in mind the Modi government’s focus on the Northeast, Gadanayak is currently looking at NE artists to exhibit at the NGMA, which will soon open a branch in Tripura in co-operation with the state government.

He designed the granite sculpture at the National Police Memorial in Delhi. The restoration of the Jaipur House in Delhi which houses the NGMA was completed on his watch.

The Centre showed its appreciation for the dedication of Gadanayak, the gallery’s first Director-General to be given a three-year extension.

Art is not just for artists. It is also for the people.

There are male and female stones. Female stone is used to make sculptures of the male form since women are stronger, and the other way around for female sculptures, which boast detailed embellishment

Mother’s Nature worship led to his passion for stone sculpture

Capital Claim
Designed the granite sculpture at the National Police Memorial

Embarrassing moment
Amol Palekar’s demand to disband NGMA’s advisory committee was shouted down at an official meeting

Nalini Malani

Shero of the canvas

Because she is the first art activist who brought Indian women painters into the limelight as serious voices on their own.

This year, the Mumbai-based Malani became the first Indian artist to be awarded the annual Joan Miró Prize, which is given to a contemporary artist whose works deal with themes similar to those of the Spanish Surrealist.

Her international standing has made her a force in raising awareness about the negatives of the nationalist narrative sweeping the world. She feels an individual must take responsibility for the collective.

Malani is acknowledged for her ‘long-standing commitment to the silenced and the dispossessed’. Her family moved to India when she was only a year old after Partition.

Malani has worked across genres—wall drawing, installation and shadow play, multi-projection works and theatre. She made her debut in the world of art at a time when very few women artists were being talked about.

Her art feminism came to the fore after participating in a group show called ‘Through the Looking Glass’, which focused solely on women artists in 1979. The group subsequently organised five more shows from 1987 to 1989.

Her works, some dating back to 1960s, retain the fierceness and rawness which is as relevant to today’s conflict-driven world as it was before.

The Partition of India, which planted the crisis of displacement in her art

For 25 years, she worked out of a studio in Mumbai’s Lohar Chawl, which later became her muse

What Next
Exhibition in Spain in 2020 at the Miro Foundation

• Her works are politically charged
• They often explore themes of violence and loss
• It employs strong focus on women, the marginalised, the displaced and the powerless in society

Kiran Nadar

Generous collector

(Photo | Kiran Nadar, Instagram)

Because she promotes the new museum-going culture among the Indian public by establishing India’s first private museum of art, which exhibits modern and contemporary art from India and the subcontinent.

The Kiran Nadar Museum of Art (KNMA) gets around 10,000 visitors every year. This year, the KNMA opened the art season by exhibiting ‘Common Course’, a collection of 500 artworks, and few loans from artists and artists’ estates—a humorous record of caricatures, satire, poetry and political commentaries of four modern artists.

The gallery held a special exhibition of 250 architectural projects of well-known structural designer Mahendra Raj to expose visitors to new construction materials, novel patterns and textures, and low-cost materials.

Nadar started the KNMA with her own impressive personal collection on display; she owns more than 5,500 pieces of modern South Asian art.

To educate the public, the KNMA invites accomplished artists to teach both adults and children about art curation, students workshops, art appreciation courses and symposiums explaining new art forms and techniques.

The non-commercial, not-for-profit gallery’s curated art walks have helped bridge the understanding gap between artists and the public.

Pat on the back
Named in Forbes’ annual list of The World’s 100 Most Powerful Women 2019

17th-century Indian miniatures

Maharani of the Indian art world

Over 5,500 pieces by modern South Asian artists

Did you know?
She is a top bridge player who represented India in many world championships. Last year, she and her team won the Gold at the Commonwealth Bridge Games in Australia and a Bronze at the Jakarta Palembang 2018 Asian Games.

Pramod Kumar KG

Serendipitous curator

Because as the curator of this year’s Serendipity Arts Festival, India’s first muti-disciplinary art festival, Pramod Kumar KG has brought together Indian traditional disciplines from food to textiles as affordable products.

He is the managing director of Eka Cultural Resources & Research, India’s only museum consulting company and the founder-director of the Anokhi Museum of Hand Printing at Jaipur.

Passionate about age-old Indian textiles and their revival, Pramod will examined the creation and making of Bengal’s famous Jamdani fabric at this year’s Serendipity Arts Festival.

Jamdani, before finding its way to Serendipity this year, has been enjoying a revival mostly thanks to his efforts; it is famous for both its cotton version and taar work.

Anokhi Museum of Hand Printing collaborates with individuals and institutions to manage and organise their cultural resources and commitments.

Set up in 2009 to address the growing need for a professional organisation within the culture and heritage industry, Eka aims at providing expert services that add quality and excellence.

Pramod has been creating content with tailored solutions for a diverse range of cultural activities, including the promotion of cultural tourism in India with focus on indigenous work and the performing arts.

Culture factoid
Was the first director of the Jaipur Literature Festival and has authored Posing for Posterity: Royal Indian Portraits

Identify and create
key linkages to boost cultural activity

• Co-director of Mountain Echoes, the Bhutan Literature Festival
• Was editor, India, of the Textiles Asia journal


India’s Banksy

Because he is the anonymous rebel who uses graffiti art to expose partisan values.

Though he is one of India’s most prolific street/graffiti artists, Daku has successfully remained faceless in his decade-long career: “Once the world knows who Banksy is the GAME is OVER!!” is his tribute to the provocative 1970s British street artist who never revealed his real name. Under the outlaw moniker, Daku hopes to take over and re-purpose public spaces to spread his message in English, Devnagri and Urdu.

This year at the Hyderabad Design Week, his question mark installation made with three lakh upcycled plastic bottles savaged single-use plastic waste in Hussain Sagar lake.

In his early years, Daku was nabbed by the police for spray-painting public walls. From then on, he has kept his identity a secret.

His art is intensely political; during the Anna Hazare agitation, he drew ‘Blind Nation’ which showed a blindfolded protester who did not understand what the Lokpal Bill was about. Another time he punned on his own name by drawing a Louis Vuitton bag on a wall beside a garbage dump which he titled kuda (garbage).

Will not
Work on metro stations because it is a symbol of modern progress

Why the name
Like traditional ‘dakus’ robbing villages, graffiti artists “rob walls” without permission to ‘own’  the space by turning them into public spaces

started off as
A sign painter in Gujarat, who studied typography in Art College later

Cops caught him and his five-member team painting walls and fined them `50,000 each. They got off with Rs 1,010 after much negotiation.

Pooja Singhal

In Krishna's service

Because she single-handedly revived the dying Pichvai art by giving it contemporary language without compromising on the traditional vocabulary of the craft.

Singhal exhibited almost 50 works this year celebrating the revival of the 400-year-old art form, which translates Lord Krishna’s life stories into wall hangings. Pichvai celebrates the deity Shrinathji, an avatar of Lord Krishna who is believed to be present at the Haveli at Nathdwara, Rajasthan. Born and brought up in Udaipur, Singhal is no stranger to Pichvai.

When she started researching its history, she realised that the art was dwindling both in quality and quantity.

This led to the launch of Pichvai Tradition & Beyond, which showed over 400 contemporary Pichvai pieces at the Delhi Art Fair this year.

Singhal believes the best time for traditional art in India is now, because it has become aspirational for the new urban collectors.

She understands that while the older generation grew up on Pichvai, the younger generation craves contemporary spinoffs.

Her success lies in bridging the generation gap in Pichvai appreciation by balancing the rules of revival, survival, commerce, creativity and mass.

• Traditional art must reinvent itself and appeal to the younger generation
• It is not necessarily only for traditional homes

High point
Presented India’s largest Pichvai exhibit (with over 400 works) in Mumbai

Creating a business model to sustain Pichvai


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