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Life in the Art Lane
Text by Sona Bahadur
Published: Volume 16, Issue 9, September, 2008
Theyíre spearheading the great Indian art boom. As curating in India evolves from its humble beginnings as a housewifeís hobby in the early 2000s to an exciting New-Age career, a growing breed of dynamic young women curators with solid academic degrees to boot have emerged as key players in the Indian art scenario. Some of them work as independent curators, while others are positioned within a gallery space. Though not all are curators in the strict sense of the word ó purists would call them art directors or organisers ó thereís no denying their importance in making good art come alive for the world. From conceptualising themes for shows and selecting artists to handling display and installation at exhibitions, they are also playing a key tastemaking role in shaping the way contemporary art is being framed and perceived.
Who are these women? Whatís their take on their work, on art and on life? How do they make judgements about art? How does art infuse the way they live and think? How does their work shape their personal style and spaces, the places they like to visit and hang out at? What are they reading right now? Sona Bahadur zooms in on this vibrant slice of new India by speaking to six spirited women who live a life steeped in art

Vidya Shivadas, 31
Curator, Vadehra Art Gallery, Delhi

Art smarts
MFA in art criticism, Faculty of Fine Arts, M S University, Baroda. Worked as an art critic for two years after graduating.

Why curating
I think itís an extremely creative space where you have to think on your feet. Youíre doing the thinking and putting art out there. Youíre creating conditions for thought.

Key shows
Fluid Structures: Gender and Abstraction in India (1973 - 2008) at Vadehra Art Gallery, New Delhi, April 2008. I juxtaposed two generations of women artists ó Arpita Singh, Zarina Hashmi and Nasreen Mohamedi born in the í30s and three younger artists, Sheila Makhijani, Gargi Raina and Manisha Parekh born in the í60s. It was a great historical show.
Objects Making/Unmaking, April 2007?at Okhla gallery: This was an irreverent show with young sculptors who work with funky objects. We had artists like Subodh Gupta, Kaushik Mukhopadhyay, Shilpa Gupta and Meethu Sen. Shilpa had taken confiscated objects from airports, while Meethu worked on photographs of her self, drawing on them, playing with the idea of the superstar artist. Each artist had his or her own relationship to the material used.

Curatorial eye
I think there has to be a sense of discovery whether itís about finding new people or finding new ways of reading people who are already there. Judging art is complex. You have to just try to understand the artistís aesthetic project. Sometimes the image is excellent; other times it might be something about to happen. You might just see it in somebodyís studio, lying unframed, unstretched. When a gallery approaches me, I always consider what will work in that space.

Curatorial philosophy
The exhibition, as Turkish curator Vasif Kortun says, is articulated in a medium that is never fully under the curatorís control and always more than the sum of meanings proposed. Itís important to welcome these changes, stay open to them and to return the exhibition in its new avatars to a fruitful discursive space, to a much needed conversation among ourselves. For me curating is about history, really. What excites and interests me is the relationship between artists and between works.

My kind of art
My all time favourite is Bhupen Kakkar. I also like Mrinalini Mukherjee, Arpita Singh and Tyeb Mehta. Among the younger lot, I like Atul Dodiya, Sumedh Rajendran, Sheila Makhijani.

Personal style
Very basic and comfortable. I like to shop at GK in Delhi and at Select City Walk. I donít like ethnic stuff.

Dressing for an art opening
I often just do black. It could be black trousers, black skirt, black shoesÖanything. Sometimes I wear silver jewellery.

Art in my home
My home is just functional. I donít like to own art. Sheila Makhijani is the only artist I have come close to buying.

Arty hotspots
Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin, Van Abben Museum in EindĖhoven, Holland.

Current reads
One Writerís Beginnings by Eudora Welty. I just finished reading Youth by J M Coetzee and Heat, short stories by Joyce Carol Oates.

Hangouts
Iím either at the gallery or at openings. I donít drink coffee though I enjoy going to O Calcutta! To eat.

Whatís next
Iím curating Shilpa Guptaís exhibition in March 2009 and also an exhibition of three Pakistani artists, Faiza Butt, Ruby Chisthi and Masooma Syed, later this year.

Bhavna Kakar, 29
Executive and managing editor, Art & Deal Magazine, curator and consultant, Delhi

Art smarts
BFA, Govt. College of Arts, Chandigarh; MFA, M S University, Baroda. Enrolled for PhD at the National Museum, Delhi.

Key shows
Does Size Matter I & II, Art Konsult, Delhi, NCPA Mumbai, 2007. Is size a factor to be taken into consideration while judging a work of art? The show dealt with this question giving a free hand to artists resulting in works done in sets and singles in various sizes. Highlight of the show was a 1 x 1 x1 book done by Thukral and Tagra with 420 pages.
Team Unteamed I & II : An ongoing series focusing on alumnus of different art institutes every year. Started in 2005 and introduces young talent every year. Vibha Galhotra, Sakshi Gupta, Niyeti Chadha, Farhad Husain, M Pravat, Alok Bal, Shiv Verma are among artists featured earlier.
Millennium Turks: In March 2008, I put up a collection of works for CEOs in Delhi to showcase the top rung of artists who will make it big in the next five years. I showed artists like George Martin, Benoy Roy, T Santosh and Bhagyanath.

Curatorial eye
The first thing I look for in a work of art is originality. I have seen quite a bit, so I know when itís contrived. But the first striking point is something different I havenít seen earlier. I work mostly on intuition. People I showed four years ago are in Christieís and Sothebyís today. I like to experiment with the display, the concept and the work. Being the editor of a magazine positions me well. The best thing about curating is meeting people and calling the shots.

Curatorial philosophy
To break the norms of the white cube space and show what has never been seen. I strongly believe you need not have famous names; you need good ones. Because thatís what lasts. A curator must have the intuition to pick up good artists at the right time.

My kind of art
Amrita Shergil, Nasreen Mohamedi, Justin Ponmany, Anselm Kiefer, Jean-Michel Basquiat.

Personal style
Dressing well comes with an arty lifestyle. I donít want to be a thaila carrying curator. My personal style is eclectic and flamboyant and a little over the top. I wear a lot of Kavita Bhartiya skirts with funky tops and also like Rawaaz. I like a mix of Indi-chic in salwar kameezes and churidars. I donít wear totally western clothes. I own not less than 600-700 pairs of silver earrings. I also love rings and have a parrot and a panther one!

Dressing for an art opening
I wear a lot of gypsy skirts with flamboyant jewellery to art events. One tends to get photographed a lot so I like to stand out.

Art in my home
I collect art randomly and have a lot of art in my room by young artists like Chintan Upadhyaya, Manjunath Kamath and Jagannath Panda.

Arty hotspots
I love the Contemporary Art Museum in Frankfurt and the Louvre in Paris.

Hangouts
The Art History Archives Patio in Faculty of Fine?Arts, Baroda. Reminds me of student days. Koshyís in Bangalore and the Full Circle in Khan Market,Tate Modern Book Store.

Whatís next
This year I have Absence of White Lies at Bombay Art Gallery, Does Size Matter III in Kolkata, women artist show, Hong Kong. Next year Iím doing Recycled, a travelling show in Mumbai, Delhi and London; a show at Visual Arts Centre, Hong Kong; and a photography and new media installations at Gallery Thereshold, Delhi.

Latika Gupta, 31
Art Historian, critic and curator, Delhi

Art smarts
BA in history from St Stephens, Delhi, followed by BFA in painting from Delhi College of Art; MA in art history from JNU. Write for Art India and other media publications.

Why curating
I always wanted to go to the theoretical and academic side of things and not just be a professional artist. I also realised I couldnít market myself.

Key shows
Cite. Cite. Site, Anant, Jan 2008: The work was a critique of the manner in which urban development is happening. It had photographs, video pieces, installations, sculpture and a bunch of drawings by Gigi Scaria, Samit, Gauri and Atul and Ravi Agarwal. Ravi, an environmentalist, showed a work on flower pickers on Delhiís Yamuna bed who run the risk of being cleared up because of the Commonwealth village.
KHOJ, Vadehra, August 2008: I chose a group of nine new artists from the annual Khoj residency for this show who expand the possibilities of what we understand as visual arts working in a variety of media ó photography, painting, prints ó seamlessly melding techniques and blending traditional artistic practices with technology, sound and performance.

Curating well
For the show to come together, each work has to be in dialogue with the other. It has to work as a show, not just as individual exhibits. The works must pose a question to get the mind thinking. Sometimes itís a bit tricky to tell the artist you want this photograph and not that or that you want to reduce it. But I must have the last word while utilising space.

My kind of art
The art really has to excite me aesthetically, visually and otherwise. If it doesnít stretch my mind, it doesnít work for me. Also, it shouldnít be something that doesnít just end at face value. Gigi Scaria does stunning work. I also like abstract artist Mekhala Bahl.

Personal style
Style to me is about comfort. How I dress depends on my mood. You have to put your own look together. I hate this sheep mentality in dressing where everybody looks exactly the same. I like fabrics that breathe easy. Iím a big Anokhi fan and love their jackets.

Dressing for an art opening
I usually wear pants with a jacket or something. If Iím in the mood to dress up, I wear a skirt. But itís generally something structured.

Art in my home
I got married only this year and am just doing up my place. Thereís no art, just so much junk collected from my travels!

Currently reading
Essays in Love by Alain de Botton. Itís beautifully written and a philosophical enquiry into the concept of love. I loved Haruki Murakamiís Kafka on the Shore.

Arty hotspots
The art gallery in Thanjavur has the best collection of Chola bronzes Iíve seen. The Victoria and Albert is always great to see how to curate shows.

Hangouts
I usually meet artists in art galleries or in their studios. Cafť Turtle in Delhi or Not Just Jazz by the Bay are places I like. I also love Samovar in Mumbai, which brings back childhood memories of shrimp curry and rice. For libraries, itís The British library in London. In Delhi, my vote goes to the Teen Murty library, the IIC and The American Institute of Indian studies in Gurgaon.

Whatís next
Iím curating a show for Anant Gallery this month at their new Contemporary Art Space in Delhi. This is with a group of Pakistani and Indian artists who work in a multitude of media, addressing a variety of concerns. Also collating material on the two weeks I spent in Spiti on a grant photographing an annual ritual dance performance at a Buddhist monastery.

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