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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.

Deeksha Nath, 31
Freelance writer and curator, Delhi

Art smarts
BFA in Art History from Faculty of Fine Arts, M S University, Baroda; MA in Art Policy and Management from City University, London; MA in Contemporary Art Theory from Goldsmiths College, London. I write for Art India and other publications.

Key shows
House of Mirrors: Grosvenor Vadehra in London, 2007: I showed works by Nikhil Chopra, Pushpamala, Nicola Durvusula, Sunoj D and Praneet Soi. It was an unusual mix.
StillMovingImage, inaugural exhibition of Devi Art Foundation, August, 2008: It looks at the history of video and photography and artists who work with these two mediums. There are about 60 works by artists like Shilpa Gupta, Vivan Sundaram, Tushar Jog, Atul Bhalla, Sheeba Chachi, Pushpamala and Navin Thomas. The scale of the exhibition is very big with seminal works like Nalini Malaniís Toba Tek Singh. Such large installations have never been shown in Delhi.

Curatorial philosophy
I think art works need to be put into a context. You must think about your audience when you are curating and debate whether you should allow people to just experience the exhibition or to educate them. I donít see myself as a curator in a traditional sense and like to be more experimental. As a writer, I have very different sort of interactions with artists and tend to go a lot deeper into their practice that have never been shown in Delhi.

My kind of art
Iím a fairly socially aware person in my writing as well as my art. I like artists who think about something over a period of time. Iím very partial to installations and sculptures and am keen on Atul Bhalla, Sumedh Rajendran and artists who work more with material and scale.

Personal style
When I walk into a preview, I want to be noticed. A large part of my work is to be out there, so I make an effort to stand out with the jewellery, the clothes and the colours. I donít have a lot of designer wear but like Rohit Balís jackets for their mix of very contemporary cuts and traditional fabrics. I also like Priti Chandra, who does a lot of polka dots.

Dressing for an art opening
I usually wear bright, swishing skirts that attract attention by movement. Sometimes I wear saris because I find them absolutely beautiful. I have plain chiffons in many colours, which I often team with a backless hand-embroidered choli from Gujarat. For jewellery, I go for something chunky in silver or beads. It has to be something that makes a statement.

Art in my home
My home is comfortable, vibrant, full of colour. The art on the walls ranges from posters of exhibitions my husband and I have visited to small format paintings of an unknown woman artist we picked up in Morocco to contemporary Indian artists.

Arty hotspots
Bharat Bhawan in Bhopal, National Museum in New Delhi, Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, the Miro Museum in Barcelona, National Gallery in London, Ashmolean in Oxford.

Hangouts
Anywhere thereís a green spot, shade and quiet. Iím not a huge subscriber to the cafe culture unless Iím meeting a friend for coffee and cake in which case whatever is nearby. In Delhi itís Khan Market or N Block Market, Greater Kailash.

Current reads
Twilight in Delhi by Ahmed Ali, Enchantress of Venice by Salman Rushdie Who Speaks the Nation by Judith Butler and Gayatri C Spivak

Whatís next
Still Moving Image; Co-curating Best of Discovery, Shanghai Contemporary Art Fair, China?9-13th Sep; Also curating Immersion, Mixed media installations at Anant Art Gallery in April 2009; Group Exhibition for Anant Art Gallery, July 2009.

Gitanjali Dang, 27
Independent curator and art critic, Mumbai

Art smarts
Graduated in journalism, followed by MA in literature and a diploma in Indian aesthetics, all from the Mumbai University. I was an art critic at Hindustan Times and write for Art India.

Why curating
Iíve always been interested in the visual arts, though I fail to recall a Eureka moment. In school it was Western art that first caught my attention. After having travelled the typical trajectory of slaving over Van Gogh and the highly romanticised Lust for Life, I encountered Indian art.

Key shows
Postvisual World was a photography exhibition, which comprised works by 11 photographers, with each photographer submitting a triptych. The show was challenging because it was exploring new conceptual grounds and also coalescing under one place various emergent vocabularies.

Curatorial eye
I work based on my intuition, my gut. That said, itís never allowed to do its own thing and is honed by an understanding of visual cultures. This ongoing process of understanding has enabled me to create a personal archive of experiences, regrets and benchmarks, all of which have informed my opinion.

Curatorial philosophy
Often exhibitions are put together under umbrella ideas so humongous that the curator can hardly go wrong. I find this problematic. The challenge is to lock on a subject that is sufficiently focused but is fertile in its implications.

My kind of art
ĎThe question is not whether it is a good work of art or bad, but how is it art at all?í asked Arthur Danto. And I think this question serves as the perfect icebreaker. Each time I have encountered a work of aesthetic integrity and innovation, either the network of possibilities I work with and manipulate has grown denser or it has entirely ruptured. Marcel Duchamp, Nasreen Mohamedi, Bhupen Khakhar, Egon Schiele, Ganesh Pyne, Peter Doig, Olafur Eliasson and Tehching Hsieh, are artists who have demanded more than just a double take of me.

Joy of curating
Predictably, I find the ideation stage most exciting. I have high regard for an exhibition that attempts to bring together disparate artistic expressions and disciplines around a resonant concept. I find interdisciplinary projects very interesting.

Personal style
Iím rather enamoured of the androgynous in clothing. I suppose Marlene Dietrich marked me early in life. At the other end of the spectrum is the cheongsam. This traditional Chinese outfit was revealed to me in all it subtleties in Wong Kar-Waiís In the Mood for Love. Alas, Mumbai is not the ideal place to traipse around wearing high collared dresses. I own all of three designer garments and they were each gifted to me. One is a lovely James Ferreira and the other two are very nifty Issey Miyakes. I find Yohji Yamamoto enticing. And I think highly of Elsa Schiaparelliís surrealism inflected designs.

Art in my home
As a rule I donít collect. I do, however, have a poster of a Raza painting at home. It was given by a gallery. Iíve had it forever but refuse to put it away.

Leisure pleasures
I enjoy watching films and keeping my iPod company. Not too long ago I spent a better part of my day watching Bela Tarrís seven-hour plus Satantango, cinema at its most laconic.

Currently reading
Susan Sontagís On Photography. Recently finished reading Jean-Dowminique Baubyís The Diving Bell and the Butterfly.

Whatís next
Iím currently in the middle of bringing things together for Third Life. The show opens at the Bombay Art Gallery in October this year. The four participant artists will attempt to map out their responses to the realm of virtual reality.

Sharmistha Ray, 29
Director, Bodhi Art, Europe and India, Mumbai

Art smarts
MA in art history and MFA in painting from The Pratt Institute, New York. BA in Studio Art from Williams College, USA. The Joan Mitchell Grant in 2004 brought me back to India.

Key shows
Start.Stop with Subodh Gupta, Pale Ancestors with Atul Dodiya and Throne of Frost, Mumbai edition, with Anju Dodiya. Anjuís show was in the Laxmi Vilas Palace, the home of Raja Ravi Varma. It was a real challenge for contemporary artists to be in the opulent space of stained glass windows and massive chandeliers.
Subodh Guptaís Start Stop in Mumbai was a challenge because of the scale of his work. Itís a monumental team effort to display his work. We had a major work in the exhibition called Faith Matters which was a massive metallic sushi belt with tiffin carriers rotating on it. Only three of these exist worldwide.

Curatorial eye
You just know whether a work is good by your instinct, though instinct is honed. Knowledge and experience are both important. Iím constantly around international art. That really develops my instinct. Being an artist myself helps hugely; otherwise you tend to theorise a lot.

Curatorial philosophy
I like art that speaks to me. Even when I acquire works by younger artists, itís something thatís meaningful and expressing a certain experience. I donít believe in putting something on the wall just to sell. Thatís very different from setting standards.

My kind of art
Iím driven by talking about a sense of personal identities, about cross-cultural exchange and how that influences an artistís production. As a philosophy, I tend to see everything through that lens. Subodh Gupta, Bharti Kher, Atul Dodiya, Anju Dodiya, Nataraj Sharma, Nalani Malani, Riyaz Komu and Sudarshan Shetty. I also have great respect for Hussain and Souza and Raza because they defined a crucial time in Indian history.

Personal Style
As a curator, I speak from a platform of knowledge. Style allows me to deal with the top brass around the world with confidence. I love light jackets and pick up designer brands in vintage stores, because I like the worn-in quality of vintage. For art events, I mix and match jackets with a colourful tubes, jeans and heels. Itís a look that says young and contemporary yet sophisticated.

Art in my home
My home is filled with art that artist friends have given me and my own paintings. My living room has a one four-feet-by-five-feet work I had done in grad school about a binary experience. Itís called Beowolf and shows a wolf with two heads, itís body being ripped apart. Itís a very powerful yet disturbing image. I own art by Ajay Dhandre, Yamini Nayar, Parvathi Nair. My favorite piece is a small work given me by the artist Zarina Hashmi.

Arty hotspots
Tate Modern, The Guggenheim, The Metropolitan, MOMA, Centre Georges Pompidou, (Paris) and Bhau Daji Lad Museum (Mumbai) among others. Berlin has a very distinct culture. The art there has an edge driven by some sort of cultural angst.

Hangouts
Mostly in New York, my former home. The Strand Bookstore off Union Square; The Five Spot in Brooklyn. Also Orlin Cafe in the Village for carrot cake and coffee and people watching. In Mumbai, I love browsing at bookstores like Oxford in Colaba and Crosswords on Kemps Corner. Enjoy coffee at Moshes and a quick lunch at Frangipani at the Oberoi.

Currently reading
On Photography by Susan Sontag

Whatís next
Focusing more on writing now and curating collections of Indian contemporary art in India and abroad; currently working with major European and Indian collections, foundations and museums.

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