On canvas: past, present and future 

India Art Fair, one of the largest contemporary art events in South Asia began on Thursday in Delhi


200-year-old leather puppets are on display at the fair.
200-year-old leather puppets are on display at the fair.

The past defines our present and the future,” says Neha Kirpal, founder director of the India Art Fair (IAF), one of the largest contemporary art events in South Asia, which began on Thursday in Delhi.

“Since the IAF’s inception in 2008, our focus has been to represent the length and breadth of art in South Asia. In the previous editions, we have had galleries showcase traditional art forms besides contemporary art, but this is the first time we are dedicating a separate space to folk and tribal art forms. The idea is to go deeper, at the grass-root level, and, of course, to make people aware of the region’s rich cultural heritage,” says Kirpal.

Spread over 110 sq.ft, a new section, Vernacular In Flux, showcases Gond and Madhubani art. Gond paintings express the way of life of that tribal community, while Madhubani, native to Bihar, is based on folk or mythological themes, depicting marine life, animals, the sun, moon and bamboo. “Kerala’s famous Guruvayur mural paintings are among the total 20 artworks,” says Annapurna Garimella, an art historian and curator of Vernacular In Flux. Some of the artists featured are Bhajju Shyam, Vimla Dutta and Baua Devi. “Such a platform provides an opportunity to critics, scholars, gallerists and viewers from across the world to learn about a region’s creative expression in a wholesome manner,” says Garimella. 

‘Night Prowl’ by Rajesh Soni.
‘Night Prowl’ by Rajesh Soni.

The four-day event also sees the return of Platform, a popular section that showcases the best of established and emerging South Asian galleries, artists and artist collectives. Among the participants are the Britto Arts Trust of Bangladesh, the Nepal Art Council of Kathmandu, the Theertha International Artists’ Collective of Sri Lanka and India’s Blueprint 12. 

Some of the 72 exhibitor booths from countries in South Asia, West Asia and Europe, as well as the US, are presenting traditional arts as well. Delhi’s Gallery Espace, for instance, has dedicated a part of its booth to 200-year-old leather puppets. “The classical art form of leather shadow puppetry originated in Andhra Pradesh in the second century AD. Now it is on the brink of extinction because many of the puppeteers have moved to other professions to earn more, so I believe it’s our duty to tell the world about them,” says Renu Modi, founder of Gallery Espace. 

Making its debut at the IAF is Amrapali, the popular heritage jewellery house from Jaipur. Besides silver and gold jewellery, its booth provides a sneak peek into the Amrapali Museum that will be launched in March in Jaipur. It will house tribal jewellery sourced from across the country and items such as paan daans, hookahs and hand fans used during the Mughal era.

There’s also the Art on Film section. Try and watch the premiere screening of Kamal Swaroop’s Atul on 5 February. It follows the life of artist Atul Dodiya, best known for producing works that reflect the middle-class life. 

The fair is also hosting Speakers’ Forum sessions that will see debates between art curators, professionals and artists. One of the not-to-be-missed sessions is on 5 February, when speakers like Lekha Poddar of the Devi Art Foundation, Anubhav Nath of the Ojas Art gallery and Bhajju Shyam, a Gond artist, will talk about the pressure on vernacular artists to “manifest ‘tradition’ and provide a new facet of the ‘Indian contemporary’ in the global art world”.

The India Art Fair is on till 5 February at the NSIC Grounds, Okhla, Delhi. Ticket prices vary. For the full schedule and tickets, visit Indiaartfair.in.

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