India has 300 serious collectors, 30 serious galleries and about 30-35 artists at the absolute top,” says Chanda Chaudhary Barrai. Barrai—who set up The Fuchsia Tree, a Hong Kong-based online art gallery, in 2008—is making the point that the Indian art market lacks depth. “We wanted to provide access to first-time collectors,” she says, explaining why she set up The Fuchsia Tree. “An art gallery is usually a white cube space that can be intimidating. Our space is non-intimidating, where…it is okay to be naïve and ask questions.”
As part of its attempt to unearth new talent and, in Barrai’s words, “democratize art, open it up to younger people, both artists and collectors”, The Fuchsia Tree launched a talent hunt for artists in India called The Fuchsia Futures. Barrai describes it as “India’s first pageant-like art programme that…ran like an Indian Idol (show).” The qualifying criteria was that the artists shouldn’t ever have had a solo show previously. From among the 1,400 artists who applied and sent images of their works initially, 10 made the cut after three rounds of elimination—seven painters, two photographers and one sculptor. Artist Amal Ghosh, sculptor K.S. Radhakrishnan and photographer Nrupen Madhvani constituted the panel of judges.
According to Barrai, there is a threefold agenda behind this initiative, which she plans to organize once every three years—show young artists to “important tastemakers”, gallery owners and curators; link discerning collectors with emerging talents; and by pricing the works of the selected artists for as little as Rs10,000, put them within the reach of first-time buyers.
Debut: Works by The Fuchsia Futures artists—(from top) Create to Recreate by Parvej Pathan; an untitled work by Vivek Singh; and “My Evergreen Vehicle” by Gauri.
The selected finalists have all been promised a solo show of their own over the next couple of years and they seem grateful for it. “Every artist needs a platform, and more so a budding artist,” says Gauri, one of the finalists, who studied art in University of Allahabad and Indira Kala Sangit Vishwavidyalaya (IKSVV), Khairagarh, Chhattisgarh. Currently associated with the Bharat Bhavan in Bhopal, she says she likes to paint “the familiar”, drawing on experiences around her—grandmothers and grandchildren; homemade toys; or life with friends. She feels that the experience of being selected and then showing two of her works along with the other finalists at an event in Mumbai on 12 March has “energized” her and given her valuable exposure.
The importance of a gallery’s support is also stressed by two other finalists. “Very few galleries take on young photographers,” says the Delhi-based photographer Vivek Singh. A former television journalist, Singh, who has had no formal training in photography, captured the lives of “internally displaced persons” from 2006-08 in the North-East. One of the images he displayed in Mumbai shows temporarily resettled refugees praying on Good Friday in the Upper Chichirlangso area in the Karbi Anglong district of Assam.
Parvej Pathan, who graduated with a BFA in applied art from Aurangabad and works with an ad agency in Mumbai, says the recognition makes him hopeful. He began with landscapes, but has moved to “conceptual art”—he says his current works, mostly in ink and acrylic on paper, focus on the human obsession with money, against the backdrop of the global financial turmoil.
“The idea was to look for original works, not formula-like work that is saleable,” says Barrai. “What we wanted to reward is the conviction to create original work.” She admits that the pressures of a debut solo show can be high, so she will not push the young artists. “Most galleries commercialize the artists fast, but I want to follow the international system which gives them space and nurtures them.”
The Fuchsia Futures project is being supported by the Mumbai-based Anjaneya Foundation—this, says Barrai, has ensured that there are no commercial pressures to worry about.