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To say that the global art world is looking towards India has become a cliché. However, one could rephrase the sentence as follows: The global art world is looking towards India with the lens zooming in more closely with every passing year.

In the last couple of years, Indian art, from the ancient, medieval, modern and contemporary periods, has been the focal point of some of the biggest international platforms.

At, for instance, Denmark’s Arken Museum of Modern Art’s India: Art Now on contemporary art (2012); Body In Indian Art, Europalia-India, Brussels (2013); a retrospective on modernist V.S. Gaitonde at the Guggenheim in New York (2014); two big shows on Mughal art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (2012 and 2015) in New York and at the Victoria and Albert Museum’s (V&A’s) Fabric Of India, which wrapped up earlier this month in London.

The impact of these events on the annual India Art Fair (IAF) held in New Delhi is hard to miss. Modelled on European art fairs—gallery-driven affairs that focus on international modern/contemporary artists—IAF 2016 is looking towards India more than it has ever done before.

The 2016 edition, to be held from 28-31 January, is the most inward-looking one held so far, and engages with India’s folk and traditional arts. Foremost is Kalam Patua : From The Interstices Of The City-II, a solo show on Kalighat painter Kalam Patua curated by art historian Jyotindra Jain. A postmaster in West Bengal’s Chandpara sub-post office by day and artist by night, Patua’s works have featured in international museums such as V&A. Patua is a contemporary exponent of the 19th century style that originated outside Kolkata’s Kalighat temple. “Kalighat artists represent the syncretism unique to the subcontinent—Muslim artists paint scrolls with accompanying folk songs on Hindu gods and goddesses. Kalam, however, is a contemporary artist, choosing subjects such as communalism, dowry, urban life, eroticism in his works, using the language of Kalighat art," says Jain.

IAF’s international artistic director Zain Masud says, “We hope this year’s focus will open up the way for more such artists/galleries to feature in the following years." The organizers wanted to showcase more traditional arts like Warli, Gond and Mithila, but found that there was a paucity of galleries that deal in these genres. “Features on Indian folk, tribal arts/artists are the first steps in the direction that the fair wants to go in; one that will reflect the context of the subcontinent and distinguish it from other international art fairs. How do you express your uniqueness?" says Masud.

One of the exhibitions in the Spotlight Series, titled Medicine Corner: Tabiyat, examines the intersection of art and medicine, exploring India’s plurality of traditional healing practices. Curated by the Wellcome Collection, UK, it includes magnificent works never exhibited in India, such as The Ayurvedic Man, an illustration of the interior of the human body as understood in Ayurveda.

An interdisciplinary approach is also evident as the IAF taps into theatre, film, literature, music and food. Former National School of Drama director Ebrahim Alkazi will be feted in an exhibition at the Lalit Kala Academi called The Theatre Of Alkazi: A Modernist Approach. The Speaker’s Forum will feature discussions on the relationship between literature and art in a conversation between poet-screenwriter Javed Akhtar and painter-writer Gulammohammed Sheikh; various types of performative arts will be brought under the lens as writer-dramaturge Rustom Bharucha talks to performance artist Nikhil Chopra and theatre educationist William Ray Langenbach. Museum of Modern Art curator Stuart Comer and artist-film-maker Amar Kanwar will examine the relation between art and film.

“The first few years of the Fair was simply about toeing the line of an international fair, diligently focusing on modern and contemporary art only," says IAF director Neha Kirpal. “We realized it was time to look inwards, recognize our strengths, our unique context. We chose to bring in an international director in order to help us recognize ourselves, see us as the world sees us," says Kirpal.

The eighth edition of the India Art Fair will be held from 28-31 January, at NSIC grounds, Okhla, New Delhi. For details, visit www.indiaartfair.in/filmpro gamme.aspx

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