Over the last decade, the India Art Fair (IAF) has become an inimitable hub for art aficionados from various parts of the globe. In August, its founding director, Neha Kirpal, made way for Jagdip Jagpal, a woman with an equally formidable repertoire. Jagpal was the international programme manager at Tate, UK, and worked on the New North and South, a network which brings together arts organizations from South Asia and England. She has also served as a senior project coordinator at the Whitworth Art Gallery, UK.

For the fair’s 10th edition, which starts on 10 February, Jagpal has tweaked the blueprint, turning the spotlight on South Asian galleries, while working towards building a thriving art scene in the country. Edited excerpts from an interview:

Did you have access to Indian art while growing up in London? When did your interest in the arts take root?

I’ve always been interested in Indian culture, because my mother is an Indian living in London. I think it was tricky when we were younger, because growing up in the 1960s and 1970s, there was not much scope for seeing a great deal of Indian culture being dealt with in a high-level international way. I have always been interested in the arts—across the genres—including theatre and music, and visual arts obviously. But I started thinking about the art scene in India for a couple of reasons. One was that I was interested in various aspects of it and there wasn’t a great deal of information available in the UK, and at that stage also, there weren’t great public programmes.

Sunil Gawde’s ‘Still Alive III’ (2016-17), on show this year.
Sunil Gawde’s ‘Still Alive III’ (2016-17), on show this year.

When I joined Tate, I became more interested, because I was working on projects related to China, and became more interested in that part of the world. There were fellows who came on The Brooks International Fellowship Programme—Tate, including curators Kamini Sawhney and Aastha Chauhan. I was inspired by some of the things they had done.

In addition, I was very fortunate that I worked with Maria Balshaw (now the director of Tate) on her New North and South, which involved the South Asian biennales, the Dhaka Art Summit and art organizations in Manchester. I realized that I was eventually going to move to India; it was just a question of when. People had asked me to do various roles in various capacities in India, and, to be honest, if I hadn’t taken up the India Art Fair, I would have set up my own art fair in India.

If you did start one of your own, what kind would it be?

Probably a contemporary one, but not modern (and) contemporary. It wouldn’t be as large-scale as the India Art Fair, because I wouldn’t be able to afford such a large-scale event. However, I think it’s really about being able to get the right galleries together. This includes the smaller galleries as well. When you hear about them, you realize that they are so dynamic and creative, and you really do see the amount of effort (they) put into supporting their artists, including representing different types of artists. Because of the projects I had done, I already knew a part of the Indian-South Asian arts community, mainly through the arts and the artists at the not-for-profit side as well as the collectors. So, this is the place to be for me, really.

The art fair should be more about people getting a unique experience. So, the first time you get to see something new, it should be at the fair.-

You are specifically focusing on South Asian art galleries this time.

Yes, and I hope that going forward this would always be the case. For the Indian galleries, it’s a long game and it’s a lot of hard work, and to have some large galleries come in who pay a lot of money—well, the Indian galleries just won’t be able to compete.

Of course, there should be international galleries, but they should be limited and there should be a mix of them. And they shouldn’t be bringing artworks that have been put up for sale before. It shouldn’t be like, “Oh, somebody else didn’t buy them, so let’s go to India and flaunt them to the Indians." The art fair should be more about people getting a unique experience. So, the first time you get to see something new, it should be at the fair. Going forward, that would be a key concern—the majority of space will always be reserved for Indian galleries. Obviously, there will be a quality level at which the galleries will be allowed at the fair and they’ve got to be able to afford the space as well, because we are a commercial entity.

You are also introducing a new section called, ‘I Know What You Did Last Summer’.

One thing that really struck me is that South Asian artists are doing fantastic stuff abroad. Unfortunately, people in India don’t really get a chance to view that. A classic example of that is Nikhil Chopra’s performance art in various places; Waqas Khan, who did a solo exhibition at Manchester (Art Gallery) or Lubna Chowdhary, who had a residency at the V&A (Victoria and Albert Museum, London). We want to make sure that urban audiences in India are able to get the opportunity to see their works. So, that’s how the working title, “I Know What You Did Last Summer", came about. I feel that if Indians saw how Indian artists or South Asian artists were doing in other parts of the world, they might actually see them as “international" artists.

What art projects are you looking forward to this year?

We’ve got some new works from Ravinder Reddy and it’s always intriguing to see in what way they are “new". We have also got Imran Qureshi, and what I am also really looking forward to is Photoink—it will be showing works by Amit Madheshiya, Ketaki Sheth, and many others.

How important is it for you to build a thriving art scene in Delhi?

One of the things that we are doing this year, which the art fair hasn’t done, is that we are listing events that are going on in different cities in relation to the public museums and also the galleries. We are going to continue doing that throughout the year. So, while we want people to come to the art fair, we also want to inform them about what is happening in Delhi. For instance, there is immersive theatre experience by CROW (Gujral Foundation) or Vivan Sundaram’s exhibition at the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, Riyas Komu’s opening at the Vadehra Art Gallery. We want people to visit our website and get a whole picture of what’s going on in the art scene. We want people to feel that Delhi is a cultural city, it’s an arts city. If the website becomes a one-stop shop, I would be the happiest person in the world... We are also going to be doing work between fairs—so more talks, more collaborations throughout the year, as part of a build-up to each fair.

What have been some of the challenges while curating the fair?

One of the biggest challenges was to say “no" to some of the galleries that applied because you need to maintain a certain high quality of standard. At the same time, you have to be open minded—just because you don’t like something, doesn’t mean it’s not going to be of value to a viewer. So, it is about having a broad range of tastes and I’ve been very mindful of that. I must confess, I have a very strong set of preferences, but I am also very mindful that it’s a fair and it has to be diverse.

How do you see the IAF evolving?

Going forward, if there is going to be a fair where I can get to see everything in one place, then that should be the India Art Fair. Second, I want people to see it as a fair that is always changing, evolving, bringing in new ar. Third, I don’t think that we need to copy other art fairs, that is, we don’t need to imitate other talks and events.

What do you feel the future of art in India is—in terms of the new ways people are viewing, experiencing, exhibiting and selling art?

Digital technology has impacted the process of creating, buying, selling and experiencing art. A number of online portals have started listing galleries and selling their work. However, there are different buying behaviours and we are not threatened by this as an art fair. In fact, we hope to build on our digital practices to promote our year-round programme. In the long term, this will help in cultivating the next generation of art enthusiasts and buyers. We are implementing a new editorial strategy across website, email and social media, making use of the networks we have access to. Even for those audiences who may not be able to attend in person, I hope the new website will help reflect the vibrancy of the local scene.

The India Art Fair will be on view from 10-12 February at the NSIC Exhibition Grounds, Okhla Industrial Estate, New Delhi. Visit www.indiaartfair.in.

Close