'Untitled' by Shilpa Gupta (2017-18). Photo: Radhika Iyengar
 'Untitled' by Shilpa Gupta (2017-18). Photo: Radhika Iyengar

India Art Fair opens today, to focus on censorship themes

  • The 11th edition of India Art Fair will feature more than 75 galleries, which includes 15 galleries from abroad
  • While the art fair continues its focus on Indian galleries, there is careful curation of a few stellar galleries from abroad as well

One of the themes that provocatively emerge from the India Art Fair this year is that of censorship.

The 11th edition of the mammoth India Art Fair (IAF), which opens on Friday, will feature more than 75 galleries. While the art fair continues its focus on Indian galleries (60 this year), there is careful curation of a few stellar galleries from abroad as well, particularly from Europe, Asia, and North and South America.

In an earlier interview, the fair’s director, Jagdip Jagpal, had said the quality of exhibits was the primary concern. “One of the major hurdles was to say ‘no’ to some of the galleries. 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."

The talk of the town are the big debuts this year, including the works by Turner Prize winner Wolfgang Tillmans. The David Zwirner gallery, which made its debut last year with Japanese conceptual artist Yayoi Kusama, brings Tillmans’ extraordinary photographs to Indian audiences. Also debuting is Berlin’s neugerriemschneider gallery, which has brought two artworks by the eccentric and politically subversive artist, Ai Weiwei.

“This is the first time we are participating in India. We had never thought of coming here before, but it was through Art Basel Hong Kong that we got to know a few Indian collectors and now we are excited to focus on this new part of the world," said neugerriemschneider gallery’s co-founder Burkhard Riemschneider.

A prominent thread that weaves in and out of the fair is the loss of agency. Shilpa Gupta’s “Untitled" (2017-18) represented by Vadehra Art Gallery, for instance, takes cues from her earlier photographic series, “Don’t See, Don’t Hear, Don’t Speak" (2006). The sculpture visually epitomizes the prevailing political landscape of our times, one that is characterised by organised censorship and orchestrated oppression.

Through her on-going project, “UnMythU", Mithu Sen too (represented by Chemould Prescott Road, Mumbai) tries to locate the impact of censorship on her artistic practice and her personal voice. On display are two of her earlier artworks, “Dance after Depression-1" and “Perhaps U-1". The works, however, have now been tediously painted over, thereby destroying or erasing their original content.

“Given the unpredictability of our current political climate, the ‘(un)appropriateness’ of having nudity and violence in the original artworks are now blackened and decorated with images of flora and fauna to the best of my knowledge, for safeguarding the IAF 2019 from any possible ‘unwanted nuisance’ or subsequent loss," Sen wrote in her artist statement. .

The Art Projects’ tent inhabits a motley crew of experimental large-scale projects and interactive experiences.

“The Art Project space we introduced last year is still a work in progress," Jagpal said at IAF’s press preview. “We wanted to have more interactive works and wanted to show some of the art forms that don’t often get as much attention, like sound installation and video works," said Jagpal.

One of them is an immersive, sound installation titled “Change Room" by Baaraan Iijal (represented by Prameya Art Foundation). The installation provides a collection of anonymous voices that talk about intimate thoughts, desires or fears.

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