In the leafy environs of Mumbai’s Madam Cama Road lies the 100-year-old heritage structure of Amar Chand Mansion. Designed in the Indo-Saracenic style, it has white geometric balconies, subdued brown sandstone and intricate detailing on the minarets and chattris. This structure now has a new occupant: Akara Contemporary, the latest space by Puneet and Meghna Shah, who started the gallery Akara Art in Colaba in 2015.
With this new space, Akara has taken on two clear directions: While the original gallery in Colaba, Akara Modern, is dedicated to intergenerational exhibitions by modern Indian artists, the newly inaugurated gallery aims to be a platform for the current and next generation of artists from South Asia and elsewhere. “Across both galleries, Akara centres India and South Asia within the continuum of international art history and brings alternative narratives and realities to the foreground of global discourse,” states the gallery note.
As you enter Akara Contemporary, your eyes fall on Rebecca Sharp’s Sea Events, with its sharp blue hues and fantastical imagery drawn from primaeval forms. The sunlight streams in from the stained-glass windows, illuminating the nightscapes on display. In sharp contrast to Sharp’s vibrant works are Bhagyashree Suthar’s intricate grey drawings, which oscillate between biological and man-made forms. Her untitled pen, ink and charcoal works stand out against the stark white walls and grey flooring.
These works are part of the new exhibition, Let Me Tell You A Story–Part 1, on view at Akara Contemporary till 10 June. Put together by the Lisbon, Portugal-based curator Luiza Teixeira de Freitas, the show looks at the interplay between art and storytelling through the works of artists like Suthar, Rodrigo Hernández, Mona Hatoum, Dhruva Mistry, Darren Almond, Edgard de Souza and Mounira Al Solh. “This exhibition alludes to the simplest of all opposites—night and day. The first part of Let Me Tell You A Story… brings together a body of works that reflect aspects of nightfall—silence, darkness, dusk, twilight, endings and so much more,” states the curatorial note.
The exhibition reflects the ethos of the new gallery, which opened to the public on 29 April. According to Puneet Shah, Let Me Tell You A Story also speaks of a new beginning for Akara as a whole. “It is literally telling a story of us, the relationship between the curator and India, and the tying of all the works by different artists from various parts of the world into one exhibition. It gives an insight into our programming, as part of which we will continue to exhibit works by our represented artists along with their international counterparts,” he explains.
For him, the works of Haegue Yang and Sarah Morris in the ongoing show are some of the highlights. Both artists, with distinctive styles and approaches, are masters of their craft. “Featuring bells attached to a clothes rack, Haegue Yang’s Sonic Clotheshorse–Dressage #5 showcases her style of using everyday objects in unconventional ways. Yang’s innovative use of materials and her ability to create sensory experiences has established her as one of the most prominent South Korean artists today. Sarah Morris’ artwork, Funnel, takes the basic structure of a spider web and transforms it into an abstraction of city lights—a true reflection of her mastery of colour and form,” says Shah.
The idea behind the new gallery is also to create a flexible space that can adapt to different styles and formats of exhibitions. Designed by architect and interior designer Rajiv Saini Associates, it retains elements of the heritage architecture while converting the space into a cutting-edge contemporary space, creating a design story in the interiors.
One can see high ceilings, decorative arches, floral motifs on stained-glass windows, and more, at Akara Contemporary. “With Rajiv Saini’s expertise, experience and attention to detail, we managed to optimise the utilisation of the space and structure, making the gallery fully equipped to host all kinds of exhibitions,” says Shah.