Sanah Rehman, the founder of Open Call India, a platform that enables artists to connect to relevant opportunities such as internships, fellowships, jobs or exhibitions, describes the platform as her pandemic baby. “I started this almost a year ago in the peak of the pandemic and have continued to give my best efforts for it since then,” she says, pointing out that the idea came from an evident need.
She says the country is sorely lacking platforms that allow artists easy access to information and resources. “There are so many opportunities for artists but there is no awareness about it,” says Rehman. Too many eligible artists lose out on good breaks because of this, she adds.” So I just wanted to make it easier for them.”
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She turned to Instagram to put out posts about opportunities she hears about, knowing that the photo- and video-sharing social networking service is a great place to gain traction if you can leverage it. “I understand how the algorithm works,” she says, adding that the account today has around 11,800 followers since it started last July. “The reason for this exponential growth is because I engage actively with followers and take a genuine interest in their work.”
A quick peek at the Open Call India Instagram account throws up the following posts: a showcase of several artists’ work; job vacancies and internship announcements; motivational quotes; information about mental health and support for the queer community, among other things. “The vision was to fill the gap that exists in the art world and to be a platform where artists can find not only work but also have a chance of being exposed to the right kind of audience,” says Rehman, an art entrepreneur and curator currently based out of Delhi.
So far, she has posted over 300 opportunities on Open Call, a passion project of sorts with no institutional backing or funding. She has also facilitated around 11 artist takeovers, where artists take over the account and explain their work process. “Basically, I give the password to the artist, and they have free reign over the account,” she says, adding that this helps the artist get noticed. The artists who have done takeovers range from the new and unknown to better-known ones such as Santanu Hazarika and Sam Madhu.
Sangeeta Bhagawati, a London-based printmaker originally from Assam, is one of the 11 artists who did a takeover. Bhagwati, who makes lino prints with chine collé, monoprints and etchings, describes it as a positive experience. “I shared my current practice of printmaking at home during the pandemic and reflected on how my practice has helped me to cope with stress and anxiety during the national lockdown,” she says, adding that the takeover generated good conversation and feedback. It also directed more people to her profile and got her a supportive audience, she says. “I even made a sale during this.”
She adds that the timely intervention allowed her to connect with the Indian creative community, something she was struggling with earlier. “Being UK-based, I had a tough time navigating the algorithm and finding my audience in India.”
Arvind Sundar, who holds a master’s degree in fine arts from the US and has followed the platform from the beginning, believes it is the kind of intervention India needs. He got in touch with Floating Canvas Company—a startup that sells art via subscription—through Open Call India. “I am now working with them extensively,” says the Coimbatore-based artist.
Apart from the art opportunities it showcases, the platform is lively, adds Sundar. “I like the small things Open Call does: posting inspiration posts, sharing art history, talking about the mental health of artists….” Illustrator Yasha Shrivastava, also a follower of Open Call India, echoes his thoughts. ‘It is an exciting platform that allowed me to interact and collaborate with other like-minded people,” says the Sagar, Madhya Pradesh-based artist, who particularly likes the platform’s focus on inclusivity.
Rehman hopes to follow up with a website and a newsletter and is looking for sponsors and patrons to help her grow this initiative. Its raison d’etre, however, will not change: It will continue to be a safe space for community building and sharing. “There is power in solidarity,” she says. “The only way forward is to