Jaya Asokan, who took over as the new India Art Fair director earlier this year, initially focused on digital initiatives, given that the pandemic-induced restrictions meant the fair couldn’t be held offline. These included a refresh of the website, with a view to take art into people’s homes. “We see this year as an opportunity for experimentation,” Asokan had said at the time. Now, with the fair set to return to a physical format in February, Asokan—previously the fair’s deputy director—talks about plans to make it a more inclusive and diverse platform, straddling the old and the new, and ensuring safety protocols are not breached. Edited excerpts:
How have you implemented learnings from the pandemic into the programming of the fair?
Through the pandemic, we’ve learnt that change is a constant, and the importance for the fair model to continually evolve and adapt. At the India Art Fair, we have transitioned from a four-day event to a year-round brand through new editorial, programming, commissions and collaborations—I feel this is crucial to keep India and its artists relevant, both locally and internationally.
We have given a lot of thought to how to make our editorial, programming and other offerings more open, inclusive and accessible. From auditorium talks and performances, to artist-led workshops, masterclasses and outdoor commissions, our public programme will also be curated to speak to a diverse range of audiences from artists, collectors and those who have no prior experience of the art world, in a hope to initiate conversations and spark fresh interests and ideas.
All through last year, we have seen great community spirit, collaborative and community-led initiatives. It is what sets India’s art scene apart from others, and we look forward to taking this forward in a concerted way while planning for the future and shaping the upcoming edition of the India Art Fair. Along with bringing together top galleries, institutions and non-profits, we’re working hard to extend the fair’s programme to include architecture, design, music, fashion and more. It’s the only way to widen participation and grow audiences for the arts.
How will technology play a role in engaging audiences?
Technology is essential, so why not use it positively to educate, inspire and engage our audiences? It has been a game-changer in a way for the past two years, giving artists a lot of reach as well. Digitally, we ramped up activity and refreshed our website earlier in the year to provide a window into South Asia’s art scene. We have been focusing on regional content, telling the stories behind established and emerging artists from the subcontinent through interviews, features and newly commissioned BMW Artist Films (a section sponsored by the brand). We feel it’s been an incredible tool to educate millennials and the next generation of collectors, who are instrumental in shaping the art market of the future.
I also feel one of the most powerful first steps is to look inwards. In 2022, we are also supporting a range of events and exhibitions under the IAF “Parallel” programme for those looking to explore Indian and South Asian art in their city, be it New Delhi, Bengaluru or Chandigarh. I am also excited about our new Noticeboard, which is an open listing platform for open calls, residencies, fellowships, jobs for young artists and arts professionals. We have come out of a tough year, with a lot of people having lost their livelihoods. This is our way of highlighting opportunities for them.
We have also opened up our archive of past editions to encourage research and transparency. In the run-up to the fair, we started online programming one-and-a-half months ago, with artist-led walk-throughs of landmark shows such as Lokame Tharavadu, a BMW Art Talk on creativity and sustainability by Dia Mehhta Bhupal, and a specialised printmaking workshop with Soghra Khurasani.
What will be the fair’s highlights?
As a team, we feel very strongly about giving back to the community. This is also a shared ideal between the fair and its presenting partner, BMW. For the first time, they were keen to support an artist directly. This has resulted in a new commission, titled “The Future is Born of Art”, which will be awarded to an Indian artist, who will go on to design the wrap of the BMW electric car to be launched next year. It’s our way of encouraging corporate patronage, and rather than being an intermediary, we would like them to engage with the artists directly.
As I mentioned before, inclusivity, diversity and support to the arts ecosystem are paramount. We are coming up with an inclusivity programme to make the fair an enjoyable experience for all, with Braille guides, tactile works and model sculptures for the differently-abled. We also want to give not-for-profits and institutions, working at the grassroots, the attention they truly deserve, and in 2022, we will have the highest- ever representation, with over 14 of them in the fair. Our “Platform” section will get a new lease of life under curator Amit Kumar Jain and shine the spotlight on lesser-known traditional Indian art forms. Personally, this is very close to my heart.
How will you ensure safety?
Luckily for us, we are in a venue that has a large outdoor space. Within the exhibition halls, we will have wider aisles and will be enforcing mandatory vaccination for 18 and over. If you buy a ticket online, you will need to enter your vaccination details and also show the certificate at the venue. We will be enforcing masking and sanitising. Our ticketing will be completely digital and we will also have limited daily capacity of people and footfall at the fair venue.