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India Art Fair 2023: Showcasing multiplicity of voices

Through talks, performances, outdoor projects and the inaugural Digital Hub, the conversation at the fair, this year, is about showcasing plurality in mediums, representation and voices

Debashish Paul. 'Beyond The Body and Gender', performance; courtesy of the artist
Debashish Paul. 'Beyond The Body and Gender', performance; courtesy of the artist

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It might not be wrong to call the 2023 edition of the India Art Fair its most mature yet—reflective of the recent shifts across south Asia. The art and culture ecosystem in the subcontinent, in particular, has been witness to numerous disruptions and changes in perceptions in the past two years. The rise of technology-based art, opening up of niche museums, growing representation of queer voices, and an interest in sustainability, are just some of the emerging trends. Through a showcase of works by 85 Indian and international galleries, a robust talks programme, a series of performances, outdoor projects, the inaugural Digital Hub and an expanded Young Collectors Programme, the latest edition of the fair attempts to highlight the myriad changes. The conversation, this year, is about plurality—or at least acknowledging the need for it—in mediums, representation and perspectives.

In fact, the talks programme, put together by independent curator-educator Shaleen Wadhwana, forms the backbone of the event, which is scheduled to take place at the NSIC Grounds, Okhla, New Delhi, between 9-12 February. Some of the highlights include sessions by author Jerry Pinto, curator Nancy Adajania, Dharmendra Prasad of the Anga Collective, Aroh Akunth, founder of the Dalit Queer Project and Dalit Art Archive, Gond artist Japani Shyam and artist Prabhakar Kamble on erasures of queer voices, how barriers of language impact artists, the ways in which the legal framework is keeping up with digital technology, curating art for the public, and more. For the first time, the key learnings from the talks will be documented in an action-plan which will be made accessible to the public.

Kamble takes the subject of the caste system and its impact on marginalised communities further in his performance, Protected Ignorance, at the fair, which will see him walk around blindfolded. It makes a strong statement about the fact that ignorance of caste-related injustice comes from a place of privilege. Another performance by Debashish Paul, titled Me and My Pets, showcases the memories and the universe of emotions he carries within. The artist, who is one of the artists-in-residence and is represented by Emami Art, Kolkata, expresses his queer identity through his sculptural dresses—thereby making the body a site for the performance.

Also read: India Art Fair 2023: Designer Vikram Goyal debuts with new set of sculptural pieces

T. Venkanna's 'Kismet' (2022), pencil and hand embroidery on linen. Image: courtesy Gallery Maskara
T. Venkanna's 'Kismet' (2022), pencil and hand embroidery on linen. Image: courtesy Gallery Maskara

Conceptual artist Lakshmi Madhavan is yet another artist-in-residence, who will revisit the dying kasavu textile tradition of Kerala to act as a thread connecting the past to the future in a newly commissioned gold-and-white textile installation. A childhood memory of her ammamma, or grandmother, in a kasavu mundu veshti has informed her practice. The smell and fabric of the textile, now a dying art practised only in Balarampuram, Kerala, has stayed with her. “The kasavu mundu veshti comes with highly coded designs and ways of wearing, depending on its wearer’s gender, class and caste,” states the artist note.

For the first time, this year, the fair is seeing a dedicated Digital Residency Hub, showcasing works by three Digital Artists-in-Residence, Varun Desai, Gaurav Ogale and Mira Felicia Malhotra. Made on the iPad, these works respond to the theme of ‘Finding the Extraordinary in the Ordinary’. “The pandemic brought about unprecedented challenges for the Indian art world, but it also led to an outpouring of creativity and resilience,” says Jaya Asokan, fair director. “One of the most striking examples of this was the explosion of digital art and artists, whose works took on new meaning and relevance.”

This intersection between art and technology will also be seen in a dynamic outdoor installation, Computational Convergence. Powered by Tezos India, four artists like Pixelkar and Kala will be showcasing generative NFT collections. With 800 editions of digital generative art from each artist, this installation will offer a total of 3,200 unique algorithmically generated masterpieces that can be freely collected via smartphone by fair visitors.

Also read: Now a new club that shines the spotlight on glass art

Besides Computational Convergence, the other outdoor projects promise a diversity of material and approaches. For instance, Prashant Pandey has created a marble dust sculpture, resembling a pelvic bone and alludes to the moment of birth. Shivani Aggarwal, in her signature style, has worked on a mammoth fibreglass piece, questioning whether it is possible to measure the intangible. Sonia Khurana has created an immersive performance installation within a container—a structure that she has used earlier as well for imagining different ideas of a home.

The exhibitors this year—71 galleries and 14 institutions—represent a mix of established and young contemporary galleries. Some of the returning participants include Vadehra Art Gallery, Nature Morte, PHOTOINK, GALLERYSKE, Chemould Prescott Road, Experimenter, Jhaveri Contemporary, DAG and more. Newer participants such as Treasure Art Gallery, Gallery Dotwalk and Dhi Artspace are representing emerging and mid-career artists.

The 2023 edition of the India Art Fair has expanded on its Young Collectors Hub—a new platform for discovering and engaging with contemporary art—, placing it beyond the fair grounds within the Bikaner House, making it the first-ever official partner venue. The space will see “an exhibition of innovative urban street artists ‘Who are These Outsiders?’ by debutant Gallery XXL, alongside several other music, performance art and art showcases,” adds Asokan. Bikaner House will also host a new Video Creators Room or VCR to showcase cutting-edge video art by Indian and South Asian artists and present it as a collectible art form. 

One of the highlights is a performance, Bharatiya Sadhya, at the ballroom by Sajan Mani, presented by Bodice and Shrine Empire. The multidisciplinary artist, a winner of the 2021 Berlin Art Prize, has been constantly investigating the marginality of Dalit and indigenous lives through his projects such as Wakeup Calls for My Ancestors. In his current performance, he investigates the politics of food. “Lying on a banana leaf as a dish of sadhya (traditional Kerala lunch) and as an edible body, the artist is expanding questions of the political body, space, time and food culture,” states a note by Shrine Empire.

Back at the grounds in Okhla, viewers will get to engage with the fair’s first-ever poster zine, ‘Fire in My Belly’, featuring eight women artists, activists and writers like Anikesa Dhing, the Aravani Art Project, Aqui Thami, Dhruvi Acharya and Meena Kandasamy. “The zine is meant to be torn, pasted and used to spread feminist messages towards creating a more equal world,” adds Asokan.

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