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India in the spotlight at Artissima, Italy’s pivotal art fair

The special segment, co-curated by Myna Mukherjee of EnGendered, will focus on the issues of the times, be it covid-19 or the politics of representation

'Soaring to Nowhere' by Sudipta Das. Courtesy: Gallery Latitude 28
'Soaring to Nowhere' by Sudipta Das. Courtesy: Gallery Latitude 28

For nearly 26 years, Artissima has offered a platform for emerging artists from around the world. Italy’s foremost contemporary art fair, it sees nearly 200 galleries taking part every year. In 2019, it trained its focus on Asia, with a new project called “Hub”, created in collaboration with Fondazione Torino Musei. With the inaugural edition of this new segment, focusing on the Middle East, it set out to offer an overview of galleries, institutions and artists active in the area. The 2020 edition, slated to be held in Torino from 6-8 November, will turn the spotlight on India.

Artissima Hub India is being curated by Davide Quadrio, a China-based producer and curator, and Myna Mukherjee of EnGendered, a New York/Delhi-based transnational arts and human rights organization, which looks at the landscape of gender and rising invisibilities. The initiative will display work by contemporary artists showcased by cutting-edge Indian galleries, in addition to a strong talks programme. In an interview with Mint, Mukherjee talks about the programme and her curatorial work for it. Edited excerpts:

What is the significance of the India focus at Artissima?

Davide and I are honoured to be invited to Artissima, which is Italy’s most important art fair and a significant destination for contemporary art in Europe. However, this is the first time a survey of art from the Indian subcontinent is being undertaken. It doesn’t just address a curiosity about the art being produced here but is also an acknowledgement of the rising significance of contemporary art from South-East Asia.

Could you elaborate on the curatorial approach to the exhibition?

There is a twofold approach that David and I have taken to best represent the topography of contemporary art. One is a macro-level view, while also drawing in the viewer’s gaze to the more intimate and microscopic art practices in the region—these draw upon the pedagogical and historical styles but are still contemporary in nature and context. The other mandate has been to look at the kind of galleries that comprise the ecosystem in India. The choice of artists flows in organically from there.

We are in the process of confirming some of India’s most vital voices, ranging from established names like Nature Morte and the Vadehra Art Gallery to the younger galleries like Shrine Empire and Latitude 28. We are also looking beyond the Capital to other cities like Mumbai and Kolkata, with participants such as Experimenter and Tarq. The idea is to also include new hybrid spaces like Emami Art, which is also our institutional partner for the project. We want contemporary art that is relevant to the times and that reflects in our choice of artists such as Bharti Kher, Ranbir and Rashmi Kaleka, Bose Krishnamachari, Puneet Kaushik, Niyeti Chadha Kannal and Martand Khosla. We are also considering strong emerging artists like Tanya Goel, Sudipta Das and Pratap More. There are exciting, independent AI-based projects conceptualized and curated by 64/1, led by Raghava K.K. and Karthik Kalyanaraman.

'Fractal 2' by Tanya Goel. Courtesy: Nature Morte
'Fractal 2' by Tanya Goel. Courtesy: Nature Morte

How have the issues of the times, ranging from the covid-19 pandemic to economic disparities and throttling of freedom of expression across the globe, influenced the curation?

The pandemic has brought up issues of economic injustice to the fore. There are complex regions and environments that artists are working within that we would like to represent. For instance, there’s work that looks at the agrarian crisis, the issue of migrant workers, “landlessness”, the concept of home, all of which are reflected in the work of artists like Sudipta Das. The curation pays a lot of attention to the politics of representation. In these times of extreme and skewed beliefs, we have stayed away from the rhetoric of border-based nationalities. We are looking at more plural and syncretic ways of representing art practices in the Indian subcontinent, including shared cultural histories of trans-local practices and concerns. Hence the curation includes selections from Sri Lanka, Bangladesh and Pakistan as well.

Gender has always been at the heart of your work. How do you carry forth that engagement at Artissima?

Gender has always been of concern to us, hence we have voices of women through the selection. We also have queer representation alongside other marginalized voices. While we are limited by space and logistical constraints of international shipping, we are trying to overcome those with innovative programming. There are two exciting digital programmes, which will include works by a wider cross-section of artists. Through these, we will be able to show works that arise from conflict zones like Kashmir and from underrepresented regions like the North-East. These are voices that cut across class, caste and gender.

How has the pandemic impacted the logistics?

The situation has surely impacted this entire curation in a big way. The fair organizers themselves have faced many constraints. This year, they require city permits, which call for strict adherence to health guidelines. These have impacted timelines. We have had to curate works virtually rather them being able to see them in studios or galleries. But the pandemic has forced us to think of innovative and radical ways of representing a spectrum of art from the subcontinent in the form of digital programmes and exhibitions. This will help us to reimagine both the representation and consumption of art. As of now, the fair is scheduled for 6-8 November, but we are working under a shadow of uncertainty as international travel may continue to be affected due to the pandemic. But fingers crossed. The successful showcase of this segment will be testament to the fact that art will prevail across all challenges.

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