If the India Art Fair 2023 was reflective—acknowledging the various shifts that took place in South-East Asia in the last 15 years, be it a discourse on sustainability, the use of technology in art, or the growing representation of queer artists—the forthcoming edition (1-4 February) is a forward-looking one. It is trying to capture trends that are likely to shape art discourse in the next decade or so. The new section featuring collectible design, for instance, is one such attempt. It looks at the cross-pollination of art and design happening across the globe, the rise of the artist-designer, and the opening of newer galleries dedicated to collectible design.
To be held at Delhi’s NSIC Grounds in Okhla, the art fair continues to acknowledge and platform emerging artists. For the 15th edition, it has partnered with London-based talent and creative agency MTArt to launch an inaugural prize that will offer a global canvas for one such Indian artist. This time around, the MTArt Agency and India Art Fair prize is being awarded to Sajid Wajid Shaikh, a Mumbai-based multidisciplinary artist, who is known for his engagement with contemporary sociopolitical concerns.
Every year, the fair facade is one of the highlights of the event, showcasing the depth and versatility of a contemporary artist’s practice. This year, it has been designed by artist duo Thukral & Tagra, and has been envisioned as colourful pixels. “To ensure a life for the facade after the fair, the artists will collaborate with Chamar Studio, run by members of the Dalit community, who will repurpose it into an edition of collectible bags,” says Jaya Asokan, director, India Art Fair.
The India Art Fair 2024 will continue to carry forth elements that have been its signature for the past several years—ranging from a robust talks programme and outdoor projects to a celebration of living traditions of India in the “Platform” segment, and the exploration of tech in art.
As in previous years, the fair will have braille guides, tactile artworks, accessible seating and workshops for people of all needs programmed by Siddhant and Nirali Shah of Access for ALL, which is trying to bridge the gap between cultural heritage and disability.
So, if you want to see digital artists at work, browse through the expanded exhibitors’ showcase, or simply walk through the outdoor exhibits while soaking in the last dregs of the winter sun, here is a guide to all that you can do at the India Art Fair.
This year, 30 new participants have been added to the list of exhibitors, taking the number up to 108. This includes 72 galleries, regional and international art institutions and seven design studios that are part of the new collectible design showcase.
The mix in the latter segment includes both Indian and global studios such as Vikram Goyal, Atelier Ashiesh Shah, Gunjan Gupta, de Gournay and the Carpenters Workshop Gallery. According to Asokan, there are no boundaries when it comes to creativity, and the inaugural collectible design section is built upon this fundamental principle (see pages 8-9).
The galleries in the main exhibitors segment are presenting a mix of modern and contemporary art. Besides well-known masters such as Jamini Roy, Ram Kumar and Ganesh Haloi, galleries such as DAG and Chatterjee & Lal are also shining the spotlight on lesser-known modernists like B. Prabha, Radha Charan Bagchi and Rustom Sisodia.
Artists from the Global South with a strong international presence, such as Gauri Gill (Vadehra Art Gallery), Dayanita Singh (Nature Morte), Ayesha Sultan (Experimenter) and Mithu Sen (Chemould Prescott Road), will also be part of the showcase. “There is no single South Asian aesthetic, and our work is to show that South Asian art and creativity cannot be siloed. There is a dizzying range of work being produced by artists and designers today, and our aim is to represent as much of this diversity as possible,” elaborates Asokan.
Fifteen institutions—foundations, collectives and organisations—are also displaying a range of projects. The highlight includes an immersive installation, Antumbra by Jitish Kallat, which is particularly pertinent to the times. Inspired by former South African President Nelson Mandela’s long imprisonment, the work, presented by Foundation of Indian Contemporary Art and JSW Foundation reflects themes of resilience in the face of challenges.
To be hosted at the auditorium, the talks programme, titled Art Across, led by researcher Priya Chauhan, looks at critical dialogue taking place in the South Asian arts space today.
Culture shapers such as museum heads, curators, collectors, artists, architects and market experts will be part of the panels. “The programme will feature the first African-born and black director of the Berlin’s famous HKW, Prof. Bonaventure Soh Bejeng Ndikung, the head of arts at CERN, Geneva, Mónica Bello, the director of collections and learning at the Royal Academy in London, Rebecca Lyons, and more,” says Asokan.
Some of the other names include Sabih Ahmed, associate director of Ishara Art Foundation in Dubai, Tasneem Zakaria Mehta, director of the Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum, Mumbai, and artists Rana Begum and Ghulammohammed Sheikh, who will be talking about power and responsibility of art institutions as agents of change in the world. “The programme is built on the principle of engaging in open and critical dialogue across geographical and disciplinary boundaries, to be able to actually build new ways of thinking and new ideas for the future,” she explains.
There has been a growing discourse in recent years about the role of technology in art. When it comes to digital art is the artist the creator or the machine? This question is still being debated across the globe. Meanwhile at the fair, the second edition of the Digital Residency Hub, titled Forces Of Nature, is trying to showcase the power of human creativity and potential of tech as a medium—intersections between the natural and digital world—through immersive experiences.
Artists such as Dhruv Jani of Studio Oleomingus, sound and graphic practitioners MYLES and Ameya, and illustrator Sadhna Prasad are working on themes of ecology, advocacy, and tech in their projects. While Jani is working on a multi-level game that takes one through layers of sediment and combines poetry with a graphic interface, Prasad is presenting two probable futures—of discord and harmony—in her digital illustrations.
Also read: Carpenters Workshop Gallery comes to India
Outdoor projects and performance art will tackle themes such as the climate crisis, urbanisation and pluralities of living. Artists Jyothidas K.V., Manmeet Devgun and Sajan Mani will use their bodies as a medium backed by techniques of ritualistic movement and immersive soundscapes to pose provocative questions to audiences on questions of gender, caste and class.
Materiality and message will come together in Sashikanth Thavudoz’ multi-sensory installation, Symphony Of Nature. Winner of the third Future Is Born Of Art commission (2024), in collaboration with BMW, the artist carries forth his engagement with marble quarries and iron smelting towns in this work. “He uses natural and manufactured materials to speak about the fragility of the ecological balance. The hope is to trigger an intuitive and emotional response. The rationale of Forwardism, the theme of the commission, is progress with conscience and purpose, and Sashikanth’s project exemplifies the concept—giving us a hopeful vision of a beautiful future while reminding us of our collective responsibility towards achieving it,” says Asokan.
Sustainability runs as a thread through the large-scale outdoor installations. For instance, artists Skarma Sonam Tashi and Philip Frank, supported by Ladakh-based art organisation sā Ladakh and the German embassy, will use recycled plastic and reused bamboo to create a large mountainscape in the fairgrounds. (see page 11).
Sajid Wajid Shaikh, will create a dynamic installation of moving “ears” that will follow movements of visitors in an ominous reflection on mass surveillance. “And a project by Howareyoufeeling.studio will explore the ephemeral nature of art through a large ice sculpture, which will melt over the four days of the fair,” explains Asokan. “We are proud as a fair to be able to support and amplify artists’ voices as they address the world with sensitivity, nuance and courage.”