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June 20, 2024

New centres that are giving contemporary art and craft a much-needed platform

Kanika Sharma

A new art space, more often than not, energizes the local and the national art space with its unique perspective and programming and also gives a platform to undiscovered artists. In a sluggish economy, when the business-driven galleries cut the number of shows, these spaces provide an opportunity to collectors and art experts to scout tomorrow’s stars.
Nila House, in Jaipur, Emami Art, in Kolkata and Ark in Vadodara, all new spaces, must be applauded for bringing in the ‘new’; in the market where only Moderns sell.
Gallery Ark_Architecture
Gallery Ark_Architecture
The blue temple
Nature has given us myriad reds and yellows, but the finest blue only comes from the indigo plant, endemic to the Indian subcontinent, and the finest from Biana, a place 50 miles north-east of Agra. It’s not just the plant that comes from India, but the word itself. When India sold the shade to the earliest human civilizations, the Greek word for it was indikón, that later became indigo, meaning Indian.
But ever since, the shade got synthesized, the practice of fermenting indigo leaves to produce that mysterious blue is waning. And with that, all rhythms of nature, be it the plant, sunlight, air, or water have gotten disturbed. In our lives, fast fashion has bluntly displaced what textiles stand for – a sustainable way of life.
Circling back the meaning of indigo and handloom into India’s artisan and/ or designer communities is Nila House, a place dedicated to everything the shade has come to mean. Nila, that means blue and temple in Sanskrit captures the religious spirit with which the purest of designs are made.
Nila House's central courtyard
Nila House’s central courtyard
Started by the Lady Bamford Foundation — a Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) arm of the construction company JCB in 2017, Nila House, which opened in October, is a space for experiences and dialogues around textiles. It houses open studios, a retail-cum exhibition space, an archive and research library, a textiles vault and space for artist-in-residence.
The space goes back to the ‘40s, belonging once to a Rajasthani family bearing all the conventional architectural characteristics of the region — a central courtyard, ornate brackets and sandstone pillars. Refurbished by Studio Mumbai, its 54-year-old Founder Bijoy Jain, chose natural materials such as jute and mortar of jaggery, fenugreek and a local gum called guggal gondh to build the space. The walls are tinted with indigo to ward off any termites or mosquitoes.
Retail space at Nila House_Image courtesy Nila House Jaipur
Retail space at Nila House_Image courtesy Nila House Jaipur
“Jaipur’s rich legacy is precisely what drew us to this site for Nila House,” says Anuradha Singh, Head, Nila House. She previously helmed the neighbouring multi-arts centre Jawahar Kala Kendra. “For a researcher or a young designer, Jaipur is the obvious choice to learn more about textiles. We wanted to create a space that they could come to, learn and, eventually, collaborate with,” she adds.


Nila House endeavours to empower the artisan community and educate designers and customers. Singh shares that Nila House has been working with artisan clusters in Jaipur from Bagru, Jairampura, Jahota and Kaladera, and
Akola, in Chittorgarh district, for two years now. The space aims to show the stories of people behind working on the textiles. A good starting point for this was a display of traditional Indian textiles, showcasing its weaves and techniques used in India for centuries, such as Chamba Rumaal, Bandhani, and Banarasi at the launch exhibition.
Masroor Ali- master embroiderer at Nila Studio_Image courtesy Nila House Jaipur
Masroor Ali- master embroiderer at Nila Studio_Image courtesy Nila House Jaipur
But accompanying this space are several other displays carrying narratives that make up Nila House’s vision. The Dyeing Room displays natural dyes with their corresponding colour swatches and other ingredients so that the dye can be used for various textile techniques. “In the Charkha Room, for example, we have a display that tells you the story of handspun cotton; from seed to fabric,” Singh adds. “It’s wonderful that a growing number of people are recognising the value of the handmade — simple, handspun khadi, with its myriad imperfections is indeed the ultimate luxury! It embodies the true potential of human creativity.”
At Nila House, the intention is to amplify more and more of these countless human stories in the years to come.
For one and all
What could be better than a gallery opening in a city brimming with a rich history of art and culture! This is what Richa Agarwal, CEO of the Emami Art House, felt when she opened doors of her contemporary Indian art gallery to the discerning audience of East India.
Ms Richa Agarwal- CEO, Emami Art
Ms Richa Agarwal- CEO, Emami Art
Last year, as she launched a pristine white 10,000 sq-ft space that was refashioned from its previous decade-old avatar of Emami Chisel Art, she felt the atmosphere was electric. The difference between the gallery space then and now, she emphasises, is a stronger programming, new building and a sharp focus on contemporary Indian art. The cultural aspect of the Chisel Art is now routed through a newly opened Kolkata Centre for Creativity that contains exhibition spaces, art studios and creative labs.
What is immediately visible as you look at both — Emami Art and Kolkata Centre for Creativity is interior designer-architect Pinakin Patel’s signature minimalism. The gallery is expansive and bare like the canvas of an artist ready to take on any theme slated for a showcase. Patel’s involvement doesn’t stop there. He also helms the Kolkata Centre for Creativity and curated the gallery’s inaugural show, School, displaying his mentor Dashrath Patel’s ceramics, tapestry, paintings and photographs.
Kolkata Centre for Creativity
Kolkata Centre for Creativity
The gallery has also put on display Jogen Chowdhry’s six decades of work while it readies for Bose Krishnamachari’s self-curated exhibition that plays with the concept of mirrors. As acclaimed curators bolster Emami Art’s programming, younger artists such as Anjan Modak, Soma Das and Bholanath Rudra make the gallery equally exciting.
“We are a young gallery,” says Agarwal, carrying on her father-in-law RS Agarwal’s legacy of promoting art. “But yes, we would like to be one of the best galleries. We are working towards making the space an important contemporary art gallery.” Agarwal has tied up with curators Ranjit Hoskote, Pinakin Patel, Anupa Mehta, to present different takes on art. Next year, they will show works of many young artists, some who have not been represented before.
Agarwal is thrilled to be getting a video show in the coming year’s roster as she hopes to introduce concepts that are internationally popular. At the same time, she is also keeping an eye on Indian viewers’ preferences.
“For us, at Emami Art, it is very important that the viewers engage with art.” That’s the starting point. The gallery organises curated walks every day to help viewers better understand and appreciate art. The workshops and symposiums, in turn, become the mediums for viewers to express their views.
Emami Art Gallery
Emami Art Gallery
Agarwal now has her eyes on the upcoming India Art Fair, in Delhi, and a roster chocked with newer and undiscovered artists.
Culture keepers
You can never tell where an interaction between an artist and the audience would lead to. When Raja Ravi Varma met Maharaja Sayajirao Gaekwad III, the result was not just spectacular portraits of the Maharaja, but also the founding of the Baroda Museum and, somewhere down the history, the famous Faculty of Fine Arts at the Baroda College, now known as the Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda (MSU).
And now engaging with generations of Baroda College artists, including recent graduates, is Gallery Ark. Be it the 20,000-sq-ft installation by the architectural artist Walter D’Souza (an MSU alumnus) or their annual exhibition, Embark a curation of recent MSU graduates’ artworks, Gallery Ark nurtures the rich legacy of art in Vadodara and its art college.
“I would say that the Baroda School of Arts has had a strong influence on our personal collection as well as the gallery’s programming, in that we are naturally drawn to more narrative and conceptual art practices as opposed to figurative,” says Nupur Dalmia, Director, Ark.
Nupur Dalmia, Director, Ark
Nupur Dalmia, Director, Ark
“Our first show was called ‘Walter and Friends’, a tribute to Walter D’Souza’s immense contribution to the architecture of Ark. Walter worked closely with the architects, right from the drawing board stage. His large-scale installations are as integral to the building as are the walls. And so, the show was about him and six artists who are Walter’s close friends from his college days at MSU,” she adds. The gallery also co-hosts an annual
KG Subramanyan memorial lecture with MSU that was recently delivered by BN Goswamy, Kavita Singh and Tapati Guha Thakurta.
Within two years of being launched, Ark has collated a roster of 79 artists. Commenting on their edgy programming, Dalmia says, “We have tried to create a good balance between commenting on the contemporary art scenario and promoting artists that we work with. With curated shows like ‘Graphic Content’ (a show on different types of graphic art featuring artists like Orijit Sen, Svabhu Kohli, Amitabh Kumar, etc), ‘Material Gains’ (which looked at artists manipulating mediums like texture and paper to create artworks) and ‘Contemporary Miniatures’, we are trying to bring something different to the audience each time.”
The gallery has also designed shows coming from a personal space such as
‘In Memory of Mani Da’, Jyoti Bhatt’s solo, and Water & Friends. Carrying forward their experimental spirit, Dalmia says, “We hope to explore different themes
such as our first ceramics show. The next season too is largely about young, conceptual artists.”
Besides conceptualising learning programmes as well as supporting other art forms like theatre, contemporary and fusion dance, Gallery Ark is on its way to becoming a cultural hub. Dalmia’s unique strategy might be the way how this could be achieved: “In my experience, first-time, young or newer collectors are our most promising target market. In value terms, our best buyers are, and presumably will always be, existing collectors. But in a small market like Baroda, it is easy to exhaust the limited wall space in an already art-friendly home. By supporting good artists, creating high-quality shows, I am sure we will build a credible contemporary art institution.”



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