Jaya Asokan, Fair Director © India Art Fair (1)
Jaya Asokan, Fair Director, India Art Fair
Schenelle Dsouza 
Taking place annually in India’s capital, the India Art Fair is one of the foremost platforms for the commercial art market in India.
The Art Fair will see a mix of contemporary visual art with stalwarts from the current art canon as well as folk art traditions. The 13th edition of the Indian Art Fair will be held from April 28-May 1, curated by a passionate team led by Jaya Asokan, the new Fair Director.
Having worked in art, design, fashion and luxury for over 20 years, Asokan has a stronghold on India’s cultural and creative landscape. Since she joined in 2017, as the Director of Exhibitor Relations and Deputy Fair Director, she has repositioned the fair as a year-long affair.
In a conversation with LuxeBook, Asokan spoke about the steps she’s taken in this year’s fair along with new programmes organised by IAF to help educate people about the art industry, while also providing a platform for young artists from South Asia.
The India Art Fair is going to be held after two years. What can one expect from the fair this year?
Since I took over as Fair Director in April, it’s been a gap year of learning and experimenting with new ideas, as well as adapting to changing conditions. The fair has transformed digitally and otherwise. We have made it a year-round programme rather than just a four-day affair. One of the things that the past couple of years have taught us is that digital technology is essential in all occupations. We have taken it very seriously and are using it to reach out to artists and art lovers, to educate and inspire them in an unprecedented way.
IAF Parallel -Atmospheric Paintings Stephen Mueller
IAF Parallel -Atmospheric Paintings Stephen Mueller
What are some of the other changes at the India Art Fair?
We have strived to become a source and directory for important artists over the last two years. We have worked on building a website, along with online workshops, walkthroughs, and talks. We have also extended our IAF parallel program of ongoing events and exhibitions that take place in galleries, institutions, and other art spaces in India and beyond.
Another new concept is a noticeboard launched on our website. It is a prospect for artists and art professionals to access a directory of opportunities that are available. We are building profiles of exhibitors to help people learn a little more about the galleries within India and South Asia.
We have introduced online programming with exhibitions, talks and workshops, like our online BMW Art Talk with artist Dia Mehhta Bhupal, exhibition walkthroughs of Marcel Dzama’s show at David Zwirner in New York, and Lokame Tharavadu which is an ongoing landmark exhibition.
We are trying to build as much momentum by educating people about different artists, art forms and movements. And now we will continue to build on these initiatives using the strength of our infrastructure for art and artists in India and South Asia.
What kind of artists will the fair focus on this year?
We have artists and practitioners from across the board. We have about fifty-plus galleries, displaying art from all over the country and the world. In terms of mediums, we have pretty much everything from paintings to sculptures to prints and photography available across print points, whether you are a young millennial buyer or a seasoned collector. We do have some new galleries that we are quite excited about such as Vida Heydari Contemporary (Pune), APRE Art House (Mumbai), Art Incept and Modern Art Gallery (both New Delhi). This year, we will also have a newly imagined Platform section curated by independent curator Amit Kumar Jain to spotlight a range of Indian folk art and traditions. We are particularly excited about this because we are keen to see them at par with the rest of the contemporary artists and art on display at the fair.
Art Incept, Delhi
Art Incept, Delhi
Give us an overview of the South Asian art scenario?
We’re very proud of the quality of art and the artists in South Asia. We’ve tried to give a platform to young artists and emerging work from this region. We’ve found that in the last two years, the whole industry and artists have been broadly collaborative. They have been supporting each other as a peer group. We are focusing on this. We’re doing a symposium which is online called ‘Staging the Contemporary’, which involves the next generation of artists, curators and art writers. We’re trying to give them a voice through this symposium which will be held in early January. So the fair will see a lot of artists from the next generation.
Tell us some more about art’s standing as an asset class in India. What collaborations with the luxury industry can one expect at the fair?
Art intersects fashion, design and architecture. I think as a design discipline and art form, all of these are one holistic cultural experience. If one views them to be at par then yes, art can be viewed as luxury. We do get a lot of buyers who look at art as an investment, as well as wealth management firms that are offering art as an asset class. Having said that, we also offer art at entry-level pricing to new buyers. So I think art is for everyone. But there is a small segment that believes art is luxury. I think the way our fair is structured, we work with some of the biggest brands. And IAF is the biggest luxury event of its kind within the art industry. Our present partner is BMW. Our sponsors include Dia Colours, Raw Mango for fashion. These are all luxury brands, so yes, there is definitely a luxury angle to the fair.
India Art Fair
Photo Courtesy: India Art Fair
How has the pandemic affected the art market in India?
I think some changes were for the better. For instance, this period has taught us that the key is collaboration. We discovered that within our industry itself a lot of galleries have come together to do group shows. We’ve also realised our capacity for resilience because we’ve recognised that working together allows us to tap into new audiences. This collaborative approach is something new and it’s been an interesting process that has made the market stronger. People have realised their strengths. The whole digital playing field has been levelled for a lot of galleries that were not up to the mark. Institutions have found new collaborative ways of coming together to sell art. The market has become quite strong in the past two years.
What are some of the initiatives that IAF has undertaken in association with the Gujral foundation and Ishara Art Foundation?
We are working with The Gujral Foundation and Artdemic who supported many young artists through grants during the pandemic. We’re working with them to do an open call for the façade of the fair which is really the biggest canvas in New Delhi. We announced the winning artist: the young Anshuka Mahapatra who is a Masters student at the Sarojini Naidu School of Art in Hyderabad. We’re keen to spotlight new talent and earlier this January, we hosted our first-ever online symposium ‘Staging the Contemporary: The Next Generation’ in partnership with Ishara Art Foundation with support from the Shiv Nadar University. We believe in collaboration and work closely with leading institutions as well as commercial galleries.
Vida Heydary Contemporary Pune
Vida Heydary Contemporary Pune
The last few years have seen a rise in political artwork. Will there be representations of political art at the fair?
I feel that art has always been a response to the environment around you. Artists are constant speakers of our society and we’re proud to give a platform to their voices. So, IAF will definitely see some political work, whether social or ecological, which is pertinent at this time, along with sustainability and equality. Our main aim is to give the artists a platform to say what they want to, and that later on will speak for itself. With over 800 artists at the fair, we don’t know about the artworks at the fair as of yet. I’m sure there will be some political works, but that is part of everyone’s consciousness.
We have a Selection Committee including gallerists, an artist and an institutional lead who broadly represent the local and international art scene. The Selection Committee evaluates applications and makes selections based on the quality of submissions and proposals. The IAF Selection Committee also ensures that the diversity of artists and art forms from India and South Asia are represented at the fair.
India Art Fair
Photo Courtesy: India Art Fair
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