In the pandemic, art and culture has been something that has brought comfort to people around the world. Besides the numerous rules, paperwork, and travel restrictions, the virtual viewing of art exhibitions and other such programmes has only brought relief, a sense of joy, normalcy, and a feeling of being connected.
So, when Art Basel Hong Kong returned this year for its ninth edition — the event had got cancelled last year because of the pandemic — there was naturally a sense of excitement for lovers of art.
What is Art Basel?
Art Basel is a for-profit, privately-owned and managed international art fair, which is staged annually in either of these locations: Basel in Switzerland, Miami Beach in Florida, and Hong Kong. It is always held in collaboration with the host city’s local institutions to help grow and develop art.
This year, Marriott Bonvoy — Marriott International’s travel program and also the official hotel loyalty partner for the event — presented a series of artworks titled ‘A Memory of the Future‘ at Art Basel Hong Kong from May 21 to May 23.
But what made it more special was that it happened in collaboration with a charitable organisation called ‘The Plated Project – Art Against Hunger’. With it, Marriott Bonvoy presented Indian artists Anila Agha, Suket Dhir and Sahiba Madan to spotlight Hong Kong as an arts and culture destination.
‘A Memory of the Future‘ presented four unique ceramic plate designs that paid tribute to the distinct art forms that are intrinsically Hong Kong, including hand-carved Mahjong tiles, hand-made stencils, neon signs and the Cantonese opera.
Sahiba Madan aka Kalakaari Haath, during an exclusive interaction with indianexpress.com, talked about her association with The Plated Project, saying they were “approached to visually narrate the journey of Mahjong, the traditional game that has travelled and evolved through its journey across the world”. “The end vision of the artwork was very relatable to our style, and we were able to translate this intent into a visual language that was natural to us.”
For Madan, art started as a hobby, when she was a kid. Today, she leads Kalakaari Haath, a Mumbai-based studio working in diverse design disciplines. They use design as a medium for collaborative storytelling that entails graphic design, illustration and wall features.
“Mahjong originated in China during the Qing Dynasty and then spread across the world. While electronic Mahjong tables and digital games have helped with the popularity of the game, the craft of hand-carved Mahjong tiles has slowly disappeared. While working on this project, we got the opportunity to research and explore the transition of this traditional game through various geographies and cultures. We have attempted to convey this story through a plate design that captures this journey,” she told this outlet about her exhibit.
To her, ‘A Memory of the Future‘ is “everything Kalakaari Haath stands for”. “At the studio, we are constantly trying to make traditional forms of art more relevant to a context of today, usually in the form of a good story. When we were first introduced to the theme of the show, we were so excited to be able to put everything we believe in, into a beautiful visual story.”
Further explaining the process, on how long it took for her team to conceptualise and then complete the artwork, she said: “A group of us worked on the project, and for a lot of us, this was the first time we were introduced to the game. We conducted extensive research and study on its origin, how it was designed and played traditionally, its transition in form, rules of playing through its travel across various parts of the world. The team at The Plated Project helped us get familiarised and guided us through this research extensively.
“The overall exercise of translation of the idea into the final product took longer, given the changing scenarios of COVID-19. We started working on the research around mid-January 2020, and we landed with the final draft of the plate around the end of March, 2020.”
As an artist, it was a unique experience for her, in that “as opposed to orthogonal shapes, there is a unique dichotomy in artworks composed in a circle”. “On one hand, it allows it to be considered as what we like to call ‘an infinite canvas’, that has no real boundaries or edges, or sometimes a part of or a zoomed-in version of a larger picture that still holds the focus and attention within its boundaries.”
According to Madan, digital platforms have become ideal spaces to discover art/artists or be discovered, “especially in the last two years, when physical interaction has been limited”. “While I believe it makes it easier to connect with people, I miss the physical process of creating. At the studio, a large part of our work is originally hand illustrated/painted and many of our artworks are created using multiple mediums and layers. While we are still able to achieve most of it remotely, the actual experience of sampling, discussions, creating with the team and finally showcasing for others to touch and feel these details is when these digital platforms feel limited.”
While she tried to make art that resonates with the Indian miniature style — one of the original methods of documentation of historic events that also amalgamates the evolution of Mahjong through its travel around the world — artist Anila Agha worked on a handmade stencil plate. Suket Dhir’s plate was conceptualised around the Cantonese opera.
Julie Purser, the vice president of marketing, loyalty and partnership Asia Pacific Marriott International, summed up the art initiative, telling indianexpress.com during a telephonic interaction from Hong Kong that they teamed up with Art Basel wanting to bring the best kind of art experience for guests and Marriott Bonvoy members, including VIP access for viewers in Hong Kong. “All of our experiences include the limited edition ceramic art plates that we developed in partnership with The Plated Project.
“Amid the pandemic, people have not been able to travel. We haven’t been able to get out, but art has been behind-the-scenes. I think, the ability to have this platform enables us to bring art back to people and to travellers, and also bring together collectors, artists, galleries. People have been home for so long — and whether virtually or in-person — it is really about bringing people in the art world back together,” she said.
Purser, who has lived in Hong Kong for seven years now, loved the art plates which were developed for the occasion because they have represented Hong Kong expertly. “They have paid homage to our city, and [explained] what makes Hong Kong a unique place to visit and to live.”
Guests in Hong Kong can purchase these plates from select hotels participating in the Marriott Bonvoy program in Hong Kong starting June, while stocks last. All proceeds from the sale will be donated to Foodlink Foundation Hong Kong, a charity dedicated to fighting hunger, building self-suﬃciency, and fostering nutritional wellness among those in need, while reducing food wastage. For guests outside of Hong Kong, plates are available for sale via The Plated Project website in support of COVID-19 relief efforts.
The Plated Project collaborates with artists around the world to create limited edition art plates under unique themes. Proceeds from the sales are donated to sponsor meals for disadvantaged communities across the globe.