In 1969, Akbar Padamsee, one of India’s foremost modernists, made a film called Events in a Cloud Chamber. Shot on 16 mm and arguably one of India’s first experiments with avant-garde film-making, it was screened a couple of times. But, the response was not encouraging enough for the artist to have treasured it back then. The film’s single positive print was lost and its memories too faded with time. More than 40 years later, filmmaker Ashim Ahluwalia has worked with Mumbai-based Padamsee to revive the film, by recreating it through the latter’s vague memories. After touring the Venice International Film Festival and Art Dubai last year, the 21-minute film will be screened at the India Art Fair in Delhi. It will be part of “Art on Film”, the film programme introduced last year at the fair to explore the intersection between visual art and film-making from the 1960s to the present.
The artwork at the venue, NSIC Exhibition Ground, Okhla, in south Delhi, will cover a broader spectrum of time. It will feature the works of hundreds of artists from the world over, with galleries from Europe as well as the US, with a special focus on South Asia. “It’s no longer enough to be just another international art fair. Art fairs are trying to find their own identity, their own positioning, and those that are surviving and growing are the ones that are representative of a unique region and concept and have a different organic content,” says Neha Kirpal. The 36-year-old founder of the fair has spearheaded its growth from its humble beginnings at Pragati Maidan in 2008 with 30-odd galleries.
To open on February 2, the fair, in its ninth edition, will see participation of 70-odd galleries, shortlisted from more than 100. “Every year about 30-40 per cent of the applications are rejected. Each gallery has to submit a proposal. The attempt is to look at quality curation,” says Kirpal. The preparations for the next year begin during the previous edition itself, where invitations are extended and contacts are built. During the course of the year, Kirpal tours several international museums, fairs and art events to invite guests and participants. So, apart from the artwork, the fair, this year, also has some important people in the art world on the Speakers Forum, where the audience attends discussions on art-related matters. The list of speakers includes Richard Armstrong, director of the Solomon R Guggenheim Museum in New York, and Sheena Wagstaff, the Leonard A Lauder Chairman for Modern and Contemporary Art at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
To facilitate trade, collectors from the world over have also been invited. Delegates will fly in from the Singapore Art Museum, Palais de Tokyo, Paris, University of Oxford and Rhode Island School of Design. The collectors include Parisian couple Isabelle and Jean-Conrad Lemaître, known for their extensive collection of international contemporary film and video art. They are also part of the Speakers Forum. In the main exhibit area, meanwhile, the display will comprise the Masters, contemporaries and up-and-coming artists. Kirpal says that there will be a lot more photographs and installations this year. Among others, look out for Tayeba Begum Lipi’s The Swing, made with razor blades in stainless steel, the Bangladeshi artist’s trademark medium. Delhi Art Gallery will be exhibiting, among others, FN Souza’s Man And Woman Laughing, a 1957 oil on masonite that famously fetched Rs 16.84 crore at a Saffronart auction in 2015.
Folk and tribal art will also be encouraged with a new section, “Vernacular In Flux”, curated by Annapurna Garimella. It will showcase Gond and Madhubani art as well as Mysore and Guruvayur painting and sculptures, featuring artists such as Bhajju Shyam, Vimla Dutta, Mahalaxmi, Baua Devi and Santanu K. “The idea is to go deeper. If we are representative of arts from the entire region, we can’t ignore the link of folk and tribal with contemporary art,” says Kirpal.
She is also looking forward to the 15 art projects to be exhibited across the venue. On view will be rare photographs of Mahatma Gandhi, taken by his nephew Kanu Gandhi, and Pakistani-American artist Anila Quayyum Agha’s first viewing in India of the internationally-acclaimed installation All the Flowers are for Me. The subcontinent will be in focus here too. Conceptualised by gallerist Renu Modi, “A Tale of Two Cities” will comprise works of six artists from India and five from Sri Lanka. Britto Arts Trust’s 2014 project No Man’s Land will share the works and memories of an Indo-Bangladeshi collaborative project where artists from the two sides met at the border, without any visa, watched over by the border guards. Bringing light in the dark, will also be American artist Brookhart Jonquil’s light installation Ziggurat. This will be placed right outside the entrance.