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‘We exist because of the Indian art market’

Jagdip Jagpal, the new director of the India Art Fair, on presenting Modernists, repairing the lack of accessibility, and introducing new faces

Written by Vandana Kalra |
Updated: February 8, 2018 11:12:00 am
(Above) Jagdip Jagpal is the new director for the India Art Fair that opens on February 9 in Delhi; Hema Upadhyay

A governor at the London School of Economics and Political Science and its alumnus, Jagdip Jagpal is the director of the India Art Fair in its 10th edition. She takes over the reins from its founder Neha Kirpal, who has been at the helm since its inception in 2008. Member of the development board at the Royal College of Art, Jagpal, 53, is a British national who was most recently part of a team that worked on ‘New North and South’, a three-year arts exchange programme that involved 11 organisations from South Asia and Britain. She has also previously worked at Tate and been a trustee of the Wallace Collection. She talks about her vision for the India Art Fair, which begins on February 9, and the audience for Indian art.

You have been attending the India Art Fair since 2015. When were you approached to join as its director?
I have been to the fair a number of times, but I was approached sometime in the middle of last year. Some people knew me on the basis of the work that I was doing. Last year, at the fair, I jokingly said to a friend, ‘You know what, I am going to come back, get a job as the director of the fair and solve all the problems’. Funnily enough, next year is here, and I am the director of the fair.

What are the changes that you would like to introduce?
I intend to make it a dynamic space where you can see the best of Indian art. This year would be a work in progress, in the direction of getting the identity right next year. We exist because of the Indian art market. The ratio of national to international galleries will be 70:30. Indian galleries should showcase the best of Indian art, and we want international galleries to showcase works that have not been shown in India before. The space needs to be respected at par with other countries. This year, you will see a range, including Japanese contemporary artist Yayoi Kusama. Not many in India have had the opportunity to see Kusama. The Speakers Forum, I felt, was dominated by voices that are often heard. If I was coming here, I would have liked to listen to people whom I have not heard before or people representing different areas in South Asia. First, I would like to learn about what is coming out of here.

You were born in the UK, and studied law at the London School of Economics. How did you develop an interest in Indian art?
My mother is from Kolkata. She is an Indian living in London, still carrying an Indian passport. The areas I have worked in have revolved around my interests — intellectual property rights, legal issues, and communication. London is very dynamic, and I was interested in the arts. Recently, I was part of the New North and South programme.

Do you think that you being a spectator of Indian art has helped develop a more holistic perspective?
Sometimes it does take a stranger to point out the obvious. I have a deep interest in Indian art and the surrounding countries. One of the things that struck me in the UK is the lack of accessibility and knowledge about the contemporary art scene and the Modernists. Indian artists don’t get the credit they deserve. In the last few years, so many major exhibitions of Indian artists have been held outside — Nasreen Mohammedi at Tate, Bhupen Khakhar at Guggenheim, Nalini Malani at Centre Pompidou. When I was in the UK, I saw the works of several artists, the complexities of what they were doing, but I thought not many people in India were appreciating the kind of work being done. Reputation is not only about what you are doing at home but also internationally. This has led me to introduce the segment ‘I know what you did last summer’, where we are inviting South Asian artists like Waqas Khan to talk about their international exhibitions and projects. We will also have a dedicated space for art projects, and are developing learning activities for children with Penguin Random House.

You’re also making efforts to better represent the stories of the Modernists.
We usually work with the assumption that there is a lot of information available on the Modernists, and people know them, but that is not necessarily the case. Even those who cannot afford to buy them should know them. We want to make sure that there is a selection of Modernists available, and not the same names. One will see this happen through exhibitions such as Navratna — nine gems by the Delhi Art Gallery, which will pay tribute to India’s national treasures such as Raja Ravi Varma, Amrita Sher-Gil, Rabindranath Tagore, Nandalal Bose and Jamini Roy. They are a fine example of modernism but have received limited international recognition because they are works that can’t leave the country. There will also be focus on vernacular art, with participation of Tribal Art Forms and Delhi Crafts Council.

The India Art Fair will be held from February 9 to 12 at the NSIC Exhibition Grounds, Delhi. For details, visit:

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