Art Market
These 8 Women Are Evolving the Indian Art World
By Himali Singh Soin
May 11, 2016 8:38 pm

There is a day in Northern India, during the full moon period in October, when Hindu women fast for their husbands. This is just one example of the way in which women in India are, by and large, subservient to men. Though the country has had a female president, and several regions contain matriarchal societies, most industries—including science, tech, cinema, architecture, politics, and tourism—are still dominated by men. The art worlds of Delhi and Mumbai might represent the only field led by more women than men, and those women occupy myriad roles.

The contemporary art scene in India is a complex web of socio-economic cues and, often, conflicts of interest. It is also close-knit and, in many ways, a bastion of equality. It is a world that both looks towards the West for its sharp finish, and looks inward for its subject matter and materials. There are numerous women here that are invigorating the country’s art scene, believing in its inherent ability to shake things up, alter preconceived notions, redefine, and reimagine—much like the shifting status of women in the country.  


Feroze Gujral

Founder of Outset India and Gujral Foundation, New Delhi

Recent Career Highlight:

My East Is Your West,” India-Pakistan Pavilion at the 55th Venice Biennale

Portrait of Feroze Gujral by Alex John Beck for Artsy.

Portrait of Feroze Gujral by Alex John Beck for Artsy.

Gujral is something of an Indian icon. She is the founder of Outset India and the Gujral Foundation, two philanthropic organizations that supported the Kochi Biennale, the 2014 exhibition of work by V. S. Gaitonde at New York’s Guggenheim Museum, and the acclaimed India-Pakistan pavilion at the 56th Venice Biennale, among numerous other projects. “I have a deep admiration and respect for Feroze,” says artist Shilpa Gupta, who created the India half of the presentation at Venice. “She has the capacity to believe, to dream, and to make what several thought impossible actually happen—and happen in such a grand and beautiful way.” Gujral’s foundations also invite, bi-annually, a prominent artist to transform and exhibit at the decrepit 24 Jor Bagh, a house on one of Delhi’s well-known streets. Her support has marked a formal shift in the engagement of art with the city, the distinction between public and private space, and the development of non-traditional exhibition spaces.

 


Kiran Nadar

Chairperson of Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, New Delhi

Recent Career Highlight:

“Nalini Malani: You Can’t Keep Acid in a Paper Bag

Photo courtesy of Kiran Nadar.

Photo courtesy of Kiran Nadar.

The chairperson of her eponymous museum, Nadar created the dimly lit, wooden-floored space in order to share her private art collection with the Indian public. But with the country’s deficit of institutional, non-commercial spaces, the museum became a place for a lot more: “The museum aspires to become a place of confluence, through its exhibitions, school and college workshops, and public programmes,” she says. “We are focused on bridging the gap between art and the public, and encouraging a rich museum-going culture in India.” From iconic shows of work by the artist Nasreen Mohamedi (whose solo show currently features in the inaugural display of New York’s Met Breuer) and Amrita Sher-Gil, to an exhibition of seven contemporary women artists, the museum supports a holistic program of art from the region.


 

Gitanjali Dang

Founder of Khanabadosh, Mumbai

Recent Career Highlight:

The Porcupine in the Room,” Delfina Foundation, London

Photo by Manou, courtesy of Gitanjali Dang.

Photo by Manou, courtesy of Gitanjali Dang.

The founder of Khanabadosh, a Mumbai-based itinerant arts lab, Dang curates small, off-the-grid, thought-provoking shows that travel and grow. They are both conceptual and socially charged. “Love in the time of choleric capitalism,” for example, explores, with literary undertones, the invisible hierarchies that exist in society. For her show of Ana Mendieta’s videos, an Indian context was witness to the Cuban artist’s politically inflected body works. When asked about Khanabadosh, Dang replied with a fragment from Ishtar Awakens in Chicago, by Mohja Kahf: “No I will make no peace / even though my hands are empty / I will talk as big as I please / I will be all or nothing / And I will jump before the heavy trucks / And I will saw off my leg at the thigh / before I bend one womanly knee.”


 

Bharti Kher

Artist, Delhi

Recent Career Highlight:

Misdemeanours,” Rockbund Art Museum, Shanghai, China

Photo of Bharti Kher by Susan Silas, courtesy of the artist.

Photo of Bharti Kher by Susan Silas, courtesy of the artist.

A feminist, passionate philosopher, and artist known for massive sculptural works, Kher is one of India’s most important artists, and was recently endowed with the French Knight of the Order of Arts and Letters. Her work famously employs the trope of the bindi, executed by hired women in her studio. Kher’s sculptures span maps, constellations, animals, and chairs; they are both fantastical and illustrative of worldly realities. “When the art comes to me,” she says, “it does so as a message or image or sounds. I just turn it round in my head, filter it out, and send it back out like I’m a transmitter. Sometimes what you get is a warning, sometimes it just says: ‘watch.’ Sometimes it makes me sad and I have to exorcise this through the next work.”


 

Sree Banerjee Goswami

Founder of Project 88, Mumbai

Recent Career Highlight:

“Neha Choksi: Save the translation for later

Photo courtesy of Sree Banerjee Goswami.

Photo courtesy of Sree Banerjee Goswami.

“There is something wonderful,” says Goswami, who, despite her esteemed position in the Indian art world, is gentle and approachable in person, “about being able to say I follow in my mother’s footsteps in our patriarchal society—as I do in my roles as an art lover, collector, and dealer.” Goswami began Project 88, one of India’s premier contemporary art galleries, in 2006. A 4000-square-foot, 100-year-old former printing press in the heart of South Mumbai, the space has hosted some radical installations. Her lineup of artists—which includes Sarnath Banerjee and Raqs Media Collective—is particularly experimental, with a strong conceptual overtone. In a country in which art is still considered painting, Goswami is pushing the envelope. “I am passionate about the cultural heritage I shall leave behind,” she says, “and want to foster, advance, and support engaged contemporary artists.”


 

Pooja Sood

Founding Director, Khoj International Artists’ Association, New Delhi

Recent Career Highlight:

Of Games: Frameworks in Question

Photo courtesy of Pooja Sood.

Photo courtesy of Pooja Sood.

Sood is the director and founding member of what is arguably India’s most important alternative arts incubator, Khoj International Artists’ Association. “If Khoj is a lab,” says multi-media artist Rohini Devasher, who has worked with the organization, “then Pooja Sood is the catalyst at its heart.” Indeed, her immense ambition has fueled the evolution of a space that few writers, curators, and artists in the country that haven’t passed through at some point in time, and its board includes the likes of artists Subodh Gupta and Bharti Kher. It also boasts international renown, having drawn collaborations with curator Hans-Ulrich Obrist and London’s Tate Modern. At its core, Khoj is a place committed to art that can produce social change. The neighborhood in which it resides has seen this change first hand: Khirki village is full of young hip-hop dancers, painters, and even tea vendors who are familiar with the language of contemporary art practices.


 

Bhavna Kakar

TAKE on Art Magazine, New Delhi

Recent Career Highlight:

The “Photography” issue

Photo courtesy of Bhavna Kakar.

Photo courtesy of Bhavna Kakar.

A self-made woman, Kakar began TAKE on art Magazine despite high printing costs, a slump in the art market, the decline of well-known publications, and a rise in blogs. She persevered and TAKE thrived. It has—since its inception in 2009, with a provocative issue, “Zero,” that contained only blank pages—become a beautifully designed collector’s item, tracking an important, still-young art scene. TAKE also conducts critical writing workshops, offers young art writers residencies, and encourages conversations around diverse shows. “Art writing is being pushed to the margins and alienated from the central and critical position it should have in our society,” says Kakar, “as well as the immediate contact it should have with our audiences. We are inching forward slowly, but steadily, and there are miles more to go.”


Aparajita Jain

Co-Director of Nature Morte, New Delhi

Recent Career Highlight:

“Reena Saini Kallat: Porous Passages

Photo courtesy of Aparajita Jain.

Photo courtesy of Aparajita Jain.

The glamorous Jain, who, with Peter Nagy, directs New Delhi gallery Nature Morte, is also a young mother of two. She shows some of India’s best-known names, such as Subodh Gupta, Jitish Kallat, and Anita Dube, “engaging and challenging audiences to think beyond the ‘comfortable,’ while slowly redefining what we are used to over here,” as she says. Alongside Nature Morte, Jain also started Saat Saath Arts, a nonprofit that gives curators and museum directors research grants to travel to India, visit artist studios, and understand the country’s various narratives in person. “There is a sense of immortality and a capturing of a thought that excites me,” Jain says of her work. “Being a mom is possibly the only experience that outdoes my experience with art.”


Himali Singh Soin