Jaya Asokan at HELLO! India Art Awards© HELLO! India

India Art Fair Director Jaya Asokan On Why You Cannot Miss The Biggest Art Event Of The Year

Salva Mubarak
Senior Features Writer

With an exciting lineup of exhibitors and artists, the 13th edition of the India Art Fair is ready to return to a physical format after the pandemic. Running in Delhi from April 28 to May 1, this ‘leaner and meaner’ Art Fair is also helmed by first-time director Jaya Asokan, who previously served as the Fair’s deputy director before taking over this role in 2021.

Asokan believes in the restorative power of art, something she feels needs to be acknowledged in the times we live in. “(Art) is a way to celebrate yourself, and the fair with over 500 artists and thousands of works on show is the perfect place for such discovery and introspection, for both experienced artists and non-artists alike,” she says, “Art can and should have a place in all our lives! It transports and shows us new ways of looking at the world, and can even be a clue to who we are.”

So who else can be better to tell us why the India Art Fair 2022 edition should be on our must-visit list other than the Fair’s new director herself? Here’s an excerpt from our conversation with Jaya Asokan on India Art Fair, the effect of the pandemic on the Indian art scene, and the future of art in the country…

HELLO!: Can you tell us what would be different in 2022 India Art Fair than any of its previous editions?

Jaya Asokan: “India Art Fair is back in its physical edition in New Delhi after two years, and will focus on the immense talent of artists from India and South Asia. Throughout our programme, the fair will champion new trailblazing voices alongside established household names, giving local and international audiences an opportunity to engage in innovative ways with the cultural history and fast-changing identity of the region. Besides the amazing 63 galleries from all over India and beyond, we have an unprecedented number of institutions and non-profits showing at the fair, speaking to our commitment to the spirit of collaboration that has prevailed in the past few years. Festivals like Serendipity Arts will be showing their award-winning Food Lab and Virtual Arts grants, the new Museum of Art & Photography will show highlights from their digital museum, and institutions like the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, Kolkata Centre for Creativity, Museo Camera, HH Arts Spaces and Space Studio among many others will present highlights in their booths. Many of these projects will be hosted in the brand new ‘The Studio’ space at the booth which has been designed to be a hub for all things art, technology and experimentation.

I want to specially highlight the outdoor projects at the fair, especially our facade, the biggest canvas at the fair and in Delhi. The facade has been created by young artist Anshuka Mahapatra, selected on the basis of an open call we issued in collaboration with The Gujral Foundation and Artdemic, using the colours of summer and phrases in seven Indian languages to express the beauty of the everyday. Besides, the facade, trans-artist collective Aravani Art Project have created a 50-feet long mural imaging a binary-free world titled The Future is Femme, supported by Saffronart Foundation, and Narayan Sinha, a large metal sculpture made of silencer pipes, presented by Arts Ananda Trust. Internationally-acclaimed artist Shilpa Gupta will be designing special T-Shirts with the words ‘I Look at Things with Eyes Different From Yours’ for our volunteers who will be bringing it to life on fair days.”

The Aravani Project at India Art Fair 2022©India Art Fair

“We will also have a packed schedule of programming with iconic names like the Magnum photographer Raghu Rai, leading patron Kiran Nadar and the pioneering Atul Dodiya giving the prestigious BMW Art Talk in our Auditorium among many others. Rising star artists Hetain Patel, Gurjeet Singh and Arpita Akhanda will present performance art and a diverse offering of workshops for visitors of all ages, genders, and abilities curated by Kriti Sood of art education platform, LAND.

Tapping into the growing interest amongst millennial and a new generation audiences, we have also launched an expanded Young Collectors Programme with the aim of educating and empowering new collectors to make their first purchases, and through the fair week have hosted special events and exhibition walkthroughs, specially at the exhibition Fresh Produce by Method and presented by India Art Fair ‘Young Artists of the Year’, MadStarBase. We are hoping to welcome a large number of young and first-time collectors at the fair this year, helping shape the next generation of taste-makers. Last but not least, we also launched the first-ever ‘The Future is Born of Art’ Commission with BMW India this year, growing our partnership, now in its sixth year. The Commission was awarded to young Indian artist Faiza Hasan to create a car wrap for the all-new and all-electric BMW iX on the theme of Sustainable Circularity. Hasan’s winning design titled ’Suno’ meaning ‘to listen’ shows portraits of people from the community with words interspersed reminding us community-based values: ’to hope’, ‘to imagine’ and ‘to safeguard’.”

H: Digital art and NFTs have become extremely popular over the past few years, especially because of the pandemic. What are your thoughts on this new medium of art and how is it being reflected in the upcoming IAF?

JA: “The fair is a perfect place to reflect on and give shape to current art world trends. At the fair, Terrain.art, making its debut appearance at the fair, will be exhibiting works by artists like Khyati Trehan, Amrit Pal Singh, David Young and Laya Mathikshara among others that have developed unique artistic languages that are novel amalgamations of technology with art.

We will also hold a dedicated talk on the potential and future of NFT art in India as part of our Auditorium Talks programme featuring artists like Raghava KK and Vasundhara Das, Om Malviya of blockchain platform Tezos India, Aparajita Jain of the Indian NFT platform Terrain.art, and Kamya Ramachandran of techart platform BeFantastic.”

NFTs©India Art Fair

“Besides NFTs, we are interested in the wider conversation around digital art as well, for which we have created a brand new space called The Studio at the fair, which will host an array of special artist projects, many of which will have an emphasis on the digital, including an interactive display by Khoj International Artists Association on urban pollution, AR works by artist Muzzumil Ruheel, a presentation of Serendipity Arts’ Virtual Arts Grants winners among others. As an aside, we have also launched the first-ever metaverse version of the fair with our partners at XR Central, showcasing special highlights from the edition for one and all.”

H: This is the first time the IAF’s Platform section is showcasing traditional Indian art forms. Can you tell us the thought process behind this and a little bit about what people can expect? 

JA: “We have revamped the Platform section, under the curation of Amit Kumar Jain, to highlight India’s rich folk traditions and its practitioners who have immensely contributed to the vocabulary of Indian contemporary art in general. This is part of our effort to move the conversation forward on folk art and give it an equal platform as contemporary and modern art in general. The section will include not only familiar names like the late great Gond artist, Jangarh Singh Shyam (presented by Fabuleux Arts), but also lesser-known gems such as the beautifully dotted and patterned paintings by Rajasthani artist Sangita Jogi who hails from a family of folk musicians (presented by Delhi Crafts Council), Madhubani art by Anmana Devi, and bronze face masks from coastal Kerala and Karnataka (presented by Inherited Arts Forum), leveling the hierarchy that’s often plagued how we view the so-called crafts and art.

The Platform section at the fair this year, builds on the shows and collections being shown over the years, adding to the conversation and highlighting them as an integral part of Indian contemporary art and culture.”

H: We’re living in a post-pandemic world, do you think that has changed the way people are interacting with art? And has that been a factor while planning this edition of IAF?

JA: “The pandemic really opened all of our eyes to the power and potential of art, with one form or the other becoming a safe place for us in challenging times, be it creating art or consuming it including movies, television, music or anything at all.

Taking this realisation forward, we are going beyond the 4-day event into becoming a year-round presence to platform Indian and South Asian art and bring it to as many people as possible. A key learning from the pandemic has been the importance of technology and digital platforms in allowing a wider reach and opening access to art and artists from India and South Asia to audiences of all backgrounds. Our refreshed website is already the go-to source and directory of the region’s most exciting and important artists through its expanded website editorial, artist films, and the IAF Parallel programme giving a platform to South Asian art in cities worldwide. We are also ramping up the number and scope of exhibition walkthroughs and curator weekends around the country and the year. During the past two years, there has been a heartening collaborative spirit in the Indian art world, with artists, gallerists and curators creating creative and funding opportunities for each other. We are thrilled to have many of these non-profits and institutions participating at the fair this year. And yes, of course, we are taking all measures above and beyond government regulations to ensure the health and safety of our team, exhibitors and visitors. We are mandatorily requiring proof of final vaccination from all to gain entry into the fair, along with a strict mask mandate within the venue. All our VIP passes and tickets are digital and touches, and we have put in place stringent cleaning and sanitisation protocols.”

H: Can you give us your top ‘must-visit’ exhibitions or booths at the IAF this year?

JA: “Any lover of painting must visit the Galerie Mirchandani + Steinruecke, Project 88, The Guild booths among many others. For a conceptual journey, watch out for new works at booths such as GALLERYSKE, Blueprint12, and Jhaveri Contemporary. Inherited Art Forum will be showing some absolute masterpieces of India folk art including some large and intricate phulkari textile pieces from Rajasthan and bronze masks and sculptures from coastal Kerala and Karnataka, and Nature Morte will show its Manchaha Project featuring textile works created by artists from Madhya Pradesh, Rajasthan, and Gujarat. Booths like Aicon and Aicon Contemporary will host a range of South Asian diasporic artists; and do not miss the international artists on view at Galeria Karla Osorio and Galerie ISA.”

H: What about the Indian art scene excites you for the future?

JA: “We are at a threshold point, with an increasing number of people waking up to the amazing art and artists from India and South Asia. There have been some major international shows of Indian and South Asian art including a retrospective of photographer Dayanita Singh at Gropius Bau in Berlin, a large installation by Nalini Malani at the new M+ Museum in Hong Kong, a beautiful show of Mahesh Baliga’s paintings at David Zwirner in London, and Ali Kazim’s show at the Ashmolean Museum in Oxford among so many others. Within the region too, there has been growing interest in showing and celebrating artists from the interiors of the country like Soumya Sankar Bose, Varunika Saraf, Gurjeet Singh, Indu Antony, Arpita Akhanda among others, showing a fresh perspective of what Indian art is and can be.”