Art initiatives founded in recent years in Mumbai, India, are transforming the city’s contemporary art scene.
In Mumbai, a city where almost everything is driven by commerce, the art scene has until recently been defined by a number of glitzy established art galleries. However, the last few years have seen a handful of art initiatives emerge, motivated by the need for new discourses, ideas and perspectives.
Looking back on the recent history of Mumbai’s art scene, a number of new art initiatives have created space for alternative creative engagement and experimentation. Though too sparse and scattered to form a comprehensive art historical account, these initiatives have been catalysts and are significant contributors to contemporary art practice in the city. Their concerns range from creating alternative pedagogies and engaging curatorial practices to developing conceptual ideas, to name a few.
Art Radar looks at four recent art initiatives in Mumbai, aiming to outline the ingenious trajectories that they have created.
ArtOxygen began in 2009 with the aim of curating and producing art projects in public spaces. It was co-founded by art historians Claudio Maffioletti and Leandre d’Souza.
The need to engage with the public sphere was two-fold, as Maffioletti elaborates:
We wanted to give accessibility to contemporary art forms to audiences which are normally not exposed to them, and we were curious to see how new narratives stemming from everyday issues affecting the spaces and places we live in could be generated by artistic practices.
Among their ongoing programmes is “[en]counter”, an annual public art festival that explores facets related to the city by inviting artists to create site-specific interventions. ArtOxygen has been instrumental in addressing socio-political, cultural and environmental concerns in Mumbai.
The initiative aims to become a point of reference on public art practices and has, over the years, created collaborations with organisations from Hong Kong, South Korea, Singapore, Taiwan and Japan.
CONA, an artist-run initiative that started in 2012 is a space for the exchange of interdisciplinary ideas. Based in a suburban area called Borivali in North Bombay, CONA is located far away from the art district of the city, which is home to most galleries.
The name “CONA”, which literally means “corner”, resonates with the idea of the initiative: an adda or gathering. Founded by Shreyas Karle, Hemali Bhuta and fellow artists, the idea was to have an alternative space where people from different faculties could converge and benefit.
Through facilitating residencies, workshops, presentations and talks, and also building a digital archive in the space, their programmes started focusing more on pedagogy. Karle explains that CONA is “not a platform for artists to promote their practice, it is a space for discourse, pedagogical discussion and exchanging ideas about one’s practice.”
In short, CONA is a space where students, artists, curators, critics, researchers, designers and professionals converge to share ideas. According to Karle,
The intention and aim of CONA is still in flux. We want it to be a pedagogical space for cross pollination of ideas among various disciplines. At the same time we are conscious that it should not become an institutional body.
“Cona Ek Adda”, a programme for talks and presentations, as well as CONA’s artist residency are regular features of the initiative. In 2013, CONA was added to the Triangle Network.
Khanabadosh, founded in 2012, is an itinerant art lab focusing on the exploration of interdisciplinary intersections through curation. Not restricting their activities to exhibition-making, the lab is interested in projects that respond to traditional categorisation, dominant notions and expand discourse and aesthetics.
The word khanabadosh refers to those who carry their homes with them. It is an initiative that engages with collective cross-disciplinary art projects where the nature, form and site are dictated by the project itself. Founder, curator and critic Gitanjali Dang says:
The idea was in my mind for a long time, but I was hesitant to initiate it since I did not have space, but then I realised that it was possible to be without space.
Among the projects by Khanabadosh are Ghar (House) by Javed Iqbal, in which he looked into the displacement caused by slum rehabilitation projects in Mumbai. In Camouflage, Valsan Koorma Kolleri created site-specific sculptures at the Mumbai Port Trust Garden. Something to chew on by Mona Gandhi was a project to create public awareness on food, politics and ecology, responding to the ways in which processed and packaged foods have become so commonplace.
Clark House Initiative
Based in Colaba, South Bombay, the curator-led outfit Clark House Initiative was founded by Sumesh Sharma and Zasha Colah in 2010. The curatorial interventions of this initiative stem from the history of the space itself. Clark House was an office for research, an antique store and a shipping office. According to the initiative’s website,
Curatorial interventions in the space hope to continue, differently, this history of internationalism, experiment and research.
Among their programmes are workshops for the students of the Sir J. J. School of Arts in Mumbai and regular exhibitions.
Interventions at Mandalay Hall and an exhibition at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale (2012) re-enacted the maritime links that defined the multicultural ethos of Kochi. It comprised works by Shunya, a collective of seven artists associated with Clark House Initiative that explores vernacular equality in art.
Other art initiatives in Mumbai
A number of art set ups have started facilitating exhibitions, events, seminars and art festivals. These initiatives work with artists, curators, galleries and other arts organisations in the creation of exhibitions and displays.
Asia Art Projects, founded in 2012 by Elise Foster Vander Elst, organises festivals, seminars and exhibitions, and has been encouraging cross-cultural dialogue. One of its flagship events, the FOCUS photography festival (co-founded with Matthieu Foss and Nicola Antaki), will see its second edition in 2015.
What About Art? is an arts management company started by Eve Lemesle in 2010 that has recently opened a space dedicated to video art as well as a residency for artists.
Kahani Designworks’ initiative Story City is a project to promote cultural engagement in the city, which was launched by the release of a set of guides to museums in the city.
- Artist Prem Sahib exhibits for the first time in Mumbai – in pictures – April 2014 – British-Indian artist Prem Sahib exhibits for the first time in India with a collection of minimalist work
- India’s largest public art project lands at Mumbai airport – January 2014 – A 3-km ‘art wall’ museum composed of 7000 artworks housed at the Chhatrapati Shivaji International Airport’s Terminal 2 in Mumbai is the biggest art collection at any airport in the world
- Mumbai rising: As Christie’s moves into India, gallerists give a view from the ground – July 2013 – Art Radar speaks to three galleries in Mumbai to find out how global auction house Christie’s and its plans for its inaugural sale in December 2013 will affect the art scene and the operations of the galleries
- FOCUS 2013 photography festival to map Mumbai ideas, histories – event alert – December 2012 – FOCUS, Mumbai’s newest photography festival, was hosted in several locations around the city
- Mexico to mandapas: artist Héctor Zamora joins Guggenheim’s Mumbai Lab – November 2012 – BMW Guggenheim Lab, an interdisciplinary project aimed at exploring issues of contemporary urban environments, enlisted renowned public artist Héctor Zamora for their Mumbai Lab team
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