Artist’s Voice is Key : India Art Fair Director Jagdip Jagpal on Transforming the Art Fair

Jagdip Jagpal, Fair Director, India Art Fair. Photo © India Art Fair.
India Art Fair 2019. Photo © Jeetin Sharma. Courtesy of India Art Fair.
Harendra Kushwaha, Topography of Ploughed Rice Field, 2014-15, Jute and Nepali, Cloth, Dimensions variable. Courtesy of Gallery Espace.
Vasantha Yogananthan, Magic Fishes, 2013, Black and white C-print hand-painted by Jaykumar, 34 x 42 cm. Courtesy of the artist and Jhaveri Contemporary.
Victor Ekpuk, Philosopher, 2018, Powder coated steel, 71.1 x 91.4 x 15.2 cm. Courtesy of Aicon Art.
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Asia Society Hong Kong

 

In the midst of domestic unrest, Jagdip Jagpal, Fair Director of India Art Fair continues to focus on South Asian art and the artist’s voice for its upcoming edition opening on 30 January, 2020.

 

TEXT: Reena Devi
IMAGES: Courtesy of India Art Fair

 

Running an art fair is no easy feat these days. Fair directors have to grapple with a whole range of issues from making the right political stand (here’s looking at you Contemporary Istanbul) to dealing with safety issues and domestic protests, or to shareholders pulling out to the much talked about ‘fairtigue.’

Even so, Fair Director of India Art Fair (IAF) Jagdip Jagpal remains unfazed, implementing a slew of transformative changes at the fair since she was appointed in 2017.

Held annually in New Delhi and now in its 12th edition, IAF has witnessed changes such as the inclusion of an art bookshop, a performance art programme and specially commissioned outdoor artworks. This year’s upcoming edition of the fair, which runs from 30 January to 2 February, continues to remain fresh and relevant by introducing a new artist-in-residence programme.

This is part of IAF’s concerted efforts to “position the artist’s voice as a core element in the fair’s programme,” said Jagpal.

 

Jagdip Jagpal, Fair Director, India Art Fair. Photo © India Art Fair.

 

The voices of artists and the arts scene in India is certainly crucial in these times. IAF is happening during a period of domestic unrest with protests taking place all over India including major cities such as New Delhi since the government announced a new citizenship law in December 2019 singling out people of Muslim faith. In response, authorities have imposed a ban on large gatherings in parts of the capital and expanded an Internet shutdown in various parts of the city.

In the face of this strife, Jagpal is nonplussed, insisting the fair is “obviously going ahead” and the “art sector is providing a safe space for people to discuss” these issues.

Speaking with CoBo Social over the phone from India, Jagpal said, “we’ve also introduced [something] very new which is an artist residency programme where we’re doing workshops such as New Delhi-based visual artist Gagan Singh’s drawing class and artist collective and zine-makers Bombay Underground’s zine making class.”

She explained how in this vein, the fair does not only comprise of commissioned artworks and artists giving talks about their practice but also artists being a part of the fair programme, teaching people to create through the workshops. Jagpal added that this builds on the fair’s theme to ensure artists’ voices are positioned at the centre of it all.

 

India Art Fair 2019. Photo © Jeetin Sharma. Courtesy of India Art Fair.

 

The fair made news in November 2018 when MCH Group, which owns mega fair Art Basel, announced that it will be selling its controlling 60.3 percent stake of IAF. When asked about the effect this move had on the fair in the time since, Jagpal said there has not been any impact because the fair is delivered by a team on the ground. She further noted that IAF has a strong relationship with current sole shareholder Sandy Angus who is known as a co-founder of six fairs in Asia including Taipei Dangdai and Art SG.

IAF is certainly showing signs of being on track. For its 2020 edition, visitors can look forward to the fair’s extensive programming with performances by theatre artist Maya Krishna Rao, Nigerian performance and multimedia artist Jelili Atiku and multi-disciplinary artist Piyali Ghosh; and talks by Indian artist Nilima Sheikh, Bangladeshi-British artist Naeem Mohaiemen and veteran British photographer Martin Parr, among others.

 

Harendra Kushwaha, Topography of Ploughed Rice Field, 2014-15, Jute and Nepali, Cloth, Dimensions variable. Courtesy of Gallery Espace.

 

“One thing we recognize is the art sector might know some of these people but the group of people who already know who these artists are is actually, in reality, very small so it’s really important to bring new audiences as well as have older audiences come to the fair and hear directly from the artists,” Jagpal explained.

Even before becoming fair director, Jagpal was no stranger to the art world. She was previously senior project coordinator at the Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester; international programme manager at London’s Tate; and involved in the New North and South, a network which brings together arts organizations from South Asia and the north of England.

Given the director’s background, it is not surprising that IAF is serious about its international and regional ambitions. This year, visitors can look forward to seeing art from 75 local and international galleries such as TARQ and Project 88 from Mumbai; Crayon Art Gallery and Vadehra Art Gallery from New Delhi; Akar Prakar and Emami Art from Kolkata; Art Houz and Gallery Veda from Chennai; Saskia Fernando Gallery from Colombo, Marc Strauss from New York and PSM Gallery from Berlin.

When Jagpal took on her role at IAF, she was adamant about shifting the focus of the fair towards South Asia.

 

Vasantha Yogananthan, Magic Fishes, 2013, Black and white C-print hand-painted by Jaykumar, 34 x 42 cm. Courtesy of the artist and Jhaveri Contemporary.

 

“I had attended three or four [editions] before… and I didn’t understand why the fair was in a privileged position right in the middle of South Asia’s dynamic scene and not putting their works and focusing on them and bringing people to see it,” Jagpal said.

She decided to “set the rule and while I’m fair director it will never change—70 percent of all the exhibition space goes to Indian exhibits, foundations, galleries and institutions promoting South Asian art.”

“When it comes to the international side, it is maximum 30 percent so we try and keep it diverse…these [international] galleries are also talking about South Asian artists as part of their overall conversation about international artists and that’s a really important thing to do,” she added.

 

 

Victor Ekpuk, Philosopher, 2018, Powder coated steel, 71.1 x 91.4 x 15.2 cm. Courtesy of Aicon Art.

 

As much as Jagpal has focused on revamping the fair, she is equally open to building on existing relationships from before her time. One of the most interesting developments at IAF this year is their collaboration with Godrej India Culture Lab, described as a fluid experimental space that cross-pollinates ideas and people to explore what it means to be modern and Indian. The centre previously worked with the fair in 2016. For the upcoming editon, they will be curating a Film Programme on the theme “Queering Culture.”

“Based on the theme of “Queering Culture,” [there will be] two short films and a panel discussion. I think it will be of interest because not everybody has access to the films, the filmmakers and the people. Godrej India Culture Lab is at the forefront of certain areas and to be partnering with them and having them delivering this programme with us is fantastic,” Jagpal said.

It is this constant push to showcase content, artists, art, galleries and initiatives on the forefront that could very well be the secret behind Jagpal’s seemingly unfazed and transformative approach to running a major regional art fair in today’s volatile social climate.

 

India Art Fair
30 January, 2020 ­­– 2 February, 2020
New Dehli, India

 

 

 

 

 
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