While India Art Fair raged on, the KONA pop-up project sought to provide a platform to quieter, unconventional voices

On a sleepy afternoon, the usually sleepy Jor Bagh Market does what it does best. The guard outside the PNB ATM doesn’t know what you’re talking about when you ask for KONA, a passerby coming to your rescue enquiring, “Jahaan meeting chal rahi hai?”, pointing you to the back alley with a tiny gate with ‘KONA’ stickers all over.

More of a meeting point actually. Of art, product design, textile design — and a crumbling old giant of a building that watches over them and becomes the all-important context. Conceived as a two-day pop-up event a week before India Art Fair, the organisers let it run into the Fair weekend. “Like an anti-Art Fair, just so people can think about new ways to present,” smiles Sonya Fatah, one of the minds behind the project.

“We’re inspired by spaces in different parts of the world. In Delhi, things are a little bit dead in that sense — very closeted and conventional in its approach to things. Even if people are doing interesting things — for example, (textile designer) Gaurav Jai Gupta — they kind of live in their own world... Our point in the programming was to let people listen to new ideas that are coming out of different spaces — architecture, engineering, design — and also not to look at just the conventional voices. India’s full of people sitting in different corners and from there creating something somewhat wacky, somewhat absurd and quite brilliant in some ways,” says Sonya. “It’s just a question of finding them and connecting them to the larger space. We haven’t managed to do that yet because that is a full research process where you need to be travelling and finding out what’s happening in quiet corners. What we did was start talking to people and getting them on board, which is also a challenge, because you convince people to participate when they don’t know who you are and what you’re doing. You have to care that this is something interesting.”

The building, owned by KONA team member Inderpal Singh Kochar’s family, was once home to Mini Mughal, a tiny four-table restaurant, along with a halwai shop. “Their leases ended and they left, and the space had this energy of the past in it — that they’ve been lived in, worked in, kind of falling apart. This space is a space in transition; eventually it’s not going to last in its current beauty. In Berlin there are these empty spaces that are part of neighbourhoods in decay, so artists go and reside in them and create a commune in them. Here the reality is we’re in the middle of some of the wealthiest parts in Delhi.”

Works include Shashank Nimkar’s “peacock throne”, where hundreds of strips of coloured paper are fashioned into crescents (a method known as paper quilling), and then inserted between acrylic sheets, and then made into a chair; Karan Bakshi’s kettle lamp table; design student Aakash Dewan’s “OneDown” humane mousetrap based on the BOP toy principle; Ishan Khosla’s untitled monochrome work made using licence plate stickers; Gaurav Jai Gupta’s “The Grid” collection based on Godfrey Reggio’s experimental documentary Koyaanisqatsi; Sahil and Sarthak’s wall pockets made by the Longpi artisans of Manipur; and Sandeep Sangaru’s ‘elephant’ seat, to name a few. There’s also a section for organic food and urban farming.

Outside, Ampu Varkey’s graffiti art spruces up the walls, while on the doorway Karan Bakshi’s scooter light stands guard.

“For example, we have Martand Khosla’s works out there — some of his older art, like his brick art series. We wanted the brick art series because it’s perfect with what we’re doing with this space. But his gallerist was against him showing here because they thought it would be bad for his career to show in a space like this…. They were well-intentioned for their client, of course. But the point was, he was very happy to show here,” Sonya points out. “When we started out we thought it would be interesting to find ways people are working with things that are rooted in their consciousness, like Karan Bakshi’s works — although his stuff has been seen quite a bit. The Vespa may not be an Indian vehicle, but it’s rooted in people’s consciousness, it’s been part of their history.”

About the future course, the organisers have adopted a wait-and-watch approach. “We’re a pop-up, so we will pop up. When, where, we don’t know yet.”

Keywords: India Art FairKONA