Antique lithographs will help fund care for the carriage horses of Mumbai. Animal rights crusader Maneka Gandhi on how she hopes to achieve this.

The ever-alert animal rights crusader Maneka Gandhi is all set to take up cudgels for the horses in Mumbai. Along with Tarana Khubchandani of Gallery Art & Soul, Maneka Gandhi is hosting an exhibition-cum-sale of antique lithographs to raise funds for the cause. In this tête-à-tête, she reveals more about the raison d'être behind the exhibition.

What cause does People for Animals (PFA), hope to support through this exhibition?

The recent incident of a horse dropping dead while drawing a Victoria carriage in Mumbai left me shaken! It’s high time this inhuman practice was stopped. The horses are fed rubbish and afflicted by diseases because they are never taken to vets. They continue to run on sprained and broken legs.

They are kept in makeshift stables, which are filthy beyond belief, or on the beach in the rain and heat. Their shoes are never changed and their teeth are broken from the bits.

Our campaign is being managed by Ambika Hiranandani, a dedicated animal activist. The press has been very supportive and so has the municipal corporation. A lot of likeminded people and organisations have also pitched in; young politicians like Poonam Mahajan, veterans like Pritish Nandy and Nana Chudasama; Lynn D’Souza of Lintas, as well as Amul and RWITC.

The funds from the lithograph exhibition, which Tarana Khubchandani of Gallery Art & Soul is doing for us, will go into whatever is needed for the horses.

You have been marrying art and social causes for quite some time now. Do you find people’s response to be more generous when the cause is genuine?

We have been doing one art related fundraiser every year for 20 years. One reason why we manage to sell out is because we keep the prices low; much lower than the market. I would like young people and those setting up a new home to buy art that is affordable yet excellent. Most artists are generous people and they give us their works or permission to use their works in art-related things like carpets, mugs (we sold 14,000 last year) for free. I wish I could say that people buy because of the cause but it is more realistic to say that that they buy because of the authenticity, uniqueness, quality and price. For instance, to get 200-300-year-old lithographs for Rs. 5000 is very unusual and not easy. It has taken us a year to put this collection together.

What kind of lithographs will we see in this year’s exhibition?

There are about 2000 lithographs including John Gould’s A, B, C Series, Bird’s Series, Roses by Joseph Redoute , Plants by Joseph Paxton and William Curtis, Aquatint by James Forbes, Butterfly Series, Vishnu Prasad’s Series, Hand Finished Lithographs by Samuel Benjamin Warner… This is the first such exhibition of its kind and I’m sure it’ll be a visual treat.

The lithographs have been priced very economically. Is this to attract a wider buyer base or to spread knowledge about the cause over a larger audience base?

I like to make buying art a happy experience. Instead of getting one painting for Rs. one crore, it makes me happier to fill the whole house with pretty antiques for Rs. one lakh. It is with the same mindset that we have priced the lithos so economically. Why buy one painting when you can get an entire wall of the most exquisite flora and fauna in the same budget? It also brings a new art form into the Indian market, which is something we try and do every year. Beginning with a pottery exhibition in 1987, we have so far exhibited myriad genres such as Raja Ravi Varma oleographs, photographs, designer T-shirts and a lot more.

What is the value addition that connoisseurs can expect from this series?

To begin with, they are underpriced so that in itself is a value addition. We sold a thousand Raja Ravi Varma oleographs three years ago for Rs.5000 each. The same are now available for Rs.25,000 each if they are available at all. We had a lithographs exhibition of lithos made by the British and French and sold over Rs. three crores worth. Those are not available now. These lithos are flowers and birds. A unique exhibition of 200-year-old antique lithographs being sold for less than the price of a restaurant dinner will definitely be a feast for genuine art collectors and antique hunters while also creating awareness about the cause and the plight of the animals to a larger audience.

Fundraiser-Exhibition

What: Antique lithographs of birds and flowers

Where: Coomaraswamy Hall at the Prince of Wales Museum, Mumbai

When: August 3 and 4. Exhibition from August 6-13 at Gallery Art & Soul, Mumbai.