Jaya Mani rues that art loses its soul when buyers look on it as an investment

Jaya Mani sits in the front room of Ambara — a store she co-founded in 2000 — overlooking Ulsoor Lake discussing Indian art, both a passion and a profession for this unusual woman.

Jaya has just returned from the large exhibition in Delhi that she organises every year at her gallery, Dravidam, which showcases and sells the work of artists from the south. She has an interest in old south Indian art, and is drawn to contemporary artists whose work is based on traditional foundations.

With 30 years of experience in the art world, Jaya once predicted in a 2008 interview that art prices would take a fall. “And it happened,” she points out, chiefly as a result of the global slump. “The crash had to happen. It was a healthy thing. Art needed to take that toss... artists were overpricing themselves.”

And the profile of buyers has changed so completely in the last few years, she says, noting the “greed” in the art world with dismay.

Choosing art

People now come with their interior designers in tow “buying what someone else tells them to buy” as opposed to choosing a work of art that they are drawn to themselves. Many now look at art mainly as an investment, she says. “It's too much of a stock market. It has lost its soul.”

Despite her travels, Jaya spends a significant amount of time managing Ambara. “It's been a rewarding few years,” she says,

“I think we've managed to achieve what we wanted to.”

The store has done well, selling a variety of items such as clothes and jewellery, largely promoting the work of NGOs, mainly those working with women.

“I've tried to stay very small, to stay happy doing what I'm doing,” she says. Basava Ambara, a second store that she started in 2009 in Basavanagudi is housed in an 1890s heritage building, and “now has to compete with malls”. But ‘staying small' is very important to Jaya, who maintains that she'd lose out if she attempted to expand: “It's about what you learn along the way and the relationships you develop,” she says.

Going by the number of customers entering Ambara who stop to say hello and chat, Jaya Mani must be a happy woman indeed.

Keywords: UlsoorJaya ManiAmbara

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Up CloseApril 13, 2011