Avani became interested in art as a child watching her mother engaged in Nirmal painting and muggu (rangoli). “ Muggu is a free-hand expression, but an art nevertheless,” she feels. When she was working on her master’s degree, she chanced upon abstract and contemporary art and chose to do her PhD on contemporary Andhra art.
Her works, acrylic on canvas, sometimes in colour but mostly in black and white, aren’t soothing and comforting, and Avani is well aware that the Hyderabadi art scene, which she feels is 15 years behind Mumbai and Delhi, is not ready to appreciate them. “But the purpose of my art isn't to sell,” she says. “I use art as an expression of my thought.”
“Like this one,” she says, pointing to a huge canvas drying on the floor. To a layman it seems to contain haphazard strokes in different colours. But in Avani’s interpretation it is a corn field being reaped. Avani takes issue with gurus who pass on their distinct techniques to their students, making the students’ own work look like poor copies. “As an art critic I was very disturbed by the whole process,” she says. “This made me look beyond names in circulation in the market. The criteria to showcase their work in my studio was not ‘where have you displayed your work earlier.’ This in turn helped me discover a greater talent pool who are independent in their thoughts and works.”
Sitting in her house in Banjara Hills, Avani says it was most satisfying to use the works of local artisans to do up the interiors. Many of those works resulted from the workshops she holds in the studio.
“These workshops are very enriching and tell us about different areas and techniques which the artist must have developed on their own,” she says, pointing towards a mosaic work and an example of art from scrap. What makes Avani's gallery stand out from the rest are her artist in residence and “buy an art” programmes to promote less familiar artists and their works.
During the buy an art programme, she was delighted to find that youngsters showed a keen interest in buying art.
“The buyers who bought through the buy an art programme knew why they were keen on that particular canvas,” says Avani. “More than figurative and gods and goddesses, it was abstract works which were picked up. That was a big boost to the artists and a learning experience as well. Those artists who couldn’t sell understood where they lacked and instead of being discouraged, they went back enriched.”
To initiate and design these programmes, Avani has devoted her sprawling premises in Banjara Hills Road 12 to a studio and gallery and a lot more space for artists.
“Artists need space to work and with the kind of money they earn they aren't in a position to afford to rent a studio,” she says. “My duty as a mentor is to add to the finer details of their works. Not hand holding but just a bit of guidance. Most of the artists don’t even need that.”
Not everyone is concerned with the sale value of their work. “Some of us paint as because it is an art. Some paint because they need to sustain themselves with the earning from their works. There is nothing wrong, only the ideology and the motive vary.”
In the process, she says, there is a cross-pollination in ideas, techniques and forms. “It helps each of us improve our thoughts and techniques. Through the resident artists programme each of us has learnt a new skill and that way, it improves the value of art coming from the city. We are able to look beyond or in a different way at figuratives, rural folk and landscape.”
At present she and her team are preparing for a show about the Delhi rape incident, a tribute to the desires and wishes of a woman. The show will be an installation in mixed media.
The buyers who bought through the buy an art programme knew why they were keen on that particular canvas