Thanks to CIMA (Centre of International Modern Art), Indian art is moving out of elite auction houses, taking with it its haute descriptions (neocolonial postmodernism, anyone?) and hefty price tags. At the CIMA Art Mela — a 10-year Kolkata staple and one of India’s largest annual fairs showcasing affordable art — carefully curated pieces by stalwarts and emerging stars from the Indian art world are presented with pocket-friendly price tags.
This year, to celebrate CIMA’s tenth anniversary, the mela is launching its Delhi edition, featuring over 1,600 creations by over 80 artists — up from last year’s 61 — from across the country. Emulating the collaborative culture of affordable art creation pioneered at Shantiniketan, the mela includes works by Indian veterans like Thotta Tharani, Sandeep Suneriya and Prasanta Sahu.
Looking to the middle class
For Rakhi Sarkar, chief curator and director of CIMA, the mela is an attempt to revive middle class art collection. “In the ’90s, as art prices went up, the middle class was squeezed out. So, with CIMA’s panel of curators including Lalit Kala Akademi fellows, we have commissioned work by a diverse cohort of Indian artists, some of whom are recipients of our biennial arts awards or artists we have featured in our gallery,” she explains, adding, “There is no other project of this nature in the country — of this size and geographical breadth. Our curators guarantee each piece of art as an authentic work, and this makes many first-time buyers comfortable.”
With prices starting as low as ₹1,000 and going up to ₹75,000, patrons of the mela cut across class barriers. “From an elderly pensioner who withdrew money from his provident fund and queued up at 5 am to buy a Ganesh Pyne painting to real estate developers who buy our pieces every year to adorn their model apartments, our buyers trust our curation,” she says.
Addressing the rising number of “distress” sales in the art world — valuable pieces of art being sold for less than their worth — Sarkar states that we are not creating a society of collectors because art education is not a priority. “At CIMA, we encourage young people to spend their money on good art, and we provide flexible payment options like installments, so that we can encourage a culture of art collection,” she adds.
With over 3,000 annual visitors who purchased over 70% of the artwork last year, the art fair is an established success in Kolkata. If the Delhi edition proves successful, CIMA plans to take the mela to Bengaluru and Mumbai in the coming years.
At the India Habitat Centre, from April 26-30
— With inputs from Sindhuri Nandhakumar