The crowds may be lesser this year, thanks to Covid-19 protocols and soaring temperatures, but the scale is large and the anticipation high. Not only does the latest edition of India Art Fair have a robust lineup of 77 exhibitors, it also has a new director. Jaya Asokan, 44, is a passionate advocate for the arts. Involved with the discipline for the last decade and a half, she has worked with Saffronart (Mumbai) as senior client manager and delivered three editions of IAF as its deputy director, before taking over from Jagdip Jagpal in 2021. Her vision, she shares, is to be more inclusive and broadly collaborative.
Asokan’s solid administratorship skills have come in handy, too, as IAF emerges from a two-year sabbatical. To ensure safety, she has introduced two preview days and two public days, VIP digital passes, and online registrations. Is there a back-up plan if Covid-19 numbers continue to go up? “It is unlikely that there will be a complete shutdown of events and exhibitions. In any instance, our aim is to ensure IAF is as safe as possible.”
The Magazine caught up with Asokan for a chat about the upcoming edition, which begins on April 28, new inclusions, and plans for the future:
What awaits visitors this year?
The new and next generation of artists will be the focus of the fair; we are hoping to give them the attention they deserve. Artdemic by the Gujral Foundation is one of the special showcases. I am proud of the art emerging from smaller cities, and the range of issues being addressed — whether it is social, ecological or political — in new ways by artists like Divya Singh [Shrine Empire], Saad Qureshi [Aicon Art], Tsohil Bhatia [Blueprint12], and many more.
We will also showcase well-known participants from other cities — from Experimenter in Kolkata, and Jhaveri Contemporary in Mumbai, to Art Houz and Apparao Galleries from Chennai. The fair will see four international galleries return, too: Aicon Art and Aicon Contemporary [New York], Grosvenor Gallery [London], and Galeria Karla Osorio [Lago Sul, Brazil]. There will also be booths representing the Kochi Biennale Foundation, the Chennai Photo Biennale, and the Serendipity Arts Foundation, among others.
The online space has become so important for the survival and disbursal of the art world. How is this being reflected at IAF?
NFTs have expanded the discussion and market for digital art and artists. And the fair is the perfect place to reflect on and give shape to current art world trends. We will not only have NFT works by artists such as Amrit Pal Singh and younger talents like Laya Mathikshara [a teenager from Chennai] and Khyati Trehan, but also dedicated auditorium talks to demystify non-fungible tokens. The conversation, hosted by techart platform BeFantastic, will have experts such as Om Malviya of Tezos India, Aparajita Jain of Terrain.art, and artist Raghava KK, who sold a work at a record price at Sotheby’s auction in 2021.
Besides NFTs, we are interested in the wider conversation around digital art as well, for which we have created a new space called The Studio — to encourage collaborations among creative disciplines across design, technology and art, with an emphasis on play and experimentation. It will host an array of special artist projects, such as Muzzumil Ruheel’s AI-powered sculptural installation.
“I am proud of the art emerging from smaller cities, and the range of issues being addressed — whether it is social, ecological or political — in new ways by artists like Divya Singh, Saad Qureshi, Tsohil Bhatia, and many more. ”
In the run up to the fair, we are also working with the creators at XR Central to create a metaverse simulation of the fair showcasing special highlights from the edition. It will go up on the IAF website on the week of the fair.
What are the other highlights?
This year, we will have the PLATFORM, which will foreground traditional Indian art forms and their dynamic and ever-evolving nature. Hosted by curator Amit Kumar Jain, it will showcase masterpieces of Gond painting by Jangarh Singh Shyam, rare bhuta bronze masks from coastal Kerala and Karnataka, textiles from Rajasthan, and much more. Through this, we intend to elevate the dialogue of craft vs art, to bring them into the mainstream.
What about sales? While the online art market has been quite healthy, will that translate into the physical realm?
We will have a lot more editorial content to engage with and help millennials who are now collecting. I have often found that for collectors, the more information they have in hand the more comfortable they are with navigating new terrain. While people are willing to venture out [despite increasing Covid-19 numbers] to visit galleries, we will facilitate talks with curators and peers through controlled social gatherings. Millennials are quite different in their taste as they like to feel close to what they engage with. They follow a lot of artists on Instagram and if we get them to talk and interact with them, it will generate a much better understanding for them.
What are the plans for the future?
The fair aims to become a year-round presence through a robust programme of pop-ups and public projects across cities, and activities such as workshops and exhibition walkthroughs, both online and in-person. Expanding our digital presence through a refreshed website editorial and films, opening access to Indian art and artists to a broad range of audiences, as well as engaging collectors through planned itineraries and weekends cities around the country are all geared towards the 365-day plan.
The writer is a critic-curator by day, and a creative writer and visual artist by night.