‘Tao is our canvas’

Yesterday and tomorrow: Kalpana and Sanjana Shah at the gallery

Yesterday and tomorrow: Kalpana and Sanjana Shah at the gallery  

As the Worli gallery completes 20 years, mother-daughter duo Kalpana and Sanjana Shah look at the past and future

Tao Art Gallery opened in 2000 but its seed had been sown almost a decade earlier. The 1992-93 Mumbai riots had spurred many artists to pour their angst on canvas. Among them was MF Husain, who was painting at Marine Drive. Collector and self-taught artist Kalpana Shah accompanied by her friend and art patron Sangita Jindal to witness it. “I was moved by what I saw. Seeing my passion for art, Sangita Jindal suggested that I open a gallery. I had never given it a thought. Her encouragement helped and here I am,” recollects Kalpana, 61, the director of the spacious 3,500 sq-ft space in Worli.

Mounted on one of the walls is Paresh Maity’s ‘The Spin Of Time’. The sprawling, almost nine feet wide, mixed media work portrays Mahatma Gandhi on the charkha. It is part of the gallery’s 20th anniversary exhibition titled ‘A Tapestry of Time’. Opening this weekend, the group show features 66 artists who have been part of Tao’s journey. These include Ali Akbar Mehta, Anju and Atul Dodiya, Arzan Khambatta, Brinda Miller, Ingrid Pitzer, Jayasri Burman, Jitish Kallat, Madhvi and Manu Parekh, Rini Dhumal and Seema Kohli. The exhibition also extends to the adjacent building’s Atrium Gallery where Tao was housed for five years before it found permanent residence in the current space that was built by Kalpana’s late husband real-estate developer Pankaj Shah.

Past perfect

Standing away from Kala Ghoda’s art district, Tao has managed to carve an independent identity for itself. “When we opened, my first instruction to the staff was to never compare ourselves with other galleries. I didn’t entertain gossip either. This space was our canvas and we were focused on painting it our way,” says Kalpana matter-of-factly.

The Worli sea-facing gallery’s iconic, giant window display is also unmissable. “That’s our organic publicity!” laughs Sanjana, 24, who helped her mother co-curate shows before joining the gallery as Creative Director in 2018. “The location has worked in our favour. With the Lower Parel mills getting rejuvenated, much of the focus has shifted to this area. Our works also get breathing space,” she adds.

Over the years, Tao’s curatorial calendar has seen many interesting exhibitions. Their first anniversary show brought together eight Modern art masters – Akbar Padamsee, Bal Chhabda, Krishen Khanna, MF Husain, Ram Kumar, SH Raza, Tyeb Mehta and VS Gaitonde. “From Bal Chhabda, I had heard stories about the tough lives that the artists had led in their early days. They would even share a single cup of tea among themselves,” says Kalpana.

As tribute to the legends, she juxtaposed their works from the 1940s with the present masterpieces. “Husainji gave the show’s title of ‘Ashta Nayak’. Then, he took the charcoal and designed the catalogue in front of my eyes in five minutes! He even recommended the name of the printer I could visit to bind the catalogue. Back then, the artists were extremely involved in the entire process,” she smiles, adding, “They would make huge works and they were large-hearted when it came to lending the paintings to the galleries for shows.”

Tao’s journey has also been dotted with group shows such as ‘Nava Nayika’ comprising works of nine women artists including Anjolie Ela Menon, Nalini Malani and Rekha Rodwittiya, and solos of Raza, Husain, Dashrath Patel and Sohan Qadri. The space has also showcased photography, sculpture, video, performance, installation art and calligraphy. The opening night of the anniversary show will witness a dance movement performance. “Whether dance or design, they are extensions of art and our aim is to make people see that,” says Sanjana. “Ours is a diverse arts space,” asserts Kalpana, adding that the gallery’s evolution reflects in her tastes as a collector too. “Earlier, I liked only abstracts but later, I started understanding and appreciating expressive and figurative works too.”

Boomerang brigade

The economic slowdown has impacted the art world, shares the duo. “The supply is more than demand as more people are selling off their collection,” observes Kalpana. Social media is influencing galleries to relook at their curation, says Sanjana. “Instagram is impacting exhibition concepts.” For instance, last year, their show titled ‘Boomerang’ featured pop hues and was themed on the mini videos that loop back and forth.

To attract millennials, Tao has also started hosting workshops on different forms of art. Sanjana reasons, “Many people are wary of galleries because they feel they need to intellectualise art and see it in a certain way. The workshops aim to create awareness and show that art is nothing but a creative expression. Ultimately, it’s about making you feel an emotion.”

A Tapestry of Time opens tonight and will runs until March 31, 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. at Tao Art Gallery, Worli.

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Printable version | Jul 15, 2020 6:35:08 PM |

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