‘This is a very subversive project’

In awe: Nationalist Congress Party chief Sharad Pawar and his wife Pratibha (in black sari) admire the paintings on display at the Affordable Art Mela, organised by the Centre of International Modern Art, at the Nehru Centre in Worli on Wednesday.   | Photo Credit: Aadesh Choudhari

Despite the bustle, Rakhi Sarkar is a picture of serenity. All around her, there are boxes of artworks being unpacked, bubble wrap aplenty and Post-Its with tempting price tags. But it’s a scene that Ms. Sarkar is used to, having run the Centre of International Modern Art (CIMA) since 1993.

In town for the Affordable Art Mela that has experienced runaway success in Kolkata for 10 years now and more recently in Delhi, Ms. Sarkar is looking forward to bringing Mumbaikars serious art that is also pocket-friendly. For four days, January 23 to 26, the mela at the Nehru Centre in Worli will entice art lovers in the city to buy work of all shapes and sizes by over 80 artists. More than 2,000 artworks will be available — all under ₹1,00,000. As Ms. Sarkar emphatically declares, “This is a very subversive project. Because I subvert everything that happens in a mainstream gallery.”

A serious art collector, Ms. Sarkar established CIMA on the urging of the artistic community more than two decades ago. The impetus clearly was a love for art, and a space in central Kolkata that was readily available with the Sarkar family. After travelling the world, studying international museums and galleries, Ms. Sarkar took the help of Marc Glimcher, who is now president and CEO of Pace Gallery, a modern and contemporary art space that was established in 1960 in the U.S. “He helped me a lot. And was opposed to the name CIMA, as he thought it wasn’t appropriate for a commercial gallery,” recalls Ms. Sarkar. But is CIMA a commercial space? “Our formatting has been designed by international museums on one hand and art galleries on other. We function as a centre which also sells. But we do a lot of non-profit work. In fact, 99% of our work is non-profit,” she says.

Rakhi Sarkar, director of the Centre of International Modern Art.

Rakhi Sarkar, director of the Centre of International Modern Art.  

The Affordable Art Mela then, is also an extremely serious exercise that aims to spread the love of art. For the Mumbai mela, Ms. Sarkar says that several younger artists have been identified who live and work in and around Mumbai and hail from Maharashtra. Ms. Sarkar is very happy to display the prices on yellow sticky notes; this is done to reassure both buyers and artists alike that the prices are indeed low. “The guarantee is that we are giving you the best. This is serious art, and it’s authentic and it’s at an affordable price,” she says. The idea is to remove the potential art buyer’s intimidations.

Several of the artworks will also have traditional art forms, some with a contemporary twist – but all with a modern outlook. Bolstered by the success of the mela’s Delhi outing in 2018, Ms. Sarkar decided on Mumbai for 2020, it’s also a city she has emotional ties with as she grew up here.

“To organise this mela is tough,” she says while recalling the Delhi show at The Habitat Centre. In Delhi, she is pleased to recount that people from the National Capital Region flocked to buy art. “They were clearly not collectors, but people who had never bought art before,” she says.

CIMA has also set up the Art and Heritage Foundation to augment the cause of art and heritage projects — national, regional and international — and initiated the CIMA AWARD Project. The aim of the project is to recognise and reward young artists from smaller towns, semi-urban and rural areas, to get adequately promoted and nurtured for their talent and creativity. Several of the mela’s artists are CIMA awardees, it is a process that works well — as the art has already been assessed by a panel of artists.

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Printable version | Apr 17, 2021 9:15:07 AM |

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