In 2011, India moved from the classification of “developing” country to that of being a “newly industrialized.” This upgrade was made along Mexico, South Africa, Thailand, Turkey, Philippines, Brazil and China, all of which have economies showing promise towards becoming “developed.” Perhaps as a salute to this increase of stature, India had its first pavilion at the 2011 Venice Biennale with an exhibition curated by Ranjit Hoskote aptly titled, Everyone Agrees: It’s About to Explode.
Aside from internationally acclaimed artist Anish Kapoor who is born in Mumbai and later moved to London to study and now live and work, there seems to be little known about the Contemporary art field in India elsewhere in the world.
Unlike India’s film industry, the most internationally recognized film genre being Bollywood based in Mumbai, the contemporary art field is yet to enjoy international creative acclaim.
“The focus centered around the art market and the idea of contemporary Indian art is as an investment — it being an ’emerging’ market along with China,” says Meenakshi Thirukode, an India-born curator living in New York who left India in 2006 to pursue a graduate degree at Christie’s auction house.
She explains her move away from India. “I really wanted to understand the nature of the beast to confront and negotiate the many realms and contexts, with its many cultural and economic biases, through which Indian Art was, and is seen and presented,” she says.
Perhaps some of these biases stem from the economic challenges that are still associated with India. USA’s Central Intelligence Agency describes India’s long-term economic obstacles as, “widespread poverty, inadequate physical and social infrastructure, limited non-agricultural employment opportunities, insufficient access to quality basic and higher education, and accommodating rural-to-urban migration.” Problems such as these suggest a weak art infrastructure and contribute to the contemporary art world being seen as “emerging.” This is however in contradiction to the lucrative commercial art markets in New Delhi and Mumbai that pander to a well-off clientele base and never mind that India is expected to pass Japan to become the world’s third-largest economy this year.
Thirukode is interested in the lesser known “alternative” art forms that may not be recognizable to a global market:
Coming to NYC helped me understand and address the way in which art outside of America or Europe is perceived in a much deeper manner. And I think there’s a lot of work going on in India that I relate to but wont make the headlines as the next “hottest” thing because its not “object based” or easily “marketable.”
The curator of the 2011 Venice Biennale Indian Pavilion seemed to share Thukode’s sentiment curating an exhibition of Indian artists working outside of the New Delhi and Mumbai art markets, opting rather for the more “alternative” artists engaged in global art dialogue including Zarina Hashmi, Gigi Scaria, Praneet Soi, The Desire Machine Collective (Mriganka Madhukaillya and Sonal Jain). A brave choice for the countries debut exhibition at the Venice Biennale, and perhaps one that will help to reinvent the countries market driven contemporary art image.
(Perhaps this is already working as talks of an Indian Contemporary Art Biennale fill the air … )