By Vinay Seth
Delhi Art Week, a unique “phygital” collaboration
While happy to connect, the Delhi Art Week team began the conversation by expressing their disagreement with and disappointment over a particular point in my coverage pertaining to their effort — they stressed that the apple-to-apple comparison of the Delhi Art Week with the Delhi Contemporary Art Week was unfair, and that the two were very separate affairs. The overlapping with the Delhi Contemporary Art Week, they said, was a coincidence.
Tariq Allana pointed out that the Delhi Contemporary Art Week could be seen as a “mini art fair” akin to the India Art Fair, but for the city’s galleries. He said that the Delhi Art Week (DAW) is a unique entity altogether. According to him, DAW is a “phygital” — combination of physical and digital — model conceived to highlight the various exhibitions and events taking place in the city during a shared period of time. He called the event a “highlight week” and said that there’s been no other event like this anywhere else in the country. As per all three, the ‘Week’ is a mapping event meant to activate the entire city via simultaneous art events.
Allana added that the Delhi Art Week aimed to “acknowledge publicly what we all know privately” — that Delhi has a thriving art scene, with dozens of eminent galleries and institutions dedicated to adding value to Indian Modern and Contemporary Art. Reena Lath stated that throughout the effort, Tariq had continuously been stressing that this collaboration is an effort “of the community, by the community.”
Inventing a map for the Delhi Art scene, both online and through 4 Zones
All three gallerists contributed something unique to the setting up of the Delhi Art Week. Reena told me that while Tariq was the one to push for having a website dedicated to the Delhi art scene, it was Sunaina who was behind the mapping of Delhi through its art galleries. The Mumbai Gallery Weekend, started in 2012, was something that the three looked up to, but whenever there was talk of doing something like that in Delhi, it was followed by scepticism owing to the fact that Delhi art galleries are spread out across the city, as opposed to the scenario in Mumbai where many galleries are located in and around the small area of Colaba.
In the early days of the conceptualisation of the Delhi Art Week, Sunaina Anand sat down with Reena Lath and came up with a fun yet ingenuous idea to solve this problem. Given that Central Delhi comprises many art galleries and organisations, and also the fact that it is pretty much the centre of the city, she thought of making a map which starts from Central Delhi and then makes the navigator move to other areas. This map-making idea ultimately culminated in dividing Delhi into 4 Art ‘Zones’. The intention was to turn the gallery-hopping experience in Delhi into an organised map with lucid navigability. Sunaina pointed out that the idea had been successful, as she had heard art audiences refer to the gallery they wanted to visit through the Zone it was in, say ‘Zone 3’. In this way then, Sunaina solved the problem entailed by Delhi galleries being spread out, through dividing the city’s art hubs into understandable chunks, and giving them simple names which were easy to remember. She added that these Zones have now become part of the art lovers’ vocabulary — quite a success story for just a 1-edition old Art Week!
Sunaina also commented that after the map-making activity, they were surprised to see that the Delhi art circuit is less spread out than they had earlier imagined, agreeing with me that the art world in Delhi was confined to its central and south areas, even if it was wider in geography than its Mumbai cousin. Because of her map-making effort, the three also realised that the Delhi art circuit was indeed navigable and not as much of a mess as they had earlier assumed. Had Sunaina not decided to invent the art map of Delhi, these conclusions would not have been possible.
One Platform, Varied Voices
The organisers stressed that while DAW is a massive collaboration between varied galleries, the team effort itself has been a collaborative effort made possible by the complementary skill sets possessed by the three varied individuals. Not only are the three very different personalities, their vision for Art is also varied. Yet, despite these differences, they have managed to pull off this beast of a collaboration.
The three stated that the event is not a competition between galleries, but rather a shared platform to express their varied voices. While organising, they were fully aware that the different art galleries carry their own sensibilities, and that they should have the freedom and autonomy to showcase their unique flair. It was important to respect the diversity inherent in the participating art institutions, they felt.
They also felt that though the Delhi Art Week was an endeavour started by their team, it was the culmination, and continuation, of the various past efforts by Delhi’s gallerists. Tariq said that, “Everyone is trying really hard, really hard, to (put) Indian Contemporary Art on to the global map…and everything that anybody does is very important, in the sense of, Sunaina brings out a book, that’s important, Bhavna Kakar brings out the magazine called Take on Art, that’s important, India Art Fair happens, that’s important, Reena goes to New York (Asia Art) Week, that’s important.… We are all…going in the same direction.” He stated that each of such activities has been an important step towards taking Indian Contemporary Art to the globe.
Giving a worthy face to Indian Modern and Contemporary Art present in Delhi
Tariq said that it was important for the team to “put money where our mouth is” and “put our skin in the game”. He added that, “Delhi is a space of visual art. Its’ not (just) the place called the capital of India, it’s not (just) the place where you just pick out beautiful monuments, it’s also (the place) of the visual (art).” He said that it’s important for us to claim this space, and put it on the global map.
Tariq mentioned another important aim behind the DAW. He said that it was important for the world to know that Indian Art is “not just the Progressives, not just Folk and Tribal”, and that it was crucial to inform the world that there is a thriving contemporary art scene present just in Delhi itself (in addition to other places in the country). So the goal was to add value to Delhi’s art scene, through giving it a face that truly represents its dynamism and fervour.
Both Tariq and Reena were very particular about the words they were using for the conceptualisation of DAW. Tariq told me that there\’s good reason we refer to the art scene as the “art ecosystem” and not the “art system”. He said that this is not an accident, since the art field thrives on the interdependence of individual participants. He said that this interdependence is critical as it creates a symbiosis between the progress of individual players and the larger, collective field. For instance, the flourishing of individual art galleries results in the growth of the overall art scene, while the buzz created for the art field in turn adds value to individual galleries.
Learning from the Pandemic
All the three gallerist-founders emphasised upon the impact that the COVID-induced lockdowns had had on the Art scene. This was a period where art exhibitions had to be halted, but galleries in Delhi (and across the world) figured out a resilient way to operate, via virtual exhibitions carried out through collaborations between art organisations. “The pandemic taught us that we really need to come together,” Tariq said.
Tariq informed me that many gallerists had already talked about the possibility of a collaborative event many times before, but to no conclusive end. It was the pandemic that made them finally get on board to turn the idea into reality. The team said that gallery founders had been wanting to come together earlier as well, for instance during the GST introduction where the economics of the art market had been affected. The pandemic however, proved to be the turning point, and Delhi Art Week finally managed to give a visible identity to the city’s fertile art scene.
Reena pointed out that the common aim of all the participants of the Week is to get more people to visit, view and buy art. This shall generate more sales, thereby benefiting the entire art ecosystem in the city. The first edition already witnessed this, and proved to be a success. Tariq informed me of an eye-opening statistic regarding art sales. He said that globally, the Contemporary Art industry is worth billions of dollars, whereas in all of India, the figure amounts to around 200 million dollars — a mere chunk of the global share, alarming given the size of and potential in the country. The organisers feel that it’s important to tap into this untapped potential. DAW hopes to improve this dismal figure by creating the much-needed buzz and through meaningful collaborations. Reena emphasised that, “United we stand, united we can generate some good vibe to connect everybody.”
Standing on the shoulders of earlier gallery pioneers
The three pointed out with humility that they were standing on the shoulders of the success of the Mumbai Gallery Weekend, which is an event that was started in 2012. They said that they had approached Tara Lal (Gallerist at Chatterjee & Lal) for advice, who had given them some 2 to 3 hours from her busy schedule to share some very concrete learnings from the Mumbai Gallery Weekend. The biggest takeaway from this conversation was that they should do what they can control. This is why the team focused on launching a website and an Instagram page in the first edition, and deferred other ambitions for subsequent editions.
Delhi Art scene: Building up over decades, now getting a face
During our entire conversation, Tariq continuously stressed that this endeavour was a collaborative effort, and was ever-so-persistent on giving the credit to all the participants involved. He went as far as extending his gratitude to all the past gallerists who, according to him, had built the strong foundations that they were now seated on. He stated that the attempts of these early pioneers were the building blocks that had shaped the art scene of the city. He said that this gallery community in Delhi is 40-45 years old (although a few art galleries were operating in the city, mostly in isolation, even long back in the 1950s). While Sunaina Anand pointed out that the early innovators of the Delhi Art scene, such as Kumar Gallery and Dhoomimal (spelled ‘Dhoomi Mal’ during its initial days) put Indian Modern Art on the map, Tariq said that recent efforts by the city’s gallerists, such as that of Mr. Vadehra (of Vadehra Art Gallery) going to Christie’s, played an important role in taking the art in the city to the world. In Tariq’s view, the Delhi Art Week team is adding a few more steps to this collective endeavour. “Let’s keep that momentum and move it into hyperdrive,” he emphasised.
When I suggested that the Delhi Art Week team is shaking things up, Tariq replied with a vehement ‘No!’ and stressed that they are not disrupting the field, but rather adding to a continuity. He said, rather humbly, that they’re adding a mere “femtometre…in an industry that had not been doing it online.”
2022 edition addition: Global, phygital collaboration with Artsy
I asked the team about the key difference between this year’s Art Week and the first edition last year. They spoke about their collaboration with Artsy this year, which is the new building block added to the base created last year. Upon hearing of this, I suggested that this year, the Delhi Art Week has gone global. Tariq interjected and disagreed, saying that ‘going global’ is easy these days with the advent of the internet and social media. He said that the crucial step was that of “going global in a hybrid model.” Earlier on in our conversation, he had also said that for a global collaboration to truly matter, the correct questions to ask are, “Is it inclusive? Is it building towards community? Is it a value adder?” For Tariq then, the new step taken for this edition isn’t merely of ensuring visibility to the global audience, but of value addition on a global level through the collaboration with Artsy. The sincerity towards adding value to the Indian art scene was apparent when I learned of them having reached out to other Art Week organisers all over the world who had earlier collaborated with Artsy.
For the first edition, the website and the mapping of Delhi through its art institutions was the priority. Having nailed these tasks, the addition the organisers have made this time is their collaboration with Artsy, wherein the works of the participating galleries and art institutions have been put up on the website under a separate ‘Featured’ section exclusively for the Delhi Art Week. This digital collaboration with the leading online e-commerce platform for contemporary art, not only ensures a global visibility for the city-wide endeavour, but also puts the Week up for viewing beyond the physical Art Week’s commencement. While the Delhi Art Week, started on 24th August, officially ends on 31st August, its Artsy portal stays open for two weeks more.
Learnings from the first edition, and giving back to the community
Reena said that the three learned a lot from the first version of the DAW in 2021, and applied the learnings to this year’s edition. She stated that not only did the team gain experiences from the event itself but also learned a lot from working with each other. Prior to this, the three had been busy with their own galleries and although they were friends who would meet up from time to time, they had never sat down to create something together. Each team member contributed immensely as per their strengths and inclinations, while also learning from the other team members. Reena stated that Sunaina taught her that despite the Delhi Art circuit being a spread-out affair, there were indeed four very well-defined zones possible. And while it was Sunaina and Reena who sat down together to create the art map of Delhi, Tariq was the one who largely took charge of setting up the website for the event, to give an online presence to the Week. Reena said that they learned to work together as a team despite the team comprising three distinct personalities, each with their own vision; this in itself was an amazing achievement for her.
Tariq very sincerely acknowledged that the three of them, as the coordinators of the Week, were the lucky recipients of the hard work that all the art galleries and institutions — more than 40 of them — had put together and individually. And this statement seemed to stem from sincerity. I got to learn that at the end of the first edition, the three had taken feedback from the galleries and institutions involved, in order to improve upon the endeavour in this edition.
As per Tariq, in the lead-up to the first edition, the “post-pandemic learning” had reinforced the need to be inclusive. The lockdowns had compelled various galleries and organisations to come together and collaborate to bring exhibitions online, and this made the team realise the need to merge the offline and online worlds via what Tariq refers to as the “phygital” model — an intention concretely realised in the second edition through the Artsy collaboration this year.
Concluding on a positive note
The team stressed that the Delhi Art Week has been a “humbling” experience for them, and that they are pleased to see so many different players in the field successfully collaborating to make it happen. Sunaina told me that the first edition had garnered a very positive response. Tariq pointed out that an impressive result of the Week has been that of bolstering public-private partnerships. While there was a time when the public and private art institutions seemed like two separate worlds, the Delhi Art Week has successfully managed to bring both these domains on the same board, with private giants like the KNMA and public ones like the NGMA both being participants of the same Art Week.
As per the team, this “coming together” of various and varied art institutions in the city has had, and shall continue to have, a “ripple effect” for all participants involved, and shall strengthen ties between them.
As a parting note, Tariq, in a bid to encourage Abir Pothi, expressed praise for our magazine’s efforts to cover art stories, and said that such efforts were also very important towards flourishing the Indian Art scene. We were ecstatic with this stamp of approval, and hope to live up to his accolade.
Delhi Art Week officially started on 24th August, and goes on till 31st August. Following is the link to their downloadable schedule: https://www.delhiartweek.com/_files/ugd/bb8983_a085c76d119d4b7b9a7b2f7e5fb4f90b.pdf
For all other information, you can visit their main website: https://www.delhiartweek.com/ The virtual avatar of the edition is on at Artsy; it started on 22nd August and is on till September 14th: https://www.artsy.net/fair/delhi-art-week-2022