By Alisha Fernandes, Time n Style posted Aug 9th 2013 at 6:00AM
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Rankin Street 1953, Naeem Mohaiemen
Prateek and Priyanka Raja set up the Experimenter gallery to represent art and artists, who possess an innate contemporary sensibility. The works showcased here reflect the era we live in right now, our society and what it values. The husband and wife duo talk about their motivations behind starting the gallery and much more…
What was the motivation behind establishing Experimenter?
We were and still are in the midst of a revolution of sorts in the Indian art field and it was important to capture that moment in a concise, well-curated programme. The economic boom before the 2008 crash saw a huge number of galleries and a meteoric rise in prices for art, but resultantly, poor quality. We started the gallery in 2009 in the middle of the lowest slump to focus on curated, well-researched and professionally-displayed exhibitions not only to Indian audiences, but for international audiences as well. We did this out of Kolkata, which we felt was missing out on this new wave of art practices that were prevalent in South Asia. We did this, of course, for ourselves since we found this challenging, but also for the city and contemporary art scene at large.
Tell us about the three artists you represent and whose works were showcased at Art Basel this year?
We presented the works of Hajra Waheed, Bani Abidi and Naeem Mohaiemen at Art Basel this year. Their work is made in response to the idea of architecture of cities in crises; not only physical architecture, but also emotional structures, and how relationships among people and between people and the city transform, while a city is in flux. Mohaiemen presented a series of photographs taken by his father in 1953 of family members and a family home that was broken down to accommodate the growing needs of a city. The family never returned to live together. He made a set of beautiful sandstone moulds that look like topography maps of broken cities, but from the negatives of the images and a touching video.
Waheed made delicate ink transfer drawings of 28 different historically relevant architectural sites in Mecca and Medina that have been razed to the ground over the last 35-40 years. These were sites that were crucial to the birth of Islam, centuries ago, but, obliterated owing to fear of idolatry and for want of centralising the power of religion and faith.
In continuation with her work, A Table Wide Country, Abidi presents an environment of a working desk of an imaginary character. A working table strewn with toys and showing dead Palestinians, sections of the Palestine wall, American soldiers, road barricades and other such things can be bought online. She created fragile scaffolding reflecting the psychology of this imaginary person, who is probably doing this to come to terms with a past experience.
It's said that you believe that the curatorial practice in India is underdeveloped. Why so, and how can it change?
Things are definitely on the rise, especially, since the markets have been corrected. There are fewer shows and artists produce with thought, sincerity and cohesion of conceptual thoughts. Similarly, there are a slew of young curators who are bringing in fresh perspectives in their approach. I think the continuation of this is now crucial to the development of curatorial practice in India. A dialogue that was missing is slowly starting to take shape. There are young organizations focusing their work on curatorial practice/discourse and are placing artists in exhibitions worldwide and creating new networks to see art.
Prateek and Priyanka Raja
What is the experimenter curators' hub? What function does it serve?
Experimenter Curators' Hub is a platform for discussion, debate and comprehension of curatorial practice in the country. We have 10 curators, who we invite from India and all over the world for a two-day intensive session, wherein they present their practice, conceptual frameworks, future plans and ideas. It's an intense way of sitting together and looking at things happening in the art world in the country. It is also a tool to revisit exhibitions through the curator's eyes long after they're over. For keeping this fresh, we partner with a host of collaborators to bring in curators for the hub every year; this year we have five Indian and five international curators. Our partners include Pro Helvetia, Goethe-Institut, British Council, Japan Foundation, and The Polish Institute.
Can you tell us about the upcoming exhibitions?
Prior to the Curators' Hub, we will open a film exhibition called FILAMENT, showing feature length works by four leading artists in the practice, worldwide-Amar Kanwar,
Naeem Mohaiemen, CAMP and Omer Fast. The works are fairly political in nature and in line with Experimenter's agenda.
Can you define art as you see it?
We see art as a reflection of modern society. Art allows a window into a perspective that is unique and opens new ideas of understanding a particular issue with newer points of view for the person, who confronts it.
Was this always the career path you wanted?
We quit our corporate jobs to open the gallery. We loved the arts and visited a lot of art shows, conducted many studio visits and loved to speak to artists about their work, what they read, how they think...it was quite fascinating. So, we found a place where we enjoyed being ourselves and at the same time, it had a purpose. We loved the openness of the art world. The gallery was a natural progression, but we had to make some life-changing decisions.
Do you have any advice for a novice who wants to start collecting art?
Keep reading and keep seeing. Don't be afraid to ask questions. Talk to the artists and speak to the galleries-they love to talk about their artists, and above all, see more works with your eyes. It does something to the way you understand and see things not just in art, but life in general. It is one of the last fields left in the world that can be pure in its form.
How can art be made more accessible to someone who is interested, yet intimidated by it?
Open up more public spaces for art with government museums and public outreach programs, and most importantly, by making true art education and appreciation a part of school curriculums.
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