Behind every great art exhibit or gallery is a dedicated curator, working quietly and tirelessly to put together a show worth remembering, taking the conversation about art forward, gently nudging artists to push their boundaries, and bringing together seemingly unrelated, disparate elements, which when seen together, make a story or an idea come alive. Here are five top women art curators in India who are among the best the country has to offer.
‘Keeping it experimental’ seems to be the mantra for Bhavna Kakar, a curator, the gallerist behind Delhi’s famous Latitude 28 gallery, and the editor and publisher of ‘TAKE‘, an art magazine. In a career that has spanned almost 15 years, Kakar has curated shows featuring works of revered artists such as Jamini Roy, Jitish Kallat, Seema Kohli, and many others, but it is finding and nurturing young talent that bring new and cutting-edge disciplines to their body of work that has been a constant in Kakar’s unpredictable trajectory.
Her passion for giving emerging talent a visible platform led to the initiation of the Delhi Contemporary Art Week in 2017. It was an initiative Kakar spearheaded to provide a space to contemporary artists who often found themselves overshadowed by the established masters, since contemporary art is mostly championed by the private sector. Through DCAW, Kakar opened up the world of South Asian contemporary art to young collectors. Only in its second edition yet, DCAW is already drawing parallels with the celebrated Mumbai Gallery Weekend.
Kakar has also been at the forefront of the growing movement to take contemporary art to smaller Tier II cities. Late 2018, she took a wildly successful group show called Dissensus, which featured established names such as Veer Munshi and Waseem Ahmad, as well as emerging artists like Priyanka D’Souza to Chandigarh in an attempt to look for audiences and markets outside of the privileged few within larger metros. It is no wonder, then, that in 2017, Kakar won the Arts Entrepreneur of the Year Award from Young FICCI Ladies Organisation.
Delhi-based art critic, curator and the founder and director of the Foundation of Indian Contemporary Art (FICA), Vidya Shivadas, has spent a large part of her 16-year-long career nurturing emerging talent in fields related to art. Since its inception in 2007, FICA, with Shivadas as its driving force, has provided financial and educational support to young artists, writers and developers of public art projects and spaces. With her at the helm, FICA has organised, partnered on, and presented several innovative projects to encourage budding artists, audiences and buyers to find new ways of engaging with art, and develop new mediums. One such initiative is FICA’s six-week-long ‘The Moving Image: A Course Exploring Light, Movement And Narrative’ course.
Set up in partnership with Serendipity Arts Trust, The Moving Image is an ‘incubation space’ where young artists work with veterans in a learning environment where informal spaces and peer processes are channeled to successfully create transformational pieces of art.
Shivadas started her career in curation in 2002 with the Vadehra Art Gallery, after a brief stint as the art reporter for ‘The Indian Express’. She worked on the gallery’s contemporary art programme for five years. Shivadas also served as a guest curator at Devi Art Foundation, India’s first private contemporary art museum, for a solo exhibition of Bangladeshi artist Mahbubur Rahman, in 2009.
Calling Myna Mukherjee an art curator would be limiting. As the founder Nayikas, the first feminist classical Indian Odissi dance theatre company in New York and the director of Engendered art gallery in New Delhi, ‘cultural curator’ would be a better description for Mukherjee’s many artistic undertakings. As the name of her gallery suggests, gender identities have informed and influenced a large portion of her work. She has curated ‘ME WE: Locating the individual within the movement’, which unpacked the idea of representation of the LGBTQIA+ community while exploring the politics that force it to remain invisible. The art exhibit, held in June and July last year to mark the International Pride month as a “joint effort of 34 Delhi-based embassies” featured artworks that spanned mediums such as paintings, photos, sculptures, videos, graphic art, comic books and what-have-you by 25 artists who identified as queer.
In 2013, Mukherjee conceived and curated an art intervention called ‘Resist’ in Mumbai and Delhi in response to the horrific 2012 Delhi gang rape case. The event saw 27 artists come together to showcase visual art, live installations and collaborative efforts to explore gender stereotyping and the role of art in protesting against it and influencing people’s opinions.
Few in the art world don’t know of curator, researcher, and writer Natasha Ginwala. In her seven-odd years as a curator, Ginwala’s focus has always been on nurturing alliances, encouraging an interdisciplinary approach to art, and breaking the geographical boundaries that even international exhibitions tend to unwittingly subscribe to. It was this unique engagement with art that saw the 33-year-old being appointed the curator of Contour Biennale 8 in Belgium in 2017, in the hopes that she would be able to bring Middle Eastern, North African, and South Asian art influences to the largely Euro-American sensibilities of the biennale. It was the largest edition of the biennale until then, featuring artist collectives from around the world.
Her global outlook was reflected in the politically charged show that opened in January last year. The show dealt with riots from all over the world — from Gujarat, Sri Lanka, London. She has also moderated The Curator’s Hub at Experimenter Gallery in Kolkata, a three-day art event that sees intense conversations about art between curators, creators and lovers of art.
The founder of Khabanadosh, an itinerant arts lab with roots in Mumbai, Gitanjali Dang is an art curator, writer, and researcher. If one had to sum up her work so far, in each of her three roles, it would be that Dang is on a constant journey to question and make her audience question preconceived notions about the way we construct our identities and realities. Her specialty is curating small shows that travel, grow, and provoke audiences to rethink their truths. Needless to say, they’re often politically or socially charged. She curated the Indian leg of ‘Beam Me Up’, where artists and writers were asked to interpret the ideas of real and virtual realities on stage. Another show, ‘Love In The Time Of Choleric Capitalism’, like the name suggests, unpacks the existence of social hierarchies that still dominate our societies.
Dang’s love for curating informed by contexts derived from multiple disciplines — history, geography, literature, even science – can be seen in Invisible Light, a series she curated for the news website ‘Firstpost’ that revolves around the idea of unbridled transmission of ideas. The opening theme of Invisible Light, ‘Jagte Raho’, is inspired by the current political landscape of the country, and the crackdown on dissenting voices.