1. East is the new West

East is the new West

Asian contemporary art has grown manifold in recent years

By: | Published: January 31, 2016 12:06 AM

THIS YEAR, the India Art Fair (IAF) has seen increased participation from south Asia, with galleries and artists from Sri Lanka, Pakistan, Nepal and Bangladesh showcasing their works. ‘Platform’, the new initiative at the fair, is focusing on regional art spaces and collectives, including the Nepal Art Council, Blueprint12, Theertha International Artists Collective, Taseer Art Gallery and Swaraj Art Archive.

“One of the most significant issues to the state of contemporary art in 2016 is the ongoing shift in interest and power from the West to the East. Since the 1990s, Asian contemporary art has grown exponentially due to regional biennials and triennials, building of new contemporary art museums, international recognition and success of Asian artists, and global political and economic shifts,” says Zain Masud, the new international director of the IAF.

It’s about marrying the right gallery with the right market, says Neha Kirpal, founding director of IAF. “This year, we got 18 new galleries that cover not only Western ones, but also include new regions like that of south Asia, which are coming for the first time. So the idea is to find the programmes that will work for India,” she adds.

As per observers, the regional art market needed a platform to understand the context of contemporary art in south Asia—both in terms of local issues, as well the broader global contemporary art scene, and it is here that IAF has scored. “For the seven Nepalese artists we are representing at the fair, this has been an incredible platform and we have received excellent responses to the work. Many people were amazed to discover Nepal has a contemporary art scene, showcasing work that is absolutely ‘now’ and relevant within the south Asian context,” says Dina Bangdel, director of the 54-year-old Nepal Art Council.

Lalith Manage of Theertha International Artists Collective, an independent, non-profit organisation that works to support the needs of the contemporary Sri Lankan art community, is excited to be coming to the country for the first time ever. “For an artists’ collective, it’s not an easy job to exhibit something because we are not a gallery or an auction house,” says Manage. “We are not worried about the business part of our participation. What matters is that we have got an opportunity to showcase our works in front of such a prestigious audience that can also turn out to be potential buyers in the future. Our focus is more on getting exposure to these ideas rather than the business.”

At Theertha, the four artists—Jagath Weerasinghe, Anoli Perera, Bandu Manamperi and Pala Pothupitiya—have tried “to capture a portrait of a nation whose historical trajectory goes through strained moments that are heavy with colonial legacies, homeland claims, armed conflicts, autocratic rules and polarised ethnic politics.

Pakistan, too, has been represented by four young artists—Saba Khan, Farida Batool, Mohsin Shafi and Humaira Abid—brought together by Lahore-based Taseer Art Gallery. While interdisciplinary artist Shafi’s work investigates issues of gender, ideology, sexuality, spirituality and the tendencies of violence in our society, Abid examines women’s roles, relationships, and taboos from a cross-cultural perspective.

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