THIS YEAR, the India Art Fair (IAF) brought on board an international director—Zain Masud, a 32-year-old postgraduate from Oxford University. Masud was associated with galleries across the world, including ones in the US, Africa and Europe, before she took up the position of assistant fair director at Art Dubai from 2009 to 2014. She tells Kunal Doley her vision for the IAF. Edited excerpts:
You’ve been associated with so many art scenes across the world, including the West, Africa and, most recently, Art Dubai where you were the assistant fair director. So what made you take up this position at India Art Fair?
I’ve been working with Indian art for several years now, but from a distance. There are so many interesting things happening here and the country is now undeniably at a level that is comparable with the industry across the world.
India is vast and diverse, but it’s impossible to know it from a distance. You have to actually come here to experience it. So here I am to learn about India and also contribute to an important event.
But how did the story develop?
I met Neha (Kirpal) in January at the Kochi Biennale and we started talking. The region has immense wealth in terms of talent and I’m interested in building the market. I’m really happy for getting this opportunity.
Is there a vision or a ‘strategy’ that you have for the IAF?
The vision is already in motion. This year, we developed a new focus on south Asia. Every fair needs to establish its identity and distinguish itself from other events of its kind of its around the world. We are looking at engaging new art spaces and collectors that are so exemplary of the best works that are underway in the region but which we don’t find in any art fair.We’re thinking about what audiences here in India can relate to. India and its neighbouring countries are interlinked when it comes to history and culture. Also, international museums, collectors and visitors want to come and understand in one event, during four days, what’s happening in different parts of the world and we are going to provide them that.
Do you think the time has come for the region to shine in the global art market?
The region has been shining for quite some time now. I think the moment has come to really hone our content. The fair is a perfect representative of what south Asia is and I really want to position it that way now. There are so many art disciplines in the subcontinent, and so integral to the artistic culture of the region. It’s just about taking it to the next level.
What makes an event like the India Art Fair so successful over the years?
I think it’s been about bringing together the region’s cultural strengths, to help create and take the market forward and showcasing the best works from the region. The fair is a perfect representative of south Asia and I really want to position it that way now.
There was a time when the global financial crisis took down assets ranging from stocks to paintings, but then again, we have also seen moments in the recent past when top-end Indian offerings saw some record-breaking sales. Does this signal that the Indian art market has returned to its heydays? Also, is it the right time to invest in Indian art?
Absolutely. After a boom, there’s always a good time to buy wealth. Booms inflate everything, and crashes help to whittle out the real from the less relevant. What you are then left with in the market has more substance and less hot air.It’s absolutely a great time to buy art. Art from this region has great intelligence and is extremely affordable and accessible in comparison to others. I think the Indian collector scene is very well positioned to buy some important works that will continue to value. There are many international collectors who invest heavily in Indian art. I just think Indians should make the most of the fact that they have it on their doorstep.
Any personal favourites, when it comes to Indian art?
There are lots but I don’t want to influence the public (laughs).
What are your expectations from the ongoing art fair, in terms of sales, business, footfall, etc?
The footfall is going to be astronomical as ever, which is amazing for me, as I come from a city (Dubai, where I was working before ) that has a tiny population. We have a lot of new and young collectors coming in from across the country and we’re focusing a lot on them. We expect healthy sales, especially from new clients, which is exciting.