India Art Fair 2015
Art Heritage India Art Fair 2015 Catalogue Introduction
One of the hallmarks of a progressive institution like Art Heritage is that it is always eager to do away with the rear-view mirror and move on. But if one pauses a moment, one discovers an extraordinary legacy, unparalleled in terms of how a single organization can promote the cause of contemporary art and culture so effectively. On reviewing the archives of Art Heritage, one discovers a staggering list of no less than 650 exhibitions it has installed since its inception 35 years ago in 1978, and with regard to the writings on the art movement it has generated, the count stands at over 450 catalogues/journals produced during the same period!
Always interested in viewing the art scene in a comprehensive manner, as a movement, Ebrahim Alkazi and his wife Roshen, were keen to intersperse their annual program of exhibitions at Art Heritage with at least a couple of retrospectives where a wider spectrum of an individual artists’ work could be assessed as a totality. In fact, Art Heritage’s first retrospective show in 1978 was of the work of the sculptor, Adi Davierwala, followed by no less than twenty more retrospectives over the next decades, of Haren Das, Chittaprosad Bhattacharya, Goberdan Ash, Somnath Hore, M. F. Husain, F. N. Souza, Tyeb Mehta, Akbar Padamsee, Satish Gujral, A. Ramachandran, Bijan Chowdhury, Devraj Dakoji and Anupam Sud, among others.
Such retrospectives were interspersed with carefully selected group shows, where artists of the same generation or those with similar thematic concerns or styles could be viewed together in order to discern contemporary trends. Exquisitely mounted, in keeping with Alkazi’s impeccable taste, these exhibitions were supplemented by well- researched and amply illustrated essays in the Art Heritage journal/catalogue. These writings by scholars, both experienced and young, had also been commissioned by Alkazi. This interest in collating related material on the art scene shows Alkazi’s concern for archiving and documenting way back in the 1970s, when the concept of ‘art history’ was relatively unknown in India. It became increasingly clear to Alkazi as he mounted show after show, interviewed artists himself, and meticulously maintained material on them, that his role as a gallerist was gradually transforming into that of a collector and historian.
From his early days his love of art had led him to make a small personal collection. Believing that ‘one acquires art works to satisfy an inner need that goes beyond acquisitiveness’, Alkazi realized over time that the woeful neglect of art by the State in a sense prompted him to move towards collecting seminal art works that would allow for study and assessment. For him these constituted a national legacy and treasure. He became impatient with the idea that important artworks ‘be randomly dispersed and sold o in the market place’.
Know for his acute appraisal of good art, Alkazi was able to spot new talent and nurture it. He spent long hours with artists discussing their work, encouraging them to educate themselves further. He and Roshen mentored several new, young artists of the 1970s, 80s and 90s, often giving them their first one-man show. Many rose to become the leading artists of their generation, like Arpita Singh, Nasreen Mohamedi, A. Ramachandran, Laxma Goud, Anupam Sud, Sudhir Partwardhan, Rekha Rodwittiya, Bharti Kher, etc.
Related activities of Art Heritage included illustrated talks and lectures by eminent scholars and, at times, by Alkazi himself. Coming from a background of theatre, Alkazi was gifted with fine expression He was lucid, succinct and analytical when it came to expounding on the pictorial idiom, which he had done regularly from his earliest days. His knowledge of both Western and Indian contemporary art was vast, making his talks on F.N. Souza, M.F. Husain, Somnath Hore, Tyeb Mehta, Henry Moore, the Mexican muralists Diego Rivera, José Clemente Orozco and David Alfaro Siqueiros, memorable and vivid evenings, never forgotten, always cherished. As Alkazi’s voice rose, now tremulous, now thundering, the air resounded with the sheer poetic majesty of art and its powerful universal dimensions. Alkazi, always the consummate actor, kept his audience spellbound, invariably finding the perfect turn of phrase in which to express the anguish and torture, but also the ability to eloquently illustrate the spiritual dimension towards which all great art aspires.
It has been the Alkazis’ sincere desire to educate the public, to introduce the unaware to the experience of modern art, an adventure that has always been a way of life for both ‘Elk’ and Roshen. Even as youngsters, way back in the 1940s, they had participated actively in shaping Indian art and culture of the early post Independence era, and to date, even after 35 years, Art Heritage continues that commitment to both theatre and the visual arts with unswerving determination.