Shaped by her experiences and driven by her zest for art, curator and gallery owner Anchal Shinde is unapologetic about her views on the current Indian art scene. She studied commercial arts at South Delhi Polytechnic and fed her love for art with courses from the University of Melbourne and the School of Oriental and African Studies in London.
She cut her teeth as a caretaker with the prestigious Gallery Espace in New Delhi in the 1990s before moving on to the Delhi Art Gallery. She started Art and Aesthetic – a contemporary art gallery based in Lado Sarai, New Delhi in 2013 and endeavors to make it a democratic space where emerging and unseen artists can be displayed and viewed. The gallery has had an enriching exposure through participation in art fairs in Berlin, Mumbai and exhibitions in New Delhi.
Anchal was the model for the latest edition of Jaypore’s cabal, a special showcase that presents exclusive apparel and jewelry to a discerning audience. We had a conversation with Anchal at her beautiful art gallery, Art & Aesthetic about the contemporary art scene in India.
How did you get into art in the first place?
I have no formal training in art, but I always gravitated towards it, even at school. Then I got married to an artist [Kishor Shinde], so perhaps it was destined! I used to see my husband paint, and I would hear him and our friends – who were also artists – talk about art and I got even more interested. At one point, I wanted a job and someone suggested an opening at the gallery Espace. I applied and I got it! I enjoyed the work – the visuals, the talks with artists like Manjit Bawa, Nilima Sheikh, Nalini Malini and many others who showed their works there. And now I’ve been in this sphere for nearly 21 years. My experience there was quite an education. So when I left, I told Renu Modi, who owned the gallery that it felt like I was graduating from college.
Gallery Art and Aesthetic was started in 2013
Why did you decide to start your own gallery?
When I saw that there were few options for artists that don’t have the wherewithal to garner support for their works – some not even looking for monetary benefit but are just so true to their art – I felt the need to create a space for them. Quite a few are smart enough to gauge the mood of the market and cater to it. This space is for the other ones. It’s not that there are no places to show art – there are plenty – but many of them show what sells. I was tired of looking at the same artists in most of the galleries and I wanted to have a place where art made for the sake of art could be shown. The role of a gallery is to identify and promote otherwise you could just call yourself an art shop and sell. When I started Art and Aesthetic in 2013 that was my goal – to show new and promising artists and to promote unseen talent.
What has been your experience in the current art scenario?
I have been working in the sphere of art for almost 21 years and I have really enjoyed it more when foreigners come to the gallery. Their approach, their view, these interactions are so much more interesting as compared to when people come in just because they want a painting to hang next to the sofa. To me these adjectives don’t work – happy art, pleasant art. Art is art. You could say ‘a happy painting’ but that may not necessarily be a ‘work of art’ – it may just be a skilled work. And then of course, you also have the Vaastu factor!
I used to feel so helpless because the approach in our country is so different. Art is more an investment and that usually means there are bankers, investment agencies, who will appraise art in terms of ROIs, who want their clients to diversify – but you can’t look at art like that. Even for someone with great expertise it is difficult to put a value to a work of art, to tell you which artist will do better in the future because it is all very dynamic.
Clockwise from Left: Works by Anamika Prakash, Anant Nikam and Nilotpal Dhwaj Sinha
Do you think art was more accessible earlier than it is today?
I think earlier life was simple and people were more evolved. With the so called revolution, which I attribute to IT, there has been a complete shift in focus. Unfortunately, this shift has been from yourself to the commerce of everything. Our lives are now so material oriented. Even when it comes to art, it is the commerce of it that attracts people to it than the art itself. Perhaps that is why today whatever little you get to hear about art is all auction-related. For me art is something that is stimulating, it is something that can inspire you, which does not necessarily have to have any commercial angle. These things come from an evolution of the human heart, thought, mind – those aspects were more important in the bygone days than they are today. So I feel that although art is more accessible now than it was before, there is less appreciation for it. Also, as a country we have other basic needs that are still a long way from being fulfilled; there is little time for appreciation of art.
Is a saleable artist made with the aid of a gallery or an influencer putting their weight behind them? And why do you think this happens?
It happens because of a lack of art education. We are an art-ignorant country, which is so contradictory since we are surrounded by art. An artist who is smart enough to create art that is salable and get some backing will make money. They may not even have much or anything to say through their art, they’re just making ‘happy, pleasant’ art. Whereas, another artist, who does more serious work that makes a statement may not be appreciated at all because no one sees any value in it. And we don’t see value in it because most of us don’t know how to appreciate art.
How do you think we can work on this mind set?
Several years ago, I visited the Victoria Museum in Melbourne. I saw a group of young school children with a couple of teachers. The teachers were taking them from painting to painting and talking a little about its nuances – like why Mother Mary is always shown wearing a blue hood. They would then ask the kids questions. Even I learnt something new – that Mother Mary’s hood is always blue because only important personas were painted in this color because it was very expensive to obtain, since it was made from lapis lazuli. I thought this was fantastic!
We hardly ever see parents in India taking their kids to museums. Even grownups prefer going to malls or markets than looking at art in a museum. If we want our kids to have the mental framework for art, we have to create this regime for them. I think one of the ways we can do this is by introducing a space for children to appreciate art at a very young age. And I don’t mean the art painting class in school where the teacher instructs children to make the staid ‘sun rising in the mountains behind a hut next to a river and a tree’ kind of painting. We do nothing to spur the imagination of the child. If we could do that, we would have given them a place to grow from and the next generation’s views on art will change. Start art when you start teaching them numbers and alphabets, teach them to think beyond merely what they see, cultivate creativity.
What would you say to people who consider art only if they can make some finite sense of it?
To them I would ask – why do you want to make sense of it? Why do you want to understand it? Art is a visual expression – why not just go through it and simply interpret it in your own way? Or look at it and just have a response to it – you like it or don’t like it. Maybe then you can get a glimpse into the artist’s mind. Like when you look at a Picasso, see the distortion. Perhaps ask yourself why that distortion is appreciated? Art helps you to break through tutored and conditioned notions of our limited reality, like the sky can only be blue and grass can only be green. We normally don’t see beyond them and art lets you do that. So instead of making sense of it, just experience it, let it question you.
Which artists have influenced you in cultivating your sensibilities? Which artists in the current scenario do you think are worth noting?
FN Souza, Tyeb Mehta, VS Gaitonde, Nasreen Mohammedi and Mrinalini Mukherjee are some of the artist whose works influenced my taste in art. From the current artists there’s Jayshree Chakravarty, Shobha Broota, Manisha Parekh, Himmat Shah, Nalini Malani and Kishor Shinde that are some of my favorites.