Delhi-based art collector and patron of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, Shalini Passi, talks about her journey in the world of art, favourite art-collecting destinations, key finds of this month and more. By Priyanka Chakrabarti
How did you get interested in art?
I always had a sense of aesthetic appreciation. When I was at school, I learnt to observe artworks in terms of colour, form and texture. As I grew up, I learned more about specific styles and movements in art, and my appreciation developed a deeper level of meaning. I am drawn towards creativity; it’s what drives me. I started the Shalini Passi Art Foundation to channel this energy into an initiative that I hope will play a significant role in developing and promoting a contemporary Indian aesthetic, by giving a platform to young emerging artists and creating opportunities for them to experiment and expand their practice.
How are you making an impact with – MASH (My Art Shalini) and Shalini’s Art Foundation (SPAF)?
The Foundation supports and encourages experimental new artistic practices through its series of awards and through MASH, which acts as a platform to showcase emerging artists and provides a vast source of information on institutions and events. Additionally, the Foundation’s programme of exhibitions, curator-led tours, and lectures on art and design seeks to broaden education on the arts.
What was the first piece of art you purchased? And, from where did you buy it?
One of the earliest pieces of art that I bought was by the Modern Indian artist Ram Kumar, from Vadehra Art Gallery. His works sit somewhere between abstraction and naturalism, and I love that he aspired to work in an art language that would be just as comprehensible in London or Paris as it would in Delhi; this resonates strongly with my own personal style and artistic expression.
Please tell us about your top favourite art-collecting destinations.
Where to begin! The galleries in Delhi and Mumbai are close to my heart and remain firm favourites. Berlin, New York, and Paris have been the centre of the arts world for decades (if not centuries!) and will always have a draw for me. Increasingly though, places like LA have really taken hold of the art market, and I love visiting the contemporary galleries here. Now that my son is studying there, I visit much more regularly and am continuously inspired by the work on show.
When it comes to blending art with history and travel, where do you like to go to soak in all of these?
That would have to be Paris and Rome. Both are extremely sophisticated culturally; they are steeped in history and have nurtured some of the most famous artists to date, and yet they manage to balance this perfectly with contemporary lifestyle and fashion.
Tell us about your key finds this month.
In this past month the Kochi Biennale opened for its fourth edition. Having a biennale like Kochi is huge for India! It creates a platform without commercial agenda to showcase interesting new work and, as India’s largest contemporary art event, it is always something I greatly look forward to. Some of my favourite discoveries from this year’s edition of the biennale included the performance-based artists VALIE EXPORT and Guerrilla Girls, both of whom challenge the idea of a mainstream narrative by revealing the under-story – the subtext – in politics, art, film, and pop culture. While they have been creating work in Europe and the US for some time now, they are rarely shown in India, so it was amazing to find their work in Kerala!
Tell us a little bit about the curation at the Kochi Biennale.
This year’s edition of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale is curated by Anita Dube, whose work I have followed for many years now (and her installation Theatre of Sade is possibly one of my favourite pieces in my collection). From feminism to consumerism, Dube’s art delves into some of the most pressing issues of our times, and for this fourth edition of the biennale she has placed a real emphasis on including marginalised artists, and using the biennale as a platform to give exposure to these voices. The invited artists offer glimpses – and sometimes questions – into a different mode of living, outside of established hierarchical structures. For me, this freedom of expression through art is what makes interesting and though-provoking work; art should be used as a medium to explore and share new ideas.
How consequential has travelling been in your life considering the fact that you are an artist and you thrive on creativity?
I seek inspiration wherever I go, so the more that I travel the greater the opportunity to experience new ideas, methods, styles and aesthetics. The inspiration for an artwork doesn’t always come from art either; last year we spent a wonderful summer exploring the Amalfi Coast – there is such incredible natural beauty there, it is truly awe-inspiring.
What are the things one should keep in mind while travelling for art?
That depends, traveling to collect can be different to traveling for inspiration. There are some very interesting artists coming out of South East Asia at the moment. If you want to see the Masters then head for one of the major European cities, but if you’d like to discover something new then perhaps try Indonesia. The real joy of art is the personal process of discovery; you have to be prepared to go on an adventure.
What are the top destinations worldwide to experience art?
There are the classics such as Paris, London, and New York – as mentioned above – but cities like Berlin are exciting for discovering art: here there is a confluence of the historical with the subversive. Places that have experienced great change are often the most interesting for discovering truly great art.
Lastly, in the Indian sphere, which city is big on the art space and why?
That’s a good question! When it comes to Indian art, Delhi and Mumbai are undoubtedly the forerunners; they each have their strengths. Both cities have highly reputable galleries and while Delhi has India Art Fair, Bombay has Mumbai Gallery Weekend and a number of other great arts initiatives. There are several other Indian cities that are strengthening their arts offering as well: I’ve been a longstanding Patron of the Kochi Muziris Biennale and it’s great to see new institutions opening in different regions such as the Museum of Art and Photography (MAP) in Bangalore.
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