It is unusual for gallerists to pick favourites from the artists they represent or work with. So when two gallerists come together at one space in Delhi and call their first show These are a few of our favourite works, it is bound to pique interest.
“Favourite is used in a whimsical way here,” explained Devika Daulet-Singh, the founder of PhotoINK and a long-time evangelist for photography as an art on par with any other. Daulet-Singh’s PhotoINK has joined hands with GallerySKE to open a new exhibition space in Vasant Kunj, New Delhi.
Despite the obvious gains in terms of logistics (GallerySKE was at pricey Connaught Place till recently), gallerists and curators often have individualistic styles that can be difficult to marry.
To Sunitha Kumar Emmart, founder of GallerySKE which opened in Bangalore in 2003 and in New Delhi in 2013, that is part of what makes this collaboration interesting. “We welcome the disagreements, too,” Emmart said.
So what does this collaboration mean for this show, the visitors, and the shared space?
At These are a few of our favourite works, art by Sudarshan Shetty, Navin Thomas, Avinash Veeraghavan, Prabhavathi Meppayil and Dia Mehta Bhupal from GallerySKE and Ballen, Kanu Gandhi, Madan Mahatta and Madhuban Mitra and Manas Bhattacharya for PhotoINK is exhibited side-by-side.
The gallerists say they discussed each work, individually and by juxtaposing it with others to tell a story. “To give just one example, Roger Ballen’s work is very theatrical,” said Daulet-Singh, who has shown works by the South Africa-based photographer in the past. While hanging up two works by Ballen that show dismembered hands reaching for a dove (Five Hands) and a headless figure with a bird in hand (Headless), respectively, the gallerists felt Sudarshan Shetty’s dramatic wood-and-Plexiglas animal heads in As far as the forest is created an interesting “counter-point”. The two are placed next to each other at the show.
For this show, Emmart and Daulet-Singh also got to pick works by artists from each other’s rosters. For instance, Daulet-Singh picked Cause we felled down a forest, a new sculpture by Thomas. A whimsical piece comprising three wooden musical boxes supported on iron frames, Cause we felled down a forest affords childlike fun in turning the keys to play the music. At the same time though, it serves as a reminder of the forests being cut down to create things we desire.
Out of Daulet-Singh’s roster of artists, Emmart chose a work by the late Madan Mahatta (of the 101-year-old Mahatta & Co. photography institution). Titled Models I, it is a set of architectural photographs that Mahatta took in Delhi nearly 50 years ago.
There are cues here to how things might pan out at the shared gallery space, too. In this co-curated show of 37 artworks where collaboration and dialogue are professed ideals, there are still some stamps of the individual style and personalities of the two gallerists: perhaps a signifier of a together-but-separate motto. For example, the show includes 15 photographs of Mahatma Gandhi taken by his grandnephew Kanu Gandhi in the 1930s and 1940s. For these, Daulet-Singh worked with Prashant Panjiar, a trustee of the Nazar Foundation and project curator of Kanu’s Gandhi, a 92-page book of photos that was launched earlier this year. Daulet-Singh and Panjiar reentered the Kanu Gandhi archive, to look for important images that might have been left out of the book and the exhibition accompanying its launch. “It’s a fresh excavation,” said Daulet-Singh. “Sometimes an image doesn’t fit into the narrative of a book or an exhibition. We had a sense there was more in the archive [of Kanu Gandhi’s photos].”
These are a few of our favourite works has a mix of new and old works. Among the new works are Thomas’ Cause we felled down a forest, two hyper-craft works by Veeraghavan called After the End 1 and After the End 2, made with sequence, glass beads and thread embroidery on silk organza. There are also works that are not new but have not been shown before, like Kanu Gandhi’s photographs and Shetty’s As far as the forest is.
In the longer term, the collaboration might mean a wider range of exhibitions at the gallery for visitors, too. This is both in terms of the artists who show here and the mediums and styles they work with. “The idea was to animate the space,” said Daulet-Singh. “To expand the audience and to extend the idea of visual arts.”
As for the gallery space itself, the collaboration on the most basic level will mean more shows per year. This is because both GallerySKE and PhotoINK will continue to follow their own programmes, besides any additional co-curated shows in the year. “This is not a merger of the two galleries,” clarified Daulet-Singh.
This is likely to take the total number of shows from four-five to at least eight.
The individual shows will maintain the distinct styles of the gallerists, with the benefit of bouncing ideas off a peer, if they so choose. The co-curated shows will offer more room for dialogue. “It is an attempt to be collegial with a peer,” said Emmart. “The model is that we keep our identities [separate] – we have been in the art world for 16 years and worked hard to build them up. We wanted to look for a place where there could be dialogue. My office and viewing room will we separate, but the exhibition space will be shared. We want to keep the diversity (intact).”
The shared gallery is a surprisingly quiet place. There’s a small garden, with palm trees on one end. On the day of the preview, the wall of the exhibition space doubled as a screen. A projector is playing Avinash Veeraraghavan’s Breathing Charcoal Soaked in a Shallow Forest Stream on loop. The film shows footage of a forest. The music comprises sounds from an exorcism that Veeraraghavan found online, overlaid on a piano recital. “I miss the grime of Connaught Place [GallerySKE was at Shivam House in Middle Circle for over five years],” Emmart joked. “But this place has possibilities.”
These are a few of our favourite works is on show till November 17, at PhotoINK-GallerySKE, A-4, Green Avenue Street, Vasant Kunj, New Delhi.
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