Jayashree Kapoor: Contemporary Artist

To understand contemporary Indian art today, one should touch on the history of modern Indian art. There were two major art schools in India during the time of the British rule, one in Calcutta and one in Mumbai. These were dominated and controlled by the British Raj, teaching a European and neo Victorian style of painting. In 1947, with the arrival of independence, artist Francis Newton Souza formed the Progressive Artists’ Group, marking a transitional moment in Indian art. There were five original members including M.F. Husain and Syed Haider Raza, later to be joined by influential artists like Vasudeo S.Gaitande. The PAG’s main goal was to create art without any inhibitions and with total freedom of expression, encouraging an Indian avant-garde on an international level. It was this group that took contemporary art in an inspiring new direction. These revolutionary painters’ works over the decades has brought modern Indian art to millions and opened the international road.
The first auction of contemporary Indian art abroad was held in June 1995 by Sotheby’s in New York. Today, regular auctions in the major auction houses, like Bonham’s, Christies and Saffronart are held and well-received..

Contemporary Indian art has experienced a veritable boom in the last few years, with pieces now reaching record-breaking prices. A growing consumerism amongst successful Indian entrepreneurs abroad and an awareness of Indian contemporary art as a commodity has seen major art galleries specialising in Indian art worldwide.

In 2008, The India Art Fair in New Delhi was launched and has been a successful annual international art fair since, with galleries from all over the world exhibiting.
Today’s Indian artists are expressing themselves without holding onto traditional boundaries and letting their voices be totally free. Exciting artists like Subodth Gupta, known for his stainless steel kitchenware installations, and cutting edge artist Jitish Kallat, are prime examples.

We are in exciting times for Indian art globally. Helping and supporting under-privileged students who are passionate about art is the way forward. These talented students would be over looked and not have the opportunity without Arts for India charity to go forward in their education and careers. Their parents struggle to pay bills, and young girls without an admission into college are at risk of being married off. There are many success stories of teenagers who have gone through the IIFA programme (the Delhi based International Institute of Fine Arts), and a glance at the website will give readers a clear insight. One talented young pupil, Nilam Singh, took drawing as a subject in school and obtained a fantastic result of 96% marks in her final exams. But even with those excellent grades her father could not afford her fees, as he had to pay for her brothers’ education too. After applying for sponsorship, she was able to successfully enter the IIFA programme. Nilam says, “This scholarship has motivated me to be very focused and determined to succeed as an artist”.
Also, sponsoring a student is not just about educating them, as AFI are also concerned in ways in which to help them with careers in the real world, in India and abroad.

Jayshree-Kapoor-287x300Jayshree Kapoor, contemporary artist

A Time for Change

Running Marbles & Ware Collective has afforded us with an insight into the current climate for emerging artists. It’s tough. People don’t know where to start. Where does one begin to showcase and sell their work? To get the right eyes to see it. You are one in thousands and thousands of super talented young people trying to make a living off of their art. Except for the odd rarity, only trust fund babies stand a hope. And even when you are signed by a gallery you enter into a ‘new arts establishment’ which is just as restrictive as the old art system. A system about money and business deals, where the artists themselves are pushed to the sidelines. It’s demoralising. At Marbles & Ware we push for another way.

Art doesn’t have to be white washed rooms and formalities. In fact, for us, it stands for quite the opposite. It is about a celebration of the colour, vitality, passion and originality of the artists and their vision. At IFA this is most apparent. The students are creating work of a brilliant standard that challenges conventional ‘Indian Art’ stereotypes and pushes social boundaries. IFA is giving them a space in which to flex their creativity and skill whilst always grounding them in the practical realities of the working world. Real opportunities and success stories are emerging. Whilst visiting the school we met Shivani and Joy, two previous Arts For India scholarship-supported students who left the school a year before and are now running their own fashion house in Delhi. They are achieving strong critical acclaim for their designs, a testimony to the vital work AFI and IIFA are doing.

Prashant was another student we met, studying fine art. A true pioneer in his field, Prashant belongs to a Delhi-based arts collective, known for their avant-garde approach. We visited his family home where he practiced his passion in a make-shift studio, part of the cow shed. We were blown away by his expressive, emotionally charged canvases and his determination to create in spite of challenging circumstances.

Whether in London, India or beyond, the challenges faced by emerging artists are similar. What stands out and makes a difference to these artists are support systems in place after one leaves the safety of an institution. These systems exist in the form of collectives (like Marbles & Ware and Prashant’s Delhi based one) but also a continuous support system from your previous institution. This is something IIFA certainly boasts. It was so clear, as a lot of previous students visited to share their stories and experience of the school, that those relationships with tutors and affinity with IIFA remains. There is a real community there. And it was beautiful to witness the vibrant stories of the art work come to life through the people behind it.


Holly Webley-Naylor and Natasha Havelock