‘Turning Point’: Indian art fair challenges gender and gender stereotypes | India

HIt is impossible to miss the mural through the shimmering heat mist and thick Delhi dust. Pink, blue, green and yellow emerge from the wall, and come together to form a utopian spectacle of equality, scattered in the center is an emblem designed to challenge Indian male-dominated society. She declares that “the future is female.”

The artwork stands at the entrance to this year’s Art Gallery of India, the country’s largest event featuring Indian artists and galleries, which opens in Delhi this weekend after a two-year hiatus due to the pandemic.

People walking by graffiti in Bengaluru.
People walking by graffiti in Bengaluru. Photo: Jagadeesh Nv/EPA

Its presence is important. Aravani’s art collection, the artists behind the work, are not shown in a large gallery, nor do they see themselves as part of the money-driven art market, which is mainly found within the confines of white gallery walls.

Aravani is India’s only transgender art group, and includes about 40 trans people – mostly women but some men – from cities across the country, who paint murals and artwork in public spaces. Metro stations, schools, universities, flyovers, and parking lots have been transformed by her artworks depicting scenes of gender inclusion and fluidity. The murals brought visibility and empowerment to the transgender community, who are still largely ostracized and stigmatized in India and often forced to live on the fringes of society.

“In this mural, we wanted to celebrate intersectionality and inclusivity that has always existed within the transgender community but is rarely visible in ours,” said Purnima Sukumar, who founded the group in 2016.

Children walk past a mural painted by members of the Aravani community in Mumbai.
Children walk past a mural painted by members of the Aravani community in Mumbai. Photo: Indranil Mukherjee/AFP/Getty Images

Sukumar said the decision to participate in the art exhibition was not entirely a comforting one, but that she hoped it would help change perceptions and give them a platform to portray the multifaceted nature of their transgender group and community in general.

“It’s important in our work to challenge this perception that everyone in the transgender community is the same,” she said. “Yes, many have fled their homes due to stress and ended up begging or sex work because that was the only viable source of money, but within those experiences there are a lot of solo journeys.”

For Mayuri Bujari, who has been part of the group since 2017, the impact of her involvement has been profound. “Vision strengthens,” she said. “People see the transgender community as professionals who make art, not just beggars on the roads.”

Among the new generation of young artists exhibiting at this year’s gallery, who play a pivotal role in India’s burgeoning art market, many have used their work to push boundaries around gender, gender and queer stories. In a specially commissioned performance piece for example, Gurjit Singh, a famous young Sikh artist from a small village on the border with Pakistan, meticulously questions and overturns traditional gender roles in the family and at home.

Aravani public art shows people wearing face masks to raise public awareness of the coronavirus
Aravani’s public art shows people wearing face masks to raise public awareness of the coronavirus. Photo: Jagadeesh Nv/EPA

For Jaya Asokan, gallery director, the “diversity and inclusion” that broadens India’s art scene, as well as the growing international interest in the Indian art market, means the gallery is taking place at “a turning point for Indian and South Asian art.”

“A lot of our artists have had regional appeal for a while, but the narrative is changing and now it is in global demand,” Asukan said.

Certainly in commercial terms, things have never looked so good for the Indian modern art market. The pandemic has provided an unexpected boost to sales and over the past two years; There have been no fewer than three record sales of modern Indian art, including Amrita Sher Gill’s 1938 painting In the Ladies’ Enclosure for $5.14 million, the second highest ever paid for a modern Indian artwork.

“I haven’t seen a market this strong since 2006, which lasted for a few years before the financial crisis,” said Dinesh Vazirani, CEO of Indian art auction house Saffronart. He has attributed the boom to many factors, including lockdowns giving people a greater desire to have nice things in their homes and increased incomes among people in the Indian tech and pharmaceutical world, with entrepreneurs and new entrepreneurs wanting to invest in art as something “aspirational.” “.

Graffiti created by Aravani in Bangalore
Graffiti created by Aravani in Bengaluru. Photo: Jagadeesh Nv/EPA

“We are seeing a whole new type of collector, young people in their 30s and 40s, entering the Indian market with a whole new mindset,” Vasirani said. “Art now has a social standing and there is almost social pressure to buy art and buy the best. So the people who entered the market at $100,000 are now willing to raise up to half a million. At each auction we have seen records smashed one by one.”

However, the shifts within the market are not only within the field of modern and contemporary Indian art. For the first time, this year’s art fair displays rare items of Indian folk art, some dating back 100 years, illustrating the changing perceptions towards ancient indigenous art in the Indian market, which has always focused on modern and contemporary art. Among the works on display are a series of bronze sculptures of Mukhalingam, a representation of the Hindu deity Shiva, which had not been seen in public before.

“Our folk culture has been more popular abroad in the past four decades than it has been in the Indian domestic market,” said Amit Jain, who organized the folk art booths at this year’s fair. “I am used to this art and these artists are seen as at the fringes, so it is amazing to see the whole history of India come into this contemporary space. It is time that museums in India look at art sideways and not divide into modern and folk art.”

Members of the Aravani collective have worked on graffiti depicting the story of the Coronavirus in Bangalore
Members of the Aravani group work on graffiti depicting the story of the Coronavirus in Bengaluru. Photo: Jagadeesh Nv/EPA

The exhibition will also address the dark side of the Indian art market, particularly when it comes to antiquities. Collectors and spectators are invited to tour the Museum of Confiscated Antiquities at Purana Koila, an ancient fort in Delhi, where the objects on display will be those recently returned to India after being stolen and sold to wealthy antiquities collectors or exhibited in the world. famous galleries. The museum houses items recovered from notable thieves now in prison but also in institutions such as the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

said Annika Mann, curator of the Young Antiquities Collectors Program at Adel who coordinated and will lead the tour. “Antiquities are a very important component of the entire menu of South Asian art, so now is the time to talk about moral collecting.”