Delhi Art Week 2021 : Stuck in Repetition

For EXHIBITION I SAW, D’s Art Takes and Divvya Nirula bring you Top-Hit’s of Gallery and Museum Exhibits we’ve visited. Today we look at Delhi Art Week 2021.

Delhi Art Week & Delhi Contemporary Art Week

According to their vision statement, Delhi Art Week (DAW) is “a new, independent and inclusive non-profit initiative that aims to bring together private and public art institutions to raise awareness, educate and focus attention on modern and contemporary art in New Delhi, India between April 3-10, 2021.” DAW features events and exhibitions by around 37 art galleries based in New Delhi. It has been co-organised by Tariq Allana of Art Heritage, Sunaina Anand of Alive Gallery, and Reena Lath of Akar Prakar.

Running parallel to DAW is the 4th edition of Delhi Contemporary Art Week (DCAW). DCAW 2021 brings together the same 7 galleries to promote art dialogue and patronage for contemporary art. Blueprint 12, Exhibit 320, Gallery Espace, Latitude 28, Nature Morte, Shrine Empire, and Vadehra Art Gallery will be showcasing their works at Bikaner House.

Both events aim to achieve a singular objective – they attempt to revive the dying art market and art scene in India. The Coronavirus pandemic has left a gaping hole in the international art market as well. We wonder if this most recent edition of DAW is motivated by the scarcity in the market. Amidst multiple lockdowns that started in March 2020, galleries, museums and other art institutions have had to shut their doors to the public. With ticketed events and art sales being primary sources of revenue for these businesses, most of them have seen massive losses in the past year. Thus, in early April 2021, the local Delhi art scene is stretching its arms and trying to awaken from its long slumber. This is despite new orders for restricted movement and night curfew issued by the Delhi government.

Art in the Age of Pandemic

On Friday, 9th April, the organisers held a curated in-person walk. Unfortunately, while it would have been interesting to attend, India reported its highest spike of over 1 lakh new COVID cases that day.

In our research, we were unable to find too many online, interactive, peripheral events that would support off-site viewership. Some of the galleries had their assistants direct us to their websites, where they had art-viewing rooms up and running. However, many galleries had no mention of their exhibitions on their websites.

In a world that depends so heavily on technology, where are the online events, talks, and lectures? With this lacking, their promise to deliver education and promote discourse already seems to have fallen short.
Just as we were about to publish this article, we were intimated about a panel discussion to be held via zoom, that was announced less than 24 hours ago @delhicontemporaryartweek on Instagram. Organised by Latitude 28’s TAKE, the panelists include the likes of Dr. Alka Pande, Ashok Vajpeyi & Paul Abraham. Where on this panel – that is ironically titled ‘Propositions for tomorrow’ are the young, new voices.

What is even more bewildering is the overall lack of curatorial awareness, given our current times. None of the galleries or their shows attempt to unpack a post-COVID world. Where is the art discourse that addresses the present circumstances of our society?

Same Old, Same Old

One of the big-hitters – Delhi Art Gallery (DAG) presents us with the same artists from their collection, under a Modernist title and trope. They appropriate John Berger’s 1970s show and book title, ‘Ways of Seeing’. And give us an outdated and tone deaf two-part exhibit titled ‘Ways of Seeing: Women Artists | Women as Muse’.

No where in this exhibition do we see DAG challenge the traditional definition of ‘woman’. One can only assume that they adopting a conservative perspective. They wrongly assume that the contemporary viewer is stuck in Modernist definitions of gender, sex, identity. Well, we would like to welcome them to the post-modern world. Where it is highly problematic to place only cis women under the category of ‘woman artist’ and have predominantly the male gaze addressing women as muse.

Viewing this exhibition, we find ourselves wondering – where is the art that is going to change, influence and push our ways of seeing? DAG should either retire their Modernist paintings to adopt more current themes. Or they should fully move into a museum space – for the Contemporary Art world certainly demands more.

This outdated approach is echoed in another exhibition at DAW, mounted by the Lalit Kala Akademi, titled ‘Akshay Patra’. Here we see an ‘all-women-artist-show’, on display from 8th March to 8th May. In a time where creatives and artists are moving away from defining themselves as ‘female politician’, ‘female CEO’, ‘female chef’. Isn’t it time the Indian art world also recognise that ‘female’ or ‘woman’ artist is not enough to empower. It is no longer a valid-ticket-of-entry for recognition and value.

Heading over to the NGMA, we see an exhibition titled ‘In the Seeds of Time’. A title we recall from 2014, and even 2009 – where they ‘trace[d] the evolution of Indian Modernism’.

It seems most institutions have opted for these ‘tried and tested’ formulae. With no one questioning the status quo – they all present a different version of the same show. It’s like a ground hog day, that we as an audience are forced to re-live over-and-over again.

Other Exhibitions & Events

The DAW website boasts of a multitude of shows with big-shot artists. The event is thoughtfully divided into 4 distinct geographical zones around the city, each featuring 8-12 galleries.

In zone 1, apart from DAG and the Lalit Kala Akademi, we have an auction hosted by Saffronart, and exhibitions hosted by Dhoomimal Art Centre, Art Heritage and other galleries.

The Alliance Francaise de Delhi touches upon religion and explores the feminine divine in Hinduism through Narayani, while Anant Art Gallery presents the works of Vandana Kothari in City of Illusions, in zone 2.

In Zone 3, we see Art Konsult present postcards by Nicholas Roerich and Gallery Espace focus on the works of G. R. Iranna.

Zone 4 we see a collaboration between GALLERYSKY, PhotoInk & Pichvai Tradition & Beyond. Together they present works by several artists including, Tara Kelton, Abir Karmakar and Sunil Padwal in ‘Come Away’.

The Empty Promise of a better Tomorrow

Unfortunately, the motivation behind organising Delhi Art Week seems to have fallen flat. The galleries and public institutions have individually pushed forth their own roster of artists, without much care for marrying themes into a wider narrative for Indian Contemporary art. The shows fail to address the relevance of art in our current life. With this, we once again question – how is Delhi Art Week ‘educating’ or even ‘raising awareness’ about Indian art? We spent the week experiencing the same exhibitions, looking at the same artists, having the same conversations. Whilst other parts of DAW close their exhibitions today – 10th April 2021, the contemporary flavour at the Bikaner House continued till the 15th. But, the world has changed after Coronavirus. And the Delhi Art scene desperately needs to step up its game!

To read more insights and reviews into top exhibitions around the globe, visit the archive for Exhibition I Saw.