Canvas of the Heart

Lakshmi Nambiar talks with You & I
From investment banker to art gallery owner is quite the transition. Tell us how it happened.
After getting my MBA, I worked at a bank in Boston for about two and half years. This came to a halt in September 2013, when my mother was diagnosed with cancer, and then her death last year. She’d been handling Shrishti Art Gallery for 12 years, and at that point I was left with two choices: continue my career in investment banking (which was flourishing at the time thanks to the market), or take over the art gallery. This is my mother’s legacy, so naturally I chose the latter. Also, this was my calling.
Did you learn a lot from her?
Because of mum’s sudden death, there was hardly any transition or hand-holding. But she left behind a platform and business with 12 years of history, which is extremely important for a gallery art store. And she left a lasting impression in the ecosystem, whether it’s the artists or other galleries. Everyone has something good to say about her, and in turn about Shrishti. She had a quality that connected her with people, which was something I admired. After she passed away, I curated a show called ‘Messages to Heaven’, where I asked around 35 artists to send me work which would forever be with Shrishti. In return, I gave these artists small packages where I put something of hers – a piece of her saree, a handwritten note of hers, or some twigs (since she practiced Ikebana). This was how we paid tribute to her.
Were you always into art?
I have been collecting since 2002. I’d always accompany mum to art shows, to meet artists and interact with them. But then again it was about the timing. At the time I had a lucrative career in banking, and this was more of a passion.
Lakshmi Nambiar 
How useful has Shrishti been for the artists out there?
My mother started Shrishti keeping in mind that there was no platform for artists to showcase their talents. That was how she came up with the gallery art store. Over the years, we have worked with established and up-and-coming artists. We have had art shows for students fresh out of art school, giving them that push to throw them into the art world.
What’s going on with Shrishti these days?
We are working on one of the largest exhibitions of artworks in Hyderabad with a truly differentiated value proposition. This project will be a landmark event for Hyderabad in the art landscape of India. The exhibition seeks to understand the impact of disposable culture of consumption on the environment and human mind. We came out with a book on the art collector Jagdish Mittal, who has been collecting art from the 1500s and 1700s. This year he was honoured at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.
What’s your take on the art culture of Hyderabad?
Hyderabad is a very rich city in terms of its culture and history, but having said that I don’t think Hyderabad is such a big art market in the country. The West keeps pushing its boundaries of art, but our aesthetics are still very traditional. I think people should become more exposed to artwork by going to shows. As a gallery owner, I feel there are good days ahead for Hyderabad.
Any advice for people who want to start collecting art?
People get very scared when they think about art and collecting. I always encourage people to start, small or big but somewhere. Always follow you intuition. Buy what speaks to you, the piece that connects with your heart.                             ..... as told to Vatika