Curating Creativity - Ashwini Pai Bahadur

Ashwini Pai Bahadur is an entrepreneur, arts purveyor, and a marketing professional. For over two decades, she has been passionately involved with the arts as a patron, collector, and commissioner. She combines an inclusive artistic vision with extensive entrepreneurial expertise. With successful stints with the Times of India and the British Council to her credit, Ashwini continues to articulate a broad, interactive, and inclusive idiom for the arts, supporting public art, architecture, indigenous arts and crafts, art-house cinema, poetry, and theatre. She is presently the director of the Delhi-based arts and cultural initiative, Artspeaks India, and also a consultant to INTACH.

When did you first realise that you were interested in art?
At 15! My maternal aunt and uncle were eclectic antique collectors, and another maternal uncle was an avid period book collector. While I was greatly influenced by their acquisitions and collections, the real catalyst for my interest in folk art is my parents, who were craft-oriented and greatly influenced by the crafts of Kashmir.

As an art promotor, what type of art interests you?
Contemporary art… the art of today. Today is very relevant. Expressions, voices, and meaning find themselves in outstanding contemporary art in the Asian subcontinent. Asia today reflects its sentiments, emotions, and thoughts in its art. That speaks to all in myriad ways and instantly connects with art lovers. Collecting art inspired by political concerns speaks directly to young collectors today. As an art promoter, all the exhibitions I’m involved in are conceptual, thought-provoking, and socially-relevant.

Artists we’ve promoted over the years include: M.F. Hussain, S.H. Raza, F.N. Souza, Pratap Morey, Nilanjana Nandy, Hemi Bawa, George Martin, Veer Munshi, Anjolie Ela Menon, Arpana Caur, Sakti Burman, Rahgu Rai, Shivani Aggarwal, BaijuParthan, G.R. Iranna, Pooja Iranna, Birendra Pani, Seema Kohli, Sanjay Das, Tapati Chaudhary, Binoy Varghese, Rahul Gautam, Sanju Jain, Pooja Kshatriya, and Shruti Gupta Chandra, to name a few. The medium as art has also evolved over time. We gravitate towards unconventional media.

What’s the main motivation behind your collecting?
I started collecting art at age 16. Pupul Jayakar fuelled my interest in collecting folk and tribal art. On a visit to her residence with my mother in the 1980s, I was in awe of the fascinating Madhubani paintings on display. Her formidable collection of Indian craft, art, and tradition in her immaculately done up residence on Safdurjung Road was inspiring. That visit was a precursor to what would become a lifelong passion!

Art from the state of Andhra Pradesh has always been very close to my heart due to my growing years. I collected artwork from Andhra artists long before they were recognised in their own region! Thus began a private lifelong journey collecting memorabilia, matchboxes, cigar boxes, bells, Ganeshas, books, objet d’art, photographs, paintings, textiles, and furniture. It continues even now.

What’s your favourite piece of art?
My favourite is a sublime painting of an Iranian lady with this arresting face by Manjit Bawa, done as usual in his stunning ice cream colours of lilac and mauve. That one stays with me forever!

What’s your focus in your arts and crafts endeavours? Is there any particular type of craft that has consistently attracted you? If yes, which one and why?
As the director of a multidisciplinary arts organisation, Artspeaks India, our focus has been to promote South Asian contemporary art and artists, including the diaspora in India and overseas. Over the years, Artspeaks India has been at the helm of a wide range of artistic endeavours. These include design, public arts, literature, heritage promotion, local and indigenous art forms, multimedia initiatives encompassing cinema, theatre, and other performing arts, and pedagogical ventures like workshops and talks.

We also work extensively with Indian crafts and folk art under our heritage work. I have always been attracted to Indian folk and tribal art. As a result, we’ve been extensively promoting folk art forms such as warli, madhubani, gond, pattachitra,and alpana over the last decade. The thrust is now on the revival of the aipan (alpana) art of kumaon in the small remote Kumaoni villages, chittara art of Shimoga, and phad from Rajasthan.

What were the first and most recent works of art you purchased?
My first is a 6x7 foot Madhubani painting on the Ramayana theme by Shashikala Devi in the 1990s for Rs 3000. The latest is an outstanding second edition digital print on archival paper by Pratap Morey for Rs 3 lakhs, titled Being Human.

What do you dislike about the art world?
The most dreaded four-letter word in the art world is fake. And yes, I dislike that the most! It is scary how certain fakes can even confuse the sceptics and the specialists alike.

What challenges do you face at work concerning Artspeaks India?
The ever-growing presence of online digital art is both a challenge aswell as a boon. The white cube space concept is getting less preferred and is skewed more and more to clients making online decisions. The challenge for us is to make a smooth transition and balance both worlds of online sales and visual personal discovery, and stay relevant in both spheres.

What are your upcoming events or future plans?
Public exhibitions of tribal and folk art show are coming up soonat Bikaner House and IGNCA.  Showings of South Asian contemporary art by several artists are also in the pipeline.

What are your other hobbies and passions?
Gardening, trekking, and photography.       – as told to Sumana