It’s a special time for South Asian contemporary art worldwide as these narratives of non-western art history formulate themselves into the more permanent canons of art for the centuries ahead. How I have fit into this emergent art history is, I hope, an apt means of introducing myself, as well as being a story of what it is ‘to collect art’.
After several years working in museums and galleries worldwide, in 2006 I founded The Noble Sage, the first physical gallery space in London dedicated specifically to Indian contemporary art. From our base in North London, we have grown over the last eleven years, drawing large audiences of Indian art enthusiasts to our exhibitions, events, art fair stands and tours. Today, primarily from an online gallery presence, I work closely with art collectors and first-time buyers offering a one-to-one, customised art service, allowing them special insight into the way that I personally collect.
What I tell them often surprises them. On some level I think there is a misunderstanding around art collecting that infers that it is to be treated as an aesthetic hobby; that looking at art and buying art is easy. That building a collection of art is simply a series of random individual purchases of art one likes, and then putting them together. It is quite the opposite. The best way to buy art is to treat it as a study of beautiful objects and be very focused as to your interest(s). This means sticking to them, seeking them out, researching around them, acquainting yourself with everyone to do with those interests.
My art collecting journey started in 2005. I saw the emergent contemporary art markets in China, and of course in Bombay and Delhi and began to research their histories. I attended lectures in non-western art and began to soak in the history of art in Asia and the impact of colonialism. What immediately stood out was firstly that there was no space in London for audiences to see Indian contemporary art. Secondly, that, even though the Madras Government College of Art was the first to be set up by the British, and therefore the oldest, it was the least documented and the least promoted worldwide. However Tamil Nadu had its own unique, ancient Dravidian history that had given birth to Hindu art and art-forms thoroughly its own. With South India’s economic growth, and North India’s art investment boom surprising the world, it seemed only a matter of time that attention would turn to Madras. Maybe ten years, maybe twenty, but eventually the South would have its day.
Drawing on my maternal lineage in South India, I began making trips out to Madras, now Chennai, to start researching and buying art that would make up my own commercial collection and tell the story of South Indian contemporary art. I felt the same great responsibility then as I feel now. I wanted my collection to be a truthful insight into the South Indian art scene and its heritage – for it to be a bridge for those who have never been to India and a visual keepsake for those who have. I wanted it to be inclusive and inviting, yet also complex and educational. The artists behind the works should shine through, so if one buys a work from me, one feels they are a patron of an artist in the canon of South Indian art. Lastly, I desired for the collection to be a mirror of me and my intellectual passion for art.
Apart from illuminating the work of Pakistani artist Tasaduq Sohail, and assisting the development of Sri Lankan art, I have stayed true to this focus for eleven years. There is still much to be told. Thus, returning to the act of forming an art collection, if it is dependent solely on whether you like ‘the look’ of it, I would suggest you are probably approaching it wrong. When you are buying an artwork, you are buying an artist, the world around the artist that influenced him or her, and the artist’s own perspective on that world. So, spend a little time considering this. If you still like the look of the work, you could have found the next Picasso.
Join AWM and Jana Manuelpillai at the exhibition grand opening of South Asian Contemporary Art at Camden Image Gallery on the 1st February 6-8pm. To confirm your attendance or for a special guided tour please email – [email protected] with your name and address.
The exhibition, South Asian Contemporary Art runs from the 31st Jan 2018 – 3rd Feb 2018 11am – 6pm daily.
Camden Image Gallery
174 Royal College Street
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