Pravina Mecklai was only six when her father, Jhamat, took her to her to an art gallery in 1958. She recalls visiting and revisiting Mumbai’s few places to see art all through her childhood. So it was no surprise when in 1999, she decided to open her own gallery, Jamaat, as a tribute to him.
Eighteen years later, the Colaba gallery still holds regular shows while those of her childhood have closed down, and many that emerged since have shut shop. Perhaps the key to its success lies in not worrying about what’s in vogue, what dominates auctions or what sells. Jamaat has focused on exhibiting traditional Indian art forms. It’s shown Gadhwakam sculptures by the late Jaidev Baghel and Mithila paintings by the late Satya Narayan and Moti Lal Karn from Bihar.
It’s what helped them sail through the rough waters of the economic downturn of 2008. “During the art boom between 2005 and 2008, the prices of some artists had risen by almost 18 times in a span of nine months, which we thought was unjustified, so we chose not to feature their works,” she recalls. “In 2008, when many galleries shut and people hesitated to invest in art, we kept our prices low, which is partly why we didn’t lose much of our clientele.”
For Patsy Bulchandani, 78, who has been a regular buyer at the gallery for 15 years Jamaat’s staying power has much to do with the way Mecklai sees art. “You don’t have to be a prospective buyer, just someone who is passionate about it and they are ready to draw you into a conversation,” she says.
To mark its 18th anniversary, Jamaat exhibits the Mumbai debut of Italian photographer Fiorenzo Senese’s, Lines, from Mumbai to Venice, which turns mundane linear forms into art. There are pipelines around a mall, zig-zag staircases, tunnels and rows of overhead cables. “The details of these structures create beautiful and unexpected effects, which usually go unnoticed,” he says. The project will be showcased in Venice from May to November at the exhibition ‘Personal Structures’ held during the art festival, Biennale Arte.
For Mecklai showcasing photography is unusual but fitting. “We have never really played the market,” she says. “I think it will be interesting to exhibit the works of at least one talented foreign artist a year for the Indian patrons to widen their perspectives.”
What: Lines, from Mumbai to Venice
Where: Jamaat, National House, Tulloch Road, Apollo Bunder, Colaba
When: Monday to Saturday, 11 am to 7pm, until March 16
Call: 2282 0718