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Delhi: CIMA Art Mela brings best of artworks at affordable prices

An ongoing art mela hopes to act as a link between artists and the middle class by offering quality works of art at affordable prices

art and culture Updated: Apr 26, 2018 18:56 IST
Manik Sharma
Manik Sharma
Hindustan Times
An early water colour painting by Delhi-based artist Paresh Maity
An early water colour painting by Delhi-based artist Paresh Maity(CIMA)

Nearly all the news that comes out of the world of art these days is about high-end auctions and bafflingly expensive sales. Most recently, Leonardo da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi was sold for an absurd $450 million, a figure that invited not just debate but even ridicule. For what would possess someone to spend such a fortune on a canvas? But such are the extremes art has carved for itself – either costing the earth or sitting unrecognised in a corner.

There is little by way of a middle ground, where art is both affordable and of excellent quality. Of course it is in the interest of the artist to wish for a higher price rather than a home for his or her artwork. But there are exceptions – occasions that bring artists together and give even the most cynical of buyers an opportunity to buy art without spending a fortune. The Centre of International Modern Art’s (CIMA) first foray into Delhi offers one such opportunity with its Art Mela.

CIMA began in 1993 and has just celebrated its 25th anniversary with two exhibitions in Kolkata, the city it calls home. “I curated an exhibition in 1986 with the likes of Ganesh Pyne and Somnath Hore at the Birla Academy in Kolkata,” says Rakhi Sarkar, founder and director of CIMA. “We published a proper catalogue which wasn’t even the norm at the time. The response to the exhibition, and the kind of collection Aveek [Sarkar] and I had put together moved artists to ask us to do something about the dearth of art centres in the city. There was really nothing there. Delhi and Mumbai had maybe ten galleries combined but there was still no place to promote new artists or help them reach prospective buyers. It took years of discussions, research and learning before we decided to open up a centre.”

Rakhi Sarkar, founder and director of the Centre for International Modern Art, is the spirit behind the Art Mela. (Anushree Fadnavis/HT Photo)

The Centre was born during a politically tumultuous time for the country in the aftermath of the demolition of the Babri Masjid and the communal riots that followed. “I’m not really a supporter of politics in the arts. I don’t think art should be laden with political messages. I think, over the years, that feeling has taken root inside me. If a great work happens to be incidentally political, then it is fine. But sometimes, you simply can’t help it. If everything points to the same thing, we have to address it,” says Sarkar about Wounds, CIMA’s inaugural show in 1993.

In a similar exhibition in 2002, MF Husain piled CIMA’s gallery in Kolkata with shredded newspaper cuttings as a response to the riots in Gujarat.

The politics and relevance of some of CIMA’s shows aside, perhaps its most crucial efforts have been towards bridging the gap between the artist and the middle classes in India.

“The 19th century was a bit different,” Sarkar says. “In the age of the Bengal masters like Abanindranath, the artists would simply give away their works. The modern system does not really work that way. For decades the ability to buy good art has slipped from the hands of the middle classes. It has sort of become corporatised in some way. Only the rich buy it, and not necessarily because they want to, but because it is somehow prestigious to own a piece of art made by so-and-so.”

The Art Mela has a simple format and working ethic at its centre. But it is inspired by a 19th century tradition. “Santiniketan had a mela called the Nandan Mela every December, where the artists would give away their works at throwaway prices. Most of the time, they would make works specifically for the mela, be it simply a terracotta painting or other smaller pieces. We wanted to revive that tradition of giving, which is why we depend on the artists as well to show that kind of heart,” says Sarkar.

Bengali artist Atin Basak’s rendition of the quiet moments we miss in the deluge of modern life. (CIMA)

The Art Mela offers affordable buys starting as low as ~3,000. But the low prices don’t mean low quality. “We can’t put up something simply for the sake of selling it at a low price. We want to give away quality,” Sarkar adds.

Apart from the Mela, CIMA also hosts the annual CIMA awards that focus on encouraging new talent, a task that has helped rekindle interest in the arts, especially by Bengali artists. “There has been a quiet period in Bengal since the masters. When we opened an alternative space, we were looking pan-India, but what we saw was a new generation of young Bengali artists who I thought really deserved more recognition than they were getting,” Sarkar says. These talents and stalwarts include Manu Parekh, Ganesh Pyne and Jogen Chowdhury – just some of the names that the Art Mela has brought to people’s homes.

That said, does the Art Mela threaten the monopoly of galleries that thrive on keeping the prices high and the accessibility low?

“Well, I have not heard anything from them directly,” says Sarkar, “But our target has never been the wealthy anyhow. The way we market, the way we spread the word, it is to largely attract the middle class. I say to people if you want to gift something, why not gift a piece of affordable art? I do that myself. The rich can buy anything they want. If they come to the Mela they might buy everything and leave nothing for the others, which is why I don’t even mind telling them to stay away. This is not for them.”

WHAT: CIMA Art Mela

WHEN: Between 10am-8pm, till April 30

WHERE: Visual Arts Gallery, India Habitat Centre, Lodhi Road

CONTACT: 2468 2002

NEAREST METRO STATION: Jorbagh