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August 16, 2018

Avant-Garde Aesthetes: Tarini Sethi And Anant Ahuja

In the third part of our series spotlighting the new forms and cultural codes restructuring the Indian art scene, the founders of The Irregulars Art Fair talk about why they created an alternative platform for independent artists

Tarini Sethi And Anant Ahuja

How did both of you become a team?
Tarini Sethi (TS): Anant and I have known each other for a while now. He was part of the team at Design Fabric, a studio in Mumbai that regularly organised events related to design. I am an artist and I have been curating art shows for a year and half. In the beginning, it was just me struggling with many things, like building a website. Anant came on board to help me with the website, and we decided to team up.

What prompted the idea of The Irregulars Art Fair? Did you plan to hold the event during the India Art Fair?
Anant Ahuja (AA): The idea of The Irregulars Art Fair was to have an alternative space for the independent and underrepresentated artists. A few days in January and February, there is a lot of commotion in Delhi because of the India Art Fair, and also design festivals like India Design and Delhi Design Festival. People from all over the country flock to Delhi. The timing was good to get attention. And so we thought, why not begin an anti-art movement.

And the idea was to create an anti-art fair?
AA: Yes, absolutely. We are not against art fairs, but the anti-art fair movement is happening around the world and we thought about why is this not happening in India. Tarini has studied in the US, she has been a part of a lot of anti-art fairs. They are also all about commercialisation of art. At the end of the day, it is a fair not an exhibition. We just wanted to initiate an inclusive space for artists ­­— one that was more democratic.

Why do we need such a movement in India?
AA: Anti-art fairs are a space for artists who are not represented by any gallery. They can come from any background. That’s how it has been all around the world and that is how it is here. Here anyone can apply, there are no bars.

TS: The main reason is that only the artists represented by a gallery can be a part of an art fair. To add to it, artists themselves cannot apply. Take someone like me for example, I can’t go on an art fair website and apply. I have to be represented by a gallery for a number of years, and after that the gallery decides whether or not to choose me for the art fair. Many artists in the space remain underrepresented and a lot of them really don’t know how to start the process of approaching galleries. There is no process actually. You can’t call a gallery; if a gallery notices your work, they will approach you. That’s how it works. So there is no way to apply or be a part of art fairs except to know people.

How did you find such a spacious and expansive venue to host the fair?
TS: Studio Khirki, the space where the The Irregulars Art Fair was held, was actually my dad’s factory. He had moved out from there six months ago. We figured that we have this place to ourselves for a while and we can clean it up and fashion it into an art space. It was massive as opposed to the spaces I had been using earlier. Suddenly, we had four floors and we thought why not do something as big as possible. And so the idea of hosting an art fair was born.

The way the space was used in The Irregulars Art Fair was in stark contrast with the sanitised, pristine white look of a regular fair…
TS: …and that was the idea. We wanted to break away from the idea of a ‘white room’. The Art Fair is in a massive space but each artist is exhibited in a cube. We wanted to separate ourselves from the ‘white box’ gallery spaces. At The Irregulars Art Fair, we decided not to have any partition between the different artists. For example, if there was a room, we gave it four artists and left it to them to decide how to partition it. They could make their space into whatever they wanted to.

AA: Our curation process was not overly stringent, but we wanted to show site-specific works, and we had put that idea in our application. The artists came in around three to four weeks earlier, and then they came every day to paint the space according to their works. So you could tell that they had owned that space — that wall — now. There were about 14 site specific works at the venue. The staircase, the fire exit, everything was converted into something different from what it was before.

What was the most unexpected and the most thrilling part of hosting The Irregulars Art Fair?
AA: I think 1,500 people showing up was quite a thrill. That, and the fact that we sold 53 artworks. We were hoping for people to buy some works, but we didn’t expect to make those many sales. Many artists were commissioned projects and assignments, even the ones who didn’t have actual work but had created site-specific installations.

TS: It was a little crazy considering where we started. In the beginning, making a website was also a big challenge. From there, to see people coming in with their India Art Fair badges still on was really nice. People knew that this was happening and they were keen to check it out. They said that this was something they couldn’t miss, which was a nice response.

What’s in store for the next edition of the fair?
TS: Next year, we would again host it in Delhi during the Art Fair. I think this one had its limitations because we spent our money and had only a month’s time to fix the place, get it painted and install gallery lights. By the end of it, we didn’t have the result that we had imagined. This time we want to push the boundaries as much as possible.

AA: We are not a corporation and we don’t have a funding. We like the equity of our idea at this stage and would like to do it for a couple of years on our own to make it a pan-India movement, rather than just sticking to Delhi. In fact, at the end of this year, we are working to have it in a tier-two city.

Read Part 1 here and Part 2 here

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