Art is omnipresent, and many a times translated into triptychs of canvas, paper, paint and earth. But it is only seldom that parcels of art are brought together under one roof. India Art Fair is one such annual event that brings the best of Contemporary and Modern Art in an amphitheatre of temporarily bedecked walls, facades and boroughs.

As one walks past the hustle bustle of a crowded boulevard, one approaches the entry of NSIC grounds in Okhla New Delhi that hosts this four-day art event. One can see a sprawling facade design by Artist Sam Kulavoor, celebrating the everyday life of people, adorning the outer walls of the Art Fair, with Bookshops and Cafes adding a fresh winter morning effervescence to the affair.

With over 80 galleries and institutions presenting the best of Indian, South Asian and Global Art, the event is an experience for every art connoisseur. The Art Fair is not only a place for a series of beautiful art pieces, but visual voices speaking about life, politics, culture, gender, religion and society.

The Fair has over the ages become a space to bring varied philosophies, cultural experiences and political dialects in a bustling and growing art colony in the South of the capital city, Okhla, which is quickly emerging as the new art destination. The Fair’s director – Jagdip Jagpal points out that the art fair has grown over 12 years by building on gallery participation, public programming, consistently creating a spotlight on South Asian and Indian art.

Arshi Irshad Ahmadzai: Takhti from Kabul, ink and stitch work on Kora Cloth

Baaraan Ijlal: Hostile Witness (Esplanade Mansion Watson’s Hotel-Kala-Ghoda-Bombay- Mumbai) and (Bhopal-Iqbal-Maidan-Naqqar Khana)

Some of the galleries which participated at the Fair include Chemould Prescott Road, Chatterjee & Lal, Jhaveri Contemporary, Galerie ISA, Project 88, and TARQ (all Mumbai) as well as Art Heritage, Art.Motif, Blueprint 12, Exhibit 320, Gallery Espace, Nature Morte, PHOTOINK, Shrine Empire, and Vadehra Art Gallery (all Delhi), ArtHouz, Galleryske, Kalakriti Art Gallery, to name a few.

Showcasing leading Indian Modernists and exceptional historical pieces through some of India’s most established art galleries: DAG, Dhoomimal Gallery, Crayon Art Gallery and Archer Art Gallery the Fair, year after year becomes an amalgamation of diverse eras, regions and schools of thought and art. Several International Art Galleries from Germany, South Korea, Sri Lanka, USA, UK and UAE also became part of this vibrant set-up.

Other highlights of the Fair included FOCUS: showcasing significant solo exhibits by participating galleries, PLATFORM: a popular part of the fair acting as a catalyst for new and emerging artists. Also exhibiting under Institutions, leading cultural foundations like Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, Foundation for Indian Contemporary Art, Serendipity Arts Foundation and Korean Cultural Centre could be spotted at IAF.

Some notable Outdoor Art Projects, extending across the Fair grounds were present, like giant wooden rain drops by Chennai based printmaker Vijay Pichumani with Art Houz Gallery touching on the ongoing conversation around water scarcity and excess, to acclaimed international Magnum photographer Martin Parr, who presented a live photography project from PHOTOINK. Auditorium Talks, Performance Art Programme, Workshops and Parallel art events marked the IAF as a striking colloquy of art, urbanity and ethos.

Poonam Jain: Burden of Proof at Metta Contemporary’s Booth

Paresh Maity: Neelambar an 84” dia artwork of coloured beads on canvas

We walked across streams of people, photographers taking pictures of art works and artists, artists interacting with art connoisseurs, glance of conversations of a political life, of society, a rendezvous with art works by masters of Indian Art; rows, columns and blocks of uniform yet diverged art spaces, show stopping art pieces like the art car by BMW in collaboration with renowned artist Andy Warhol, and an arena of art prints, books and cups of coffee all becoming characters in a theatrical drama under the affable sun of a winter day.

A queue of art booths, led one in and out of well laid out walls of art. Art works by Indian modern Progressive Artists like MF Husain, FN Souza, SH Raza, SK Bakre, HA Gade framed the soul of the fair with their visual ideas of society, aesthetics, colour and politics, large mounds of sculpture, mobile art works, photographs, traditional Pichwai Paintings created a lurid amalgamation of history and culture.

Some noticeable sculptures were Sweet Days of Summer 2 by Tapasya Gupta, Tree 2019 and others by Art Pilgrim’s Dhananjay Singh, and Rathin Barman’s large scale installation inspired by defunct colonial style buildings in his home city. Composed of sculptures, drawings and placement of objects, the project will look at how centuries-old, heritage sites have been transformed by growing number of locals and immigrants who inhabit the space.

Art is the visual language of dissent, free speech and free thought, it also eloquently highlights the fails and negatives plaguing a society or a political setup. The Art Fair which was happening in proximity of the Anti-CAA-NRC protests also became a visual space to show dissent by several artist. One such work by Artist Mithu Sen, where she created a collage of 50 drawings, with red being the dominant colour, questioning democracy and the rejection of free speech in the country today. Artist Probir Gupta through his work demonstrated his activism through ‘A Poem of Instruments’, paying ode to the women of Shaheen Bagh.

Pichwai Paintings

Shilo Shiv Suleman : Buraq (a series)

Some more art works that captivated our imagination through their visual voices, noteworthy stories and rich aesthetics:

Metta Contemporary’s Booth had striking works by artist Poonam Jain: her work Burden of Proof are a series of drawings piled together, one can see people etched in these bricks. Yogesh Barve’s work Cleaning at Metta Contemporary used a range of materials including found objects, mobile devices, Cleaning becoming the art of removing unwanted substances such as dirt, infectious agents, and other impurities from an object or environment, the process occurring in different contexts using various methods.

Death by Selfie at PHOTOINK by acclaimed photographer Martin Parr, a series of photographs that drew inspiration from India’s obsession with selfies.

Photographer-Artist Ketaki Sheth’s project Twinspotting at PHOTOINK, where she photographs Patel Twins in UK (her country of residence) that she counterparts with Patel twins in India. The Project is a study of the Immigrant experience and the homeland which divulges the issues of personal and cultural identity.

Subba Ghosh:Fear, Scuplture

Sculpture at India Art Fair

Baaraan Ijlal’s Hostile Witness (Esplanade Mansion Watson’s Hotel-Kala-Ghoda-Bombay-Mumbai) and (Bhopal-Iqbal-Maidan-Naqqar Khana) and Samanta Batra Mehta’s series - Reframing the Archetype, at Shrine Empire.

Paresh Maity’s Neelambar an 84” dia artwork of coloured beads on canvas,

Subba Ghosh’s sculpture Fear, at Anant Art India’s booth.

Arshi Irshad Ahmadzai’s Takhti from Kabul, is an ink and stitch work on Kora Cloth.

Shilo Shiv Suleman’s pieces, an intersection of magical realism, gender discrimination, religious discrimination creating fantastical images of empowered women, at Art Musings Booth.

Biplab Sarkar’s – Be Waiting and Ball Wala at Art District XIII depicting street life in Indian cities.

Seema Kohli’s The Golden Womb Series at Gallery Veda’s booth, exploring the themes of beauty, sensuality and spirituality expressed through her works based on the concept of Hiranayagarbha or The Golden Womb from which we have emerged.

Folklore, a solo show of traditional Gond Art works by Dhavat Singh at Gallery Ragini

The Sundry Effect: The stories we are… at Gallery Ragini The exhibition brought together 15 different story trails charting out our realities today from the farmer related stories by Thukral and Tagra, climatic collapse by Vivek Vilasini, the ayahs who left India after Independence by Cathy Lane, the hundred portraits of the Kashmiris by Veer Munshi and the story highlighting Varanasi by Gigi Scaria amongst others. The show juxtaposed the dust of Delhi with eclectic portraits, interspersed in the show were sound installation, painting, sculpture, photography and film works.

The Public Life of Women: A Feminist Memory Project by Nepal Picture Library. The Project is a bringing together of a series of pictures of Nepali women with instances from the past when women have taken on political struggle, addressed assemblies, paved new paths through education, published and shaped opinion.

DAG’S extensive exhibition of artworks by Indian Masters : KH Ara, Prabhkar Barwe, Bikash Bhattacharjee, Shanti Dave, MF Husain, Krishen Khanna, Jamini Roy, Paritosh Sen, Bengal Masters, Sohan Qadri, GR Santosh, to name a few.

Ganesh Selvaraj’s Approach Without Your Preoccupied Knowledge, a Paper on Board work that plays with density and levels to achieve variations in structure. The sculptural structures created are aesthetically satisfying, that one may approach without one’s preoccupied knowledge.

Parallel Show: Jitesh Kallat at Bikaner House, New Delhi by Nature Morte Gallery, showcasing his works – Covering Letter (terranum nuncius) and Ellipsis.

Some Artworks part of another Parallel Show: The Idea of The Acrobat by Nature Morte Gallery at Bikaner House –

Bharti Kher’s artwork/bronze sculpture The Intermediary Family.

Reena Saini Kallat’s – Verso-Recto-Recto-Verso installation. The artwork comprises of textual scrolls rendered using the tie and dye process by artists in the town of Bhuj. The scrolls present the preambles to the constitutions of countries politically partitioned or in conflict such as: US and Cuba, Croatia and Serbia, Sudan and South Sudan, India and Pakistan, China and Japan, amongst others.

Atul Dodiya’s – Three wooden cabinet installation with painted glass, framed photographs and found objects. As part of the cabinet of curiosities, figurines and curios found in flea market rub noses with museum magnets bearing the seriousness of high art.

Dayanita Singh’s File Rooms, a group of 36 pigment prints of revenue-files, court files, income-tax files piling up in office rooms, bedrooms and shuttered store-rooms. Files with land papers. Lands lost and recovered, and lost again during Partition

The India Art Fair also launched a post-fair show STUDIO, with film screenings, a new reading room to artist led workshops, at DLF Avenue Saket, in mid-February.

Several Artists part of the fair became voices representing people part of anti-caa/nrc protests, with their powerful show of dissent through their art, while others like Shilo Shiv Suleman joined the protestors at Shaheen Bagh and engaged in painting murals on site.

Art is the voice of the people, of artists and people who are represented by art forms and voices of art: distressed farmers, the LGBTQ community, varied minorities in terms of regions, religions, gender, occupation. Art highlights the struggles of various communities, giving the definition of struggle an aesthetically satisfying language and lending support through its gentle yet rebellious character. Art pieces become noticeable voices through colour, form and its never to be missed juxtaposition of visual messages, one which a viewer can interpret, re-interpret and recognize.

The annual India Art Fair was a success in terms of what it wanted to say collectively about people, art and life, and individually through very different sets of artwork, coming together to speak about free thought and the power of the same invested in every creative activity. The removal of free thought will give us no art, no artists and no art events, but only a society which succumbs to fear, autocracy and mediocrity.