As Indian art world meets, prices stay depressed

Updated 03 February 2013
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As Indian art world meets, prices stay depressed

India’s art world has converged on New Delhi for the industry’s biggest annual event where upbeat talk and parties are likely to disguise a market that is still in the doldrums since crashing in 2008.
Indian art auction prices are down 70 to 75 percent from their peak, when speculation driven by new prosperity in cities such as Delhi and Mumbai pushed them to “unsustainable levels,” says art analyst Anders Petterson.
Petterson, managing director of London-based global art market analysis firm ArtTactic, says India is still suffering from the after effects of the 2008 global financial crisis, but says he sees signs for cautious optimism.
“We glimpse a market gradually turning around,” he said.
The three-day India Art Fair — now in its fifth year and featuring 105 art houses — offers valuable global exposure to local artists and a chance for overseas galleries to woo India’s increasingly affluent population with international works.
However artists and galleries still face a battle to restore confidence among buyers who are worried about the “sustainability of art values,” according to veteran art critic Kishore Singh.
“People want to know that if they buy a work at least it will be worth the same next year or in a few years and perhaps a little more,” he said.
The price of top works by India’s Modernist masters — the late M.F. Husain and others from the Bombay Progressive Artists’ Group — are returning to pre-crash levels, said Singh, but rich collectors are still nervous about taking risks.
A canvas by Tyeb Mehta, a top member of the Progressives’ group, fetched a record price of $ 3.24 million in 2011, but the high price paid was seen as a one-off.
Works by the younger contemporary school of artists are still overpriced by around 30 percent, estimates Kapil Chopra, editor of Indian e-art magazine Wall, noting large gallery stockpiles.
The woes of the Indian art world, however, look unlikely to dim enthusiasm for the fair among the public who have flocked to the event, which was launched by 32-year-old marketing graduate Neha Kirpal in 2008.
“The fair has grown exponentially in India, which is a country deprived of seeing art,” said Kirpal, who told AFP she has kept tickets at an affordable 200 rupees ($ 3.75) — below the price of a cinema ticket — to “ensure accessibility.”
For collectors and art lovers alike, the fair is regarded as the best chance to get a handle on India’s hugely varied art scene — from paintings to sculpture, multi-media installations and interactive projects — in a country where there are few state-funded museums.
“Every serious collector, scholar and curator makes themselves available for this event, it’s an amazing platform,” Amin Jaffer, a leading expert on Asian art at London auction house Christie’s, told AFP.
Visitor numbers have risen 10-fold to over 100,000 since the show’s launch, while the size of the venue — a huge tent designed by top Indian scenographer Sumant Jayakrishnan — has mushroomed seven-fold.
But critics say increased visitor footfall does not equate to buyers, making it an expensive venture for galleries.
Twenty foreign galleries are present this year, the same tally as in 2012. Key dropouts include Europe’s Hauser and Wirth and London’s Lisson Gallery, although they have been replaced by others including London’s Scream.
“It’s a classic case of musical chairs. The foreign galleries are drawn by the hype of the ‘Great Indian success story’ but then get disappointed because they don’t sell,” says Chopra.




The fair has works on offer ranging from an affordable few thousand dollars to $ 1 million.
Experts say India’s market is still in its infancy and is far behind that of China.
“The Chinese market is much larger and of much longer standing with a highly developed auction house culture and no end to government-endorsed museums,” said Christie’s Jaffer.
Fair founder Kirpal insists long-term prospects for the market are bright as India’s population grows richer.
“With India’s young population, who are increasingly wealthy and well traveled, art is becoming a global contemporary language,” she said.
“In five to 10 years everyone will want to be showcased here.”


‘It might be our destiny to have Syria only in our imagination’

Syrian band Tanjaret Daghet (which means ‘pressure cooker’ in Arabic).
Updated 19 April 2018
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‘It might be our destiny to have Syria only in our imagination’

  • Syrian artists-in-exile discuss their absence from their homeland and its impact on their work
  • For many exiled Syrian artists, their work is an expression of grief

DUBAI: “Being away from Syria is difficult,” young poet Maysan Nasser said. “Seven years later, it still feels like a phantom limb. It feels like the echo of white noise that is reverberating louder by the day.”

Nasser, a Beirut Poetry Slam champion, was talking separation: The idea that the loss of Syria is like an amputation. After seven years, she is still looking for answers to questions of home and belonging.

The first time I saw Nasser perform was last year during Zena El Khalil’s ‘Sacred Catastrophe: Healing Lebanon,’ a “40-day intervention” designed to permanently kick open the doors of Beit Beirut, a museum to the memory of the city in Sodeco. Her performance was raw and emotive.

The second time was in the basement of Riwaq Beirut, a coffee shop, cultural center and bar all rolled into one. She was addressing a small but appreciative young crowd and looked nervous. It was just a few weeks after she had launched the open-mic night ‘Sidewalk Beirut’ and the anxiety and jitters remained. In reality they shouldn’t. The crowd loves her.

“In this enforced distance from Syria, such communities have become my anchors,” she admitted. Yet her work, although deeply personal — sometimes painfully so — never directly discusses Syria or her home city of Damascus.

“I believe the distance of separation was the birth of my work,” she said. “It was in this distance that I was able to reconsider who I am, what my relationship to my family is like, what my relationship to my body is. I believe my poems to be attempts at understanding myself and my surroundings, but also my past.

“So when I speak about my mother and my relationship to her, I am also considering my mother’s past and the traditions she has internalized and passed on to me, which inevitably cast light on a time and place in Syria, and which inevitably expose my own connections and roots — or lack of, at times. This separation, in a sense, has coincided with a coming of age.”

At the same time as Nasser was hosting her early edition of Sidewalk Beirut, a mile or so away at The Colony in Karantina Zeid Hamdan, a pioneer of Lebanon’s underground music scene, was preparing to perform at Sofar Sounds. The venue —hidden up three flights of stairs in the Dagher Building — was little more than two empty rooms and an adjacent terrace. With him were the Syrian band Tanjaret Daghet (which means ‘pressure cooker’ in Arabic).

Hamdan has been performing with the trio since they left Damascus in 2011. Theirs is an energetic, sometimes harsh, alternative-rock sound, although that is changing. Their soon-to-be-released new album, “Human Reverie,” is as much about electronica as it is guitars and vocals.

“This pressure we’re living is kind of unique,” said Tarek Khuluki, the band’s guitarist and sometime vocalist. “You see people who are nagging about it or who are trying to use this pressure as a tool to escape the reality we’re living in, which can lead to unbalanced results. At the same time, you see people who are making the best they can with the little amount of nothing that they have. All they want is to see their ideas manifest themselves in art or in any other shape. 

“Psychologically, we’ve learned not to think too much and not to play the role of victims, but to focus on our own language, which is music.”

It’s hard to discern whether the war in Syria has had a direct impact on Tanjaret Daghet’s work, or whether the wider woes of the Arab world are partially responsible for their sound and lyrics. They sing of political oppression and societal pressure, the absence of feeling and the loss of voice.

“We do not live the state of war in the real sense of the word,” says Khaled Omran, the band’s lead singer and bassist. “What we’re living is a kind of internal war, which has arisen from our instincts as humans. It’s our right to express ourselves through art and music because it’s more humanistic, and this has allowed us to meet several artists and to exchange expertise. Who knows, maybe if we had stayed in Syria, none of that would have happened.” 

Outside of Beirut, up in the mountains of Aley, a series of old Ottoman stables have been converted into a residence for Syrian artists. Since it was first opened by Raghad Mardini in May 2012, Art Residence Aley has hosted numerous artists, including Iman Hasbani and Anas Homsi. Both now live in Berlin. Beirut, for some, is only transitory. 

“It has given me a wider vision of the world,” says the artist and film director Hazem Alhamwi of his own exile in Berlin. “Maybe it’s more painful, but it’s more real. It is training for how to change pain into creative energy. Since 2014 I have been painting a collection I call ‘Homeland in the Imagination’. It might be our destiny to have Syria only in our imagination.”

Alhamwi is best known for “From My Syrian Room,” a documentary in which, through art and conversation, he attempts to understand how Syrians have learned to live with the distress and anxiety caused by war. It was while editing the film in France in 2013 that he realized he could not return to Syria, he said.

“I feel tired,” he told Arab News. “I feel as if I have one leg here — where I have to integrate, and want to — and the other leg in Syria, where I cannot stop being interested in what is happening. My family, my friends and my memories are still there. On the other hand, I feel like I am discovering another kind of violence, moving from living under a military dictatorship to the dictatorship of money. It’s a smooth violence written on smooth paper and put into a clean envelope. I feel myself in the stomach of the capitalist machine.”

For many exiled Syrian artists, their work is an expression of grief; a way to portray an overwhelming sense of loss. For others, those expressions are more subtle.

“We watch so many lies on TV, that it looks like art could be the only honest witness to modern times,” said Alhamwi, whose next film, produced by Zeina Zahreddine and Florian Schewe, will examine issues of identity. “Even many people’s facial expressions are not real. But good art is not only a mirror of the artist, but also of the spirit of the time they live in; or it’s at least the result of this reaction (of) the artist (to) the era.

“Art always tries to get people to pay more attention and not to repeat the same mistakes, but to learn from them instead. In wars, where the feelings of people are ignored and all the focus is on weapons, killing, fire and iron, art protects people’s real memory, away from any agenda or propaganda. It is this complicated memory that reflects the events, the emotions and the point of view of the artist. That is why art is needed in war as a special documentation. To tell the stories of people who didn’t get involved, because of position or fate,” he continued. “Art is a way for artists to survive in a world controlled by violence.”