A cabinet of Indian curiosities at the Beirut Art Fair

To date, independent Paris-based art critic and curator Fabrice Bousteau confirmed none of the 30 Indian artists he'll include in his pavilion. (The Daily Star / Hasan Shaaban)

BEIRUT: Last year’s edition of the Beirut Art Fair was dominated by local galleries, an imbalance redressed somewhat by the South East Asia Pavilion. Curated by Richard Koh, it featured work by 21 artists based in Singapore, the Philippines, Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia. Scheduled for Sept. 18-21, the fifth edition of the fair will feature an Indian Pavilion, curated by Paris-based Fabrice Bousteau. An independent art critic and curator, Bousteau co-curated a major exhibition focusing on art from the subcontinent at Paris’ Centre Pompidou in 2011, entitled “Paris-Delhi-Bombay: India Through the Eyes of Indian and French Artists.”

BAF may not be able to provide Bousteau with 2,500 square meters of exhibition space, but the pavilion is set to match the Pompidou show in the number of artists represented. Although no names have been confirmed, the curator hopes to include work by around 30 artists.

“It will represent the Indian art scene from Subodh Gupta, the star, to the youngest Indian artists,” he says. “The concept of the exhibition is to create a cabinet of curiosities. Indian artists love to make enormous sculptures ...

“The idea was to [exhibit] some very small things, for a number of reasons, one of which is a question of budget ... My idea of the concept of small is also linked to the British economist [E. F. Schumacher], who wrote a book named ‘Small is Beautiful.’ The idea is that small art is beautiful.”

Bousteau explains that the public will enter a dark, enclosed viewing area in which each artwork – measuring no more than 70cm in height and weighing no more than 6kg – will be illuminated by a spotlight.

“Everything will be for sale,” he says, “but it will be shown like it’s a private collection ... When you enter you will not [see] the name of the artist near the work, you will just have a number [that corresponds to] a list with the names and prices ... It’s a way to shake people up and say: ‘You have to believe your own eyes.’”

Bousteau says he intends to select the works according to two themes.

“One is dharma,” he explains, “the idea that life is like a wheel with some cycles that come back – the idea that you have a second and a third life, etcetera.”

A concept that first appeared in the myths of Vedic Hinduism and exists in multiple faiths, dharma does not mean “reincarnation.” Originally, it referred to the eternal cosmic balance and the links between myth and reality, man and environment.

“Another concept I believe will be part of the exhibition is the concept of ‘jugaad,’” he adds. “It’s a word created in the ’70s in India ... It means how you can do a lot with nothing, how creativity has to be present every day of your life, and I think it’s exactly what you can feel in India.”

The curator draws parallels between the nascent contemporary art scenes in India and the Middle East and North Africa.

“There is a strong link, I believe, between society in Lebanon and India,” he says, “because India is a country where you have a mix of religions, a mix of different kinds of people ... The contemporary art scene in India is mainly linked to questions of society nowadays.

“Before the mid-’90s, all the artists in India made traditional paintings linked to different gods and myths ... With the development of a liberal economy [and] a middle class, ... some artists wanted to speak about what’s happening in their country and I think it’s the same in the Middle East. There are more and more artists making works that speak about real life.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on June 12, 2014, on page 16.




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