THE GOOD LIFE
A support group for overlooked art
Gurjeet Singh had just quit his teaching job at a school in Chandigarh and started a residency in Baroda when the pandemic knocked his carefully laid plans awry. But the 25-year-old artist is accustomed to piecing things together again. To make his contemporary soft sculptures, he combines childhood memories and personal struggles with scraps of cloth left over from his mother and sisters’ sewing. Now, back in his home in Punjab’s Algon Kothi village, Singh is purposefully reconstructing his art practice. What is driving him is a new-found demand for the pieces.
Singh is among a number of virtually unknown contemporary artists who are making art on the periphery of the traditional art market but whose works are actually seeing the light of day. They can thank Mumbai-based Carpe Arte, started by art consultant Natasha Jeyasingh in 2017 for this. With its main activity of conducting gallery hops and studio visits grinding to a halt in the lockdown, the group is assisting struggling artists with sales. It shows the art works to its followers — both emerging and seasoned art enthusiasts. Working pro bono, the group is specifically seeking out independent artists who have promising practices but do not have the backing of galleries.
All works are priced at ~5,000 or under. Viraj Mithani, an artist who leads walkthroughs at Carpe Arte, notes that this “seemed like a fair threshold since people’s incomes have stalled so they would not immediately part with larger sums”. A new selection is posted to the group’s Instagram “feed”
(@carpearteofficial) and “stories” twice a week, and interested buyers are put in touch with the artist. At last count, they had sold 214 artworks over eight weeks, raising over ~9 lakh for some 74 artists. (They exhibit and take enquiries only on Instagram.)
Malabika Barman, who trained at Santiniketan and at Maharaja Sayajirao University of Baroda, dipped into her masters’ portfolio and found takers for
15 of her delicately detailed etchings and aquatints.
She is now making a series of sketches about her travails living alone in lockdown which she hopes to release soon. “Galleries tend to have restricted and particular choices, so artists working beyond those specifications don’t always get a chance,” she observes. This has been her first taste of selling works quickly, getting validation from strangers, or even giving interviews.
Because the works are affordably priced and easily accessed, they are drawing interest from maiden buyers too. “I often visit galleries to view art but for a first-time buyer, the leap to buying at galleries seems somewhat intimidating,” says Deborah Rosario, a writer working in the education sector who acquired three pieces in the sale. Intrigued by the process, her mother also chose one for herself. “While my family is not always able to accompany me to art shows, this Instagram curation of Indian art permitted them to enter the experience of contemporary art,” adds Rosario.
Siddharth Somaiya, an artist and avid collector who picked up half a dozen works, including charcoal sketches by Radhika Kacha and Hemant Dhane’s watercolour abstracts, labels the initiative “disruptive”. “These are young artists who are technically very sound and have a good road ahead in their careers. You get to be an early ‘patron’ to them.”
Although conceived during the nationwide shutdown, Carpe Arte hopes to develop this initiative “by artists and for artists” into a new market parallel to the traditional. “There are a limited number of galleries to begin with, and they keep busy with their roster of artists,” notes Mithani. “It is the same with museums too.” He sees a need to bring visibility to more diverse practices which have not got the start they deserve. Besides its own connections with young artists, Carpe Arte is also relying on artists to recommend their peers.
Taking a leaf out of that book, similar models of sales have been launched by Danfe Arts, a touring art gallery of Nepali artworks, as well as Young Art Support, which aims to help student artists across India. When Mumbai opens up, Carpe Arte’s members will have their own practices to attend to, but they intend to give a fixed set of hours each week to curating lesser-known artists. Says Mithani, “This is the beginning of a movement to increase visibility.”