CRAFT­ING ART TREA­SURE Hunter

Rakhi Sarkar cel­e­brates 25 years of her iconic Kolkata art gallery CIMA with a spe­cially cu­rated art fair which was as ac­ces­si­ble as it was eclec­tic

India Today - - PROFILE - By KAVEREE BAMZAI

CIMA’s Rakhi Sarkar has taken art out of its bub­ble by pi­o­neer­ing the af­ford­able art move­ment

From the 19th cen­tury when art was sup­ported pri­mar­ily by the ma­hara­jas, in the 20th cen­tury art be­came sec­u­lar and started to be col­lected by Parsi pro­fes­sion­als and wealthy Gu­jarati busi­ness­men in Mum­bai, helped in large mea­sure by Ma­hatma Gandhi’s push for young Ben­gal artists to help his friend Rabindrana­th Tagore raise funds for Viswab­harati Univer­sity. The art mar­ket be­gan in real earnest in the early 90s, which is when Rakhi Sarkar, 70, started her Kolkata gallery, Cen­tre for In­ter­na­tional Modern Art (CIMA) in 1993, fus­ing her love for art and her pas­sion for col­lect­ing.

CIMA’s in­cep­tion was through an ex­hi­bi­tion she cu­rated in 1986 called Vi­sions, where she show­cased over 200 works. “It was vir­tu­ally four ret­ro­spec­tives in one. Jo­gen Chowd­hury, Bikash Bhat­tachar­jee, Som­nath Hore and Ganesh Pyne. The artists helped be­cause this was the first time their works were be­ing doc­u­mented. We went from col­lec­tor to col­lec­tor, home to home, and dug out great works of art, some of which were hang­ing next to the wash­room,” she re­calls. That was when she truly dis­cov­ered what art was all about, though she had taken pri­vate classes from the reclu­sive Ka­mala Roy Chowd­hury, who trained in Paris in the 1950s, and had cre­ated quite a stir by ex­hibit­ing her nudes with the press de­scrib­ing her work as a dan­ger for ethics of peo­ple.

Art didn’t sell in the 80s and 90s. Peo­ple who col­lected art were those who loved it. Artists who cre­ated did so be­cause of their pas­sion. “My hus­band (Vice Chair­man and Edi­tor Emer­i­tus of ABP Group Aveek Sarkar) used to col­lect but artists such as Ganesh Pyne would refuse to give him any­thing un­less he truly loved it. I used to tease Ganesh that I will set­tle down next to his dust­bin be­cause even the work he would tear and throw away was so beau­ti­ful. He was ex­tremely finicky and would call my hus­band only when the work he felt was truly se­ri­ous and per­fect,” she says. Few peo­ple even knew about Pyne in those days. MF Hu­sain was in­ter­viewed in The Il­lus­trated Weekly of In­dia in 1974 and called him the best artist in In­dia. “That’s when we dis­cov­ered him. He was liv­ing in his an­ces­tral home in cen­tral Kolkata till the 90s. That was the first time Ben­gal saw its own artists be­ing rep­re­sented,’’ she adds.

Those days Sarkar was in­volved in the so­cial projects of the In­dian Cham­ber of Com­merce and spear­headed a big cam­paign against drugs which led to the for­ma­tion of the Nar­cotics Con­trol Bu­reau and Na­tional AIDS Con­trol Or­gan­i­sa­tion. But when the artists pressed her to do some­thing more per­ma­nent than a one-off ex­hi­bi­tion, she spent the next few years vis­it­ing gal­leries and mu­se­ums around the world. So CIMA was born. Since then it has had many off­shoots through the non profit Art & Her­itage Foun­da­tion—among them the CIMA AWARDS-Kolkata Art Fes­ti­val has been de­signed as a bi­en­nial event in search of coun­try­wide tal­ent in vis­ual arts, which be­gan in 2015. For the past ten years, Sarkar has also been run­ning the CIMA Af­ford­able Art Mela, which has be­come an in­sti­tu­tion in Kolkata. This was the first time this was held in Delhi. It’s some­thing she started at the be­hest of friends, and also to mark the 25th an­niver­sary of CIMA’s cre­ation. “It caught the imag­i­na­tion of the in­tel­li­gentsia and young peo­ple, who are earn­ing well, have an as­pi­ra­tional level, un­der­stand and ap­pre­ci­ate art, but couldn’t af­ford it. In Kolkata we have lines go­ing down to the road,’ she says.

Much of the credit for that mass ap­peal of art goes to Sarkar, who is knowl­edge­able and par­tic­u­lar about what she show­cases. What to keep, what to dis­play, what to put into stor­age, and what to dis­card—that is what the cu­ra­tor’s job is and Sarkar does it ad­mirably.

Pho­to­graph by BANDEEP SINGH

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