Within India there is very little or no government support for the arts, but within the country there are a number of highly passionate individuals who are taking it upon themselves to fill the country’s arts funding gap. Seeing it as a vital part of her nation’s development, after two decades working with emerging contemporary Indian artists, curators and collectors, in 2010, Aparajita Jain founded the Saat Saath Arts Foundation (SSAF). An initiative Jain devised to support international exchange between India and the rest of the world, the foundation is building numerous close working relationships with a variety of international curators, museums and galleries. With the British Council’s Re-Imagine India Fund actively promoting and funding exchange projects between the UK and India to take place in 2017, the 70th Anniversary of Indian Independence (the UK-India Year of Culture), I caught up with Jain to find out more about her ongoing work.
ES: I wanted to find out about where your passion for art emerged from and how it has become such a central part of both your life and career. Could you explain when you first developed your love for art?
AJ: I was raised in a family of collectors and have grown up surrounded by art. As I got older, my Grandmother, who was the collector, said to me “if you don’t enjoy art there is a chance that you won’t enjoy your existence”. I was exposed to art from a very early age, being exposed to it through museum and gallery visits, talking about it critically but it was only after I had my children that I started to collect myself and began to realise that there were numerous gaps within the country’s art scene and that’s when I started working more actively with emerging artists. In 2007, I opened Seven Art which supported the work of emerging artists and as the gallery grew, I saw the growing need for not-for-profit organisations in India. The government is not focused on art yet as there are too many other infrastructural issues which need to be addressed before art can become part of the main agenda, which puts the responsibility on private individuals, like myself, who have the ability to do so.
ES: You mentioned briefly your first venture, Seven Art, which was a niche gallery representing the work of newly emerging Indian artists. It was a big risk to represent artists whose work was still establishing itself, a move which obviously shows how much you believed in the work of the artists, but what was it about their work which reassured you to take such a risk?
AJ: There were a few things, firstly they were making work that I had never seen before but I was more enticed by the content of their work; what the artist is thinking about and why are they thinking about it, where are they taking their work and how strong is the questioning of their chosen subject as well as the discourse and scholarship behind their practice. I believed in each of the artists I represented because I could see the passion and dedication they had to their practice and so believed in them. When I first started looking at artists work, I would see five portfolios a day but would only find one artist in every seven to eight months, it’s difficult to discover people with both talent and a deep desire for what they do. We worked with six artists at Seven Art who were all deeply committed to their practice, that’s why I believed in them and took the risk and why I’m still taking similar risks today with the SSAF.
ES: It was only five years after founding Seven Art that you set up the SSAF. You had already toured the artists you represented at Seven Art internationally to locations including China, the USA, and France, but what was it which fostered the desire in you to take things a step further by actively promoting the international exchange of artists in India?
AJ: I believe that we are now living in a world that is global and for this reason, art needs to speak to everyone and not be about where an artist is from. I‘m human and I need to speak the same language as other humans and art needs to not be restricted by language, race, creed and colour. I don’t see how else art can function, we don’t live in an isolated environment any more. At the SSAF we are dedicated to the world as one.
ES: You have already mentioned the lack of government funding for the arts in India. By setting up the SSAF your support and commitment to the arts in India is obvious, but what would be your advice be to prospective arts patrons who might want to begin supporting the arts within India but not know where to start?
AJ: I think there is such a great need for arts initiatives in this country and for things to be done that all and any support is welcome. If someone has money to invest I feel they need begin by looking at what they are truly passionate about, as in order to invest, I need to know that I resonate with a project as I can only sustain philanthropic projects if I believe in what I am doing. When you see money being spent, everyone questions if it was worth it and the only way to sustain patronage is if the patron believes in what they are doing.
ES: As you continue your work with the foundation, what are the changes that you still feel need to be initiated and how do you feel these can be made?
AJ: I feel conversations and studying western models are important, and although I don’t think any western model could be replicated within India, it’s important we learn from the west on how they’ve done things. After I registered the foundation in 2010, I started having conversations with various international curators, who explained that they found India a difficult place to navigate. There was a simple solution to what seemed a complex problem, and through further conversations the foundation established a series of curatorial grants for international curators to visit India with the Foundation’s support and guidance. Going forward, I want to concentrate on research requirements, so the SSAF’s focus will be to continue bringing international curators into the country to see artists work as well as written documentation on artist’s practices which is also something India is currently lacking.
ES: Finally, of all the achievements so far in your career what do you feel has been your biggest?
AJ: I don’t think I have one yet, everything I have achieved so far isn’t enough; my biggest achievement is still to come. Most recently, I have been working with the government to compile actual data on why art is important for India as a nation. I’m asking that we look at India as Incredible India, a country which can make a great contribution to the global art scene as we have so many bright minds that need to be at the centre of international art history. Perhaps, if successful in garnering government support, that might become my biggest achievement to date.
Aparajita Jain is founder of Saat Saath Arts Foundation www.saatsaatharts.org
1. Reena Saini Kallat, Woven Chronicle, 2015. Courtesy of Collection: The Vancouver Art Gallery, Canada. Photography: Rachel Topham.