“The role of a gallery is highly important in serving the arts; sale, or no sale, is secondary.”
-Miss Riffat Alvi[i]
When it is said that art is a language, we often take it as a run-of-the-mill statement made to enhance the strength of art. What takes it to understand this voluminous statement is one’s thought process and deep interaction with art to unlock the mystery of artwork that is not explicit but still present in the form of a language that is never spoken but heard.
Today contemporary art is reaching new heights of fame and so are the artists. Art galleries are playing a crucial role in promoting artists. In this case, Karachi has been very lucky to boast of art galleries not only showcasing the works of established artists but also promoting emerging ones.
Nowadays art is not limited to the art galleries, art enthusiasts, collectors and artists but the general audience has a great and in-depth understanding of the arts. In this era of competition, high intellect and in depth views, one gallery, since its inception, has always made sure that their platform is devoted to all the artists despite them being emerging, mid-career or established.
A gallery known for recognizing and showcasing the artworks of the once-upon-a-time emerging artists who are big names in the world of art today; a gallery which is among the pioneering galleries and one which I feel very privileged to write about-the VM Art Gallery.
The initiative of launching the gallery was taken by the Rangoonwala Trust and within the Rangoonwala Center a space was dedicated for the gallery. Thus a new branch of the trust with an approach to lend support to the arts was launched in 1987 as the VM Art Gallery under the aegis of the trust.
VM, a not-for-profit art gallery, was established on the name of Mr. Valy Mohammad, the grand master of the Rangoonwala family – a riddle decoded for me. The responsibilities and charge of the art space was handed to Miss Riffat Alvi, a veteran artist, immediately after the gallery was announced. Miss Alvi is the chief curator and director of the VM Art Gallery since its inception.
Miss Alvi, with the support of her team, has nurtured the gallery through sheer hard work, dedication and passion to make the success possible and sustainable. Pakistan’s art has always been known for its diversity and keeping that in mind the gallery space is structured and designed to display works of traditional and contemporary art inviting both local and international artists to showcase their art at the gallery.
The gallery is extremely spacious where a number of artists can display their work at a time. The expansive white walls of the gallery provide an inviting environment and the artworks on display are a treat to the eyes. Wooden plinths are available that enable the artists to display all types of works, ranging from paintings to large scale installations to be effortlessly displayed/assembled in the space. Communication facilities are also available for lectures, talks and discussions.
The gallery space is sub-divided into spacious spaces- Gallery A and Gallery B. Gallery C has access to sunlight and has movable artificial wooden plinths that are suitable for the display of ceramic pieces. The multipurpose movable wooden walls give an ideal support to the gallery when there are bigger exhibitions.
Having the largest and most intimate space, the VM Art Gallery radiates an atmosphere that is dignified and modern, parallel to the structures of the modern art galleries.
The ideology, concept and structure of VM was destined to meet prosperity and this vision was built over years, through sweat and blood, and through attention given to the smallest of details. Speaking to Miss Alvi about the exciting journey of the gallery she couldn’t forget the unceasing support extended to the gallery by Late Mr. M. A. Rangoonwala, she said:
“Since I joined the Rangoonwala team, I found the greatest support ever to be provided for the expansion of the arts in Pakistan. Thanks to Mr. M.A. Rangoonwala for lending such great support to art. I can’t find words to thank the Rangoonwala Family for supporting the VM Art Gallery taking it to such heights.”
She also appreciated labors of her team in bringing VM to where it is today and lauded their efforts: “I have a wonderful hardworking team that manages the gallery. Along with Mallika Rangoonwala, there is my Gallery Coordinator, Faraz Siddiqui, our library manager Bushra Hussain and our dedicated Gallery Assistants, Younis and Prem.”
Malika Rangoonwala, the great granddaughter of Valy Mohmmad and a Creative Marketing Director at the gallery, also contributes immensely to the gallery. As Miss Alvi puts in:
“She works with us to bring fresh new ideas that allow our gallery mission to reach the younger and future generation of artists, art lovers and to ensure that VM Art Gallery moves forward responsibly adapting to the changing times.”
VM Art Gallery has made its name in the Pakistani art industry with time and it is not wrong to say that the gallery has witnessed history in the making with the evolution of Pakistani art in its space.
The doors of VM Art Gallery are always open to the fresh graduates and emerging artists who do not have an access to break into the art community and need a platform to introduce their work. VM gallery never gave preference to the ugly fact of picking artists on the basis of their sale.
“I must say and proudly share with others that I am open to all sorts of creative ability in a person, be it contemporary or traditional there is no in between passage. God’s creativity in this world is open for all to behold and internalize what art has to offer. The role of gallery is as important as an art institute. Its main objective is serving art.
“I am happy with the three categories: fresh graduates, mid-career artists and the established artists. If the three categories are there in the right ratio, there is no harm- you learn by seeing.”
“VM takes up emerging talent every year besides the holding exhibitions of international artists’ work. VM is open for all sorts of art exhibitions. Let there be a variety of works to be shown otherwise it seems to be a repetition of the usual.” she proudly explicated.
The gallery is overseen by the Visual Arts Committee that comprises artists, art critics and educationists. The Visual Arts Committee is there to ensure that the strategies and criteria are executed properly, with equal merit based opportunities provided to both established and emerging artists, and the same level of standards are expected from the artists.
“My vision was to make art exhibitions more regular, bring in masters like Bashir Mirza and Tasaduq Sohail’s show to the VM Art Gallery as these artists were popular and the work quality was superior. The best part was that these artists were very eloquent. I can still hear their voices, the artists were so happy to answer their queries-it was like pouring in the art into the young brains. The purpose of mine was to give the students a chance to question the masters directly while they were at the gallery.”
When questioned about a show that brought the gallery in the limelight, Miss Alvi stated:
“The show which brought success to the art gallery was the “Emerging Talent” exhibition. The fresh graduates entries for a grand show from all over the Pakistan, Karachi, Lahore, Jamshoro, Peshawar and Hyderabad.”
Miss Alvi developed the idea of showcasing all the fresh graduates’ art works with the collaboration of the Heads of Fine Arts of various art colleges and universities. The show is for everyone who wants to see the talent Pakistan is producing. This show is an annual event which holds great significance and counts as an accomplishment of the gallery which is acclaimed by the media, art community and art critics in the country.
While exploring the significant aspects of art and attaining heights of success, VM has and still is fulfilling its obligations to the arts. Regular exhibitions, talks, discussions and annual talent shows are the regular practices of the gallery. The gallery holds the VM Scholarship Program and Award Program under the umbrella of the M A Rangoonwala Awards.
VM is the trendsetter and a role model for all galleries in Karachi today. On putting forth the question of the role of galleries today she replied:
“Many galleries have opened up with the objective to promote art but they not only need to be creative in doing so but also be well-versed about the artist and his work when engaging with a client- this sadly is missing.”
She further expounded: “The younger artists have come up with confidence to satisfy the questions raised by the clients during the openings of a show. There should be critical Q&A sessions in galleries between the viewers and the artists. This can be applied in the galleries. Since it is not happening, it is disappointing I agree. But starting this trend in a new way can help the audience attain knowledge.”
The future of the artists and the VM Art gallery is promising with exciting new plans in the pipeline.
“The journey of 30 years has been a rewarding moment for me and I am thankful to the Rangoonwala family for letting me grow independently and in so doing I helped in developing a gallery. With the consent of the committee, I shall soon be developing a program which will engage in exchange exhibitions internationally. I will try my best; we have superb talent and energetic artists in Pakistan.”
[i] Chief Curator of VM Art Gallery