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In Conversation with Feroze Gujral

by ArtNow
ArtNow: Can you please talk about the Gujral Foundation, how the idea for it emerged: its structure, areas of work and aims?
Feroze Gujral: Mohit and Feroze Gujral, son and daughter-in-law of famed Indian modern artist Satish Gujral, set up the non-profit trust initiated in 2008. Mohit Gujral is a leading Indian architect and sits on the executive board of India’s largest real estate development company. Feroze Gujral, entrepreneur and media personality, is on the advisory board of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale and IGNCA among other cultural organisations..
The Foundation has amongst other things, graciously loaned the ‘Aspinwall’ – the primary location of the Kochi Muziris Biennale 2012 and 2014. The foundation has also supported the 55th Venice Biennale, South Asian artists at the 8th Berlin Biennale and the ‘V.S. Gaitonde: Painting as Process, Painting as Life’ (2014) exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum, New York.
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AN: At what point did you realize the importance of South Asian participation with My East is Your West in the Venice Biennale?
FG: No travel of mine is complete without a big dose of art and culture. Overtime, I have realised how we greatly lack the infrastructure needed to seed and support contemporary art in South Asia. Having visited the Venice Biennale many a time, I realised that we were consistently absent from what is the highest platform of contemporary art in the world, which meant that one third of the world’s populace was not being represented.
I started to look into the Biennale, and commenced my journey by funding Prabhavati Mayapill’s work (a South Asian artist, exhibited in the curated section at the 55th Venice Biennale). It was during the opening of the last edition (55th) of the Biennale that I met Rashid Rana, and we began a discussion of the absence of South Asia from what is the greatest contemporary art platform of the world. This is when I decided to initiate the project My East is Your West, a heartfelt thought, with no political agenda, no grand gesture, just an expression about something the foundation felt needed to be done.
AN: How do you see the possible response to the two artists’ work this year?
FG: The response has been overwhelming. A lot of interest has germinated from the root-region (South Asia) of this project, a new sight within the Venice Biennale. The title My East is Your West (taken from a work by Shilpa Gupta) is a simple and powerful title that is easy to remember and to respond to on a basic human level. This has allowed for a simple curiosity of the regular visitor. This is the first time in the history of the Biennale that conflict nations have been represented in one common exhibit. Historically, this is an important time for India with new governance and much expectation. Our representation is an expression of the soft power of the subcontinent’s cultural capital.
AN: Do you see any similarity, link or connection between Gupta’s and Rana’s works?
FG: The reason I wanted these two artists to work on the project is because there is a common ideology they both work, but have a different visual format for their expression. Both Gupta and Rana work with idiosyncrasies, cultural hegemonies and common cultures of this region. They are both working against the ideas of ‘nation-states’ and politically created borders. Where Rana’s expression is technically startling, interactive and deals with dislocation and the borderless state of a contemporary world of open communication. His large format works are stunning and thought provoking. Gupta’s works are heart-wrenchingly poignant in their minimal expression, sublimely beautiful and unforgettably powerful.
AN: In your opinion do their proposed projects correspond, or do they have independent and separate identities?
FG: The project was conceived by me, very simply reacting to my embarrassment and dismay of realising that the subcontinent has been consistently absent from the epitome of contemporary art, the powerful global platform of the Venice Biennale that has stood for over a hundred years. I was very clear when I invited Rashid Rana whose work is powerful and on a large format that I wanted somebody who could match his talent in a mirrored way, equally powerful but distinctly different. Shilpa Gupta was the perfect choice as she, like Rashid, was working on dislocation displacement of border territories, his about Pakistan and her about Bangladesh. Both their works have very independent separate identities but are beautifully aligned under the overall curatorial premise.
AN: How do you see the impact of this project in the region?
FG: The project was not singularly about impacting the region, but more so about taking the South Asian voice to the foremost global platform. We have seen people reacting to our project and being struck by not just by the curiosity factor of seeing conflict nations being represented together for the first time, but also by the distilled sophistication and execution of Rashid Rana and Shilpa Gupta’s art. Our project has incited curiosity about the greater cultural scene in South Asia, gotten incredible coverage and has earned the respect of the casual visitor as well as the highly respected curators and practitioners of the art world.
Since the project used the nullification of nation-states as its fulcrum, we wanted to respond to Enwezor Okwui’s curatorial call of ‘All The World’s Futures’, by uniting our common histories by bringing the voice of our region together in a powerful expression not bound by our limited geographies.
AN: Are you planning any such activities in future and in region, for instance supporting international exhibitions and initiating some?
FG: At this point we still have five months of the exhibition in Venice and around it a highly curated public program, which was initiated at the Kochi Biennale, December 2014. Our curator of programming, Natasha Ginwala, has already presented this project in various formats across South Asia from Hong Kong to Dhaka (Bangladesh), Jaffna (Sri Lanka), Dubai (UAE). Martina Mazzotta of the Mazzotta Foundation, our Italian program partners, also have programming in Venice, Milan and London. We will conclude this project with Lahore (Pakistan) and New Delhi, Bombay (India). The Gujral Foundation will definitely be partnering and supporting initiatives in South Asia going forward post this project.
All photographs by Mark Blower.
Related articles:
In Conversation with Rashid Rana
In Conversation with Shilpa Gupta
The Venice Biennale 2015: Global in Scale
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