On a sunny day in July, the Big Art team caught up with Noelle Kadar, the International director of the India Art Fair, to trace her involvement and passion with the arts.
1. Let us begin with your journey. How did you get involved with the arts?
I had what they call a ‘natural childhood, or a hippie childhood’, we weren’t allowed to watch television, we didn’t even have one! So as a child, I was encouraged to play outdoors and draw. On rainy days or cold days, I would draw for hours and this probably propelled me towards the arts. I was lucky enough to get accepted to the Rhode Island School of Design, and my senior thesis brought me to Varanasi. I kept returning during my post-graduation for various projects until before I knew it I was living here.
2. What was coming to India like? Most people report of a ‘culture shock’.
I didn’t experience that, not in any notable way. My parents are both doctors of Chinese medicine and Eastern philosophy (hippie parents, remember). So, I grew up around a lot of Buddhist and Hindu thought. I think a lot about India felt strangely familiar to me. But for me, especially now in Delhi, a big city is a big city. At the time, I liked being in a place where the culture was still respected and valued, and today this mix of old and new works for me.
3. To stretch that thought further, would you say that in India there is a respect and understanding for traditional culture but the lay person is a bit intimidated by contemporary art?
It can be intimidating to walk into a gallery, I agree. I too get nervous sometimes and this is my profession! But everyone needs to get over that, art is for everyone. In India, there is an immense respect for traditional art, and in my mind, I see contemporary art as the traditional art of the future. We have contemporary artists employing craft in their work, and traditional art such as Madhubani and Miniatures are still being made today. The work being created currently has value and needs to be supported because it is a reflection of our time and generation now, just as work being made in the 1800s was a reflection of it then.
4. How did you first get involved with the India Art Fair? Do add your perspective of why you joined the fair in terms of supporting the art ecosystem rather than just a particular gallery or artist.
At the time, I was doing a lot of consulting work, specifically for design, and I was beginning to miss fine art and being around artists, which is probably my most comfortable space. A mutual friend of the IAF founder Neha Kirpal and myself suggested we meet. I had been going to the IAF for years so I knew the product and for me, I saw it as an opportunity to help support the creative ecosystem and region that I had been working in and living in for years in a more holistic way. At the India Art Fair, we provide a platform at an international level and scale for artists of our region to show their work, so it’s really an honour to be able to be part of that.
5. As you attended Art Basel in Switzerland, what would you say is the art scene in Europe and where would you place Indian art in the context of that scenario?
I travel to many international art events throughout the year to represent India Art Fair and to stay up to date on the always changing scene. I don’t think we should be placing Indian, or South Asian Art in any context except its own because it really stands on its own. We are incredibly happy to see so much South Asian representation internationally. Documenta 14 this year, for instance, had a number of works by South Asian artists, and Art Basel over the last few years have featured Indian artists in UNLIMITED, this year Subodh Gupta and Dayanita Singh, last year Prabhavathi Meppayil, Mithu Sen and Archana Hande.
6. What would you say are the major learning and the milestones over the last 10 years of the India Art Fair?
India Art Fair started as India Art Summit when Neha saw a need for a model that promoted contemporary and modern art that didn’t exist in India at the time, the model has evolved and matured over the years but I think the passion and commitment to promoting artists and galleries have remained constant. Success is relative and every edition we aim to provide a better standard than the year before. The recent partnership between the fair and MCH, the parent company of Art Basel, is certainly one of the fair’s biggest milestones, and the fact that India was the first region that was brought into their regional strategy certainly says a lot about where we are headed, and when I say we, I don’t mean India Art Fair alone, I mean the entire art community.
7. What are the predictions and plans for the India Art Fair in the coming five years?
Well, there isn’t much we can reveal now, but we’ll begin to share some of our plans over the next few months and promise to keep you updated. Stay tuned!
8. When you compare the Indian Art milieu to the US, where would you say it is lacking and where would you say is unique to India?
What is lacking in India, though it ‘ s changing rapidly now is the culture around museum and gallery going. In New York, it is common to take your children to galleries and museum s and we don’t see that here as much. To answer the other half of this question, everything is unique about India. I think the international art community is slowly beginning to recognise the amazing work coming out of India. In the last few years, we have seen retrospectives of V S Gaitonde at the Guggenheim, Bhupen Khakhar at the Tate and representation at Documenta 14, for example. I t is a very interesting time for India, internationally.
9. Also share some tales with us about your other passion, the environment?
How can one not be passionate about the environment? I think being on this planet is not a right but a privilege. One of the reasons I enjoy working in art is because one person creates a piece of work that another can acquire and cherish for generations. The opposite model of consumerist culture.
10. What are your plans for the future?
Well, there isn’t much I can reveal now because I really don’t know. Stay tuned.