Abhay Sardesi on Sangita Jindal's Collection
Hi Abhay, thank you for speaking with us today and lending your expertise to sharing more about Sangita Jindal's collection. Can you introduce yourself and how you know Mrs Jindal?
For the last 18 years, I've been the Editor of ARTIndia Magazine, India’s pre-eminent magazine on modern and contemporary art, which has been responsible for constructing, creating and contributing to the discourse around modern and contemporary art in India and elsewhere. ARTIndia was founded by Mrs Sangita Jindal 24 years ago in 1996 and has been going from strength to strength since.
Mrs Jindal is the chairperson of the JSW Foundation and is deeply interested in social development projects. Apart from collecting art and craft since the 1980s, she has also championed the conservation of cultural heritage including the temples in Hampi and synagogues in Mumbai. She has also steered Mumbai’s most important cultural festival, the Khala Goda Festival, and instituted various awards for environmental initiatives such as the Earth Care Awards, as well as the JSW craft and art awards that has contributed to the improvement of people’s lives around the country in various capacities.
With her art collection, you find extraordinarily eclectic approach to buying and installing art. There is a whole flurry of themes, but one of the main pointers to her taste is a certain penchant for what I might call the textural. She loves textiles, and different kinds of surfaces and finishes. There is a variegated approach to buying and collecting art, and a whole range of subjects represented by her collection. If you were to go through the entire gamut, you find that there is a wide representation from the modern to the contemporary and most importantly, art by a lot of young artists.
Many of Mrs Jindal's works are displayed in the JSW Group Headquarters in Bandra Kurla Complex in Mumbai. What does it mean to have a collection in a public space like this?
The collection that has been curated and installed in the JSW Centre is very eclectic: you have photographs, paintings and sculptures, as well as the installation by Shilpa Gupta we’re featuring in the exhibition. Indeed, the first question that I ask myself when I look at a collection like this is: What is this art doing in a space like this? How is it in some measure trying to extend the boundaries of the space? What is it trying to include and how is it trying to reflect the thought processes of the people who inhabit the space?
Art in this corporate context would want to instil a sense of curiosity in people, to excite them to ask questions of their own practices and lives. Most importantly, it’s getting people to connect to all the extraordinary, important and human capacities that we inherit, but that we often deny. This is something is becoming especially important to us now as we battle COVID-19 and realize that the peace that we are inhabiting is fragile, and that what affects you in turn also affects me. So this realization that there is a continuous interdependency is something that a collection in a space like this tries to enshrine and cultivate over the years. It also tries to sensitize people to realize that there are lives elsewhere, and crucial questions and problems that may not necessarily assail you, but assails others and therefore need to be addressed. This is what I think art does, and does with great power in a space like the JSW Centre.
If you were to look specifically at the installation by Shilpa Gupta, which consists of a huge rack with maquettes of books that have been censored or written anonymously, it's about getting ordinary people who come to the space to introspect on the histories of repression, and to understand the values of freedom: freedom of speech and freedom of expression.
Can you share about the installation Someone Else by Shilpa Gupta?
Yes of course, Shilpa Gupta is very important Indian artist who has represented India in almost all the significant international events including the Venice Biennale. Someone Else is a library of a hundred books written anonymously or under pseudonyms, by writers who were not allowed to announce their authorship. The work fulfils the condition of all great art in that it has the capacity to continually surprise you: there are so many books that you could look at a different one each day and still glean new information and inspiration from it.
The installation is displayed in the waiting room of the business center so it’s not just the educated, corporate citizen who encounters it, but a whole host of people who come from all walks of lives. When you stand in front of this work of art, you are confronted with a question: What are these books doing here and why are they presented in this form? This is the first point of entry to the installation, to stoke your curiosity and start a conversation. I remember a young visitor, who was about 19 or 20 years old, had come to the office, and within 10 minutes of looking at the books and pondering, she could immediately sense that this was an installation that talks about censorship and patriarchal conventions that deny women and marginalized people their rights.
For example, one of the books on the shelf is Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility, which was published in 1811 without Austen’s name on it. It was just written by an anonymous lady, which was the convention at the time because writing a book was not considered to be a “womanly” vocation. I believe Austen even had to pay to have it published! Another book on the shelf offers a more contemporary example of this, which is the Harry Potter series first published in 1997. The author chose to have it published under the short hand J.K. Rowling, which kept her gender intentionally ambiguous. Here are instances of world literature where women, or people who belong to marginalized communities, have been disallowed and discouraged from owning their authorship. In various ways, these books open a portal into a chapter of history that is replete with shame but that we have to be constantly made aware of.
There is another very interesting work by Shilpa Gupta which resonates with this one. It’s called For, In Your Tongue, I Can Not Fit, and was shown in the 2017 Venice Biennale. It is an installation of about a hundred speakers, microphones, texts and metal stands. Impaled on spears are pieces of paper with lines on them that were written by poets and writers who have been demonized or hounded by intolerant regimes. Above them hangs microphones that recite words from the papers. It’s a work that speaks to Someone Else because it’s also about this initiative of recording lost words, and reassigning a sense of pride and prestige to voices that were denied any kind of agency during their time.
On this note of art helping to enshrine and right some wrongs of the past, what do you think is the importance of art in our current times?
Art as an activity is something that helps us to connect with an energy that we are not always aware of. It allows us to dream and individually or collectively imagine different kinds of worlds. It helps us to realize the extent of our problems and the problems of people around us and in doing so, humanizes us, sensitizes us and trains us to ask critical questions. I think that is a very special quality. Art, literature and cinema actually go a long way in making life bearable especially in conditions that we find ourselves in, and also makes life more meaningful because it creates this network of connections where you realize that we are all completely dependent and creatively connected to something larger than ourselves.