Let's face it: we love the idea of subversion. It's revolutionary, this act of dissidence. And it's particularly true in the world of art, where every artist and art form, in their own way, is revolting against one system or the other. Last week, we saw one form of subversion in The Irregulars Art Fair (TIRAF), which held its second edition in New Delhi between January 31 and February 5, 2019.
Coinciding with India Art Fair, the country's biggest commercial event for modern and contemporary art from South Asia that usually takes place in the sprawling NSIC Grounds in Okhla, New Delhi, TIRAF took place in Studio Khirki in south Delhi. Khirki has been the hub for not just alternative forms of art and storytelling from across the country and beyond over the last few years, but has also proven to be a space that is inclusive of the local, the marginalised and the invisible.
And resonating with this simmering energy was TIRAF, which is borne out of a need for not just alternative forms of art, but also a space that is inclusive of independent artists who are not represented by any gallery. "In India, an art fair kind of a scenario is one wherein you buy real estate. Here, we didn't charge anything from the artists. We gave them whatever we have in our means to put together their work," says Anant Ahuja, the creative director.
TIRAF allows the viewer to engage with forms, mediums and ideas that would otherwise be alienating. "Irregulars is a new festival, run by people in their twenties (well, just about), and as such most of our applications are from young people. We get a lot of submissions from students and people in the early stages of their experimentation with whatever their medium is. I think that makes for a lot of fresh, exciting work—and diverse styles—that you might not see in more conventional and established spaces. I hope it provides a platform for young artists to have more resources and venues to exhibit their work," says one of the curators, Simran Bhalla.
We caught up with the festival's curators—Bhalla, Tarini Sethi, Richa Sinha, Vrinda Mathur, Space Sessions by Angad Malli, Sanskar Sawant, Neethi, and Ahuja—to find out what goes into the making of an 'anti-art fair' and why we need more of those:
‘The whole idea is to exist out of white cubes’
"The whole idea of TIRAF is to exist out of white cubes. The space we’re in is actually an old leather goods factory. So, we are far removed from the gallery format and also our friends at Studio Wood made sure they broke all conventional formats of showcasing artworks."—Anant Ahuja
'There is a strong need for artists to meet, interact, collaborate'
"Working as an independent artist for the longest time and meeting other such artists at some random workshops made me realise that there is a strong need for artists to meet, interact and later collaborate to roll out some really good content. At art fairs, you get to witness great pieces of art but not to interact with the artists because they come through a gallery. TIRAF becomes a platform for artists to come together and art enthusiasts to actually meet the artists."—Sanskar Sawant
‘The aim is to get people to leave their house and come to galleries and exhibitions’
“There is quite a dearth of “alternative” forums here. There’s a difference between the actual platforms being alternative and the art they showcase being alternative. Lots of galleries in India show cutting edge art but their actual platforms are not alternative. When we talk about the larger audience in India, we should not just think about the elite, the larger audience actually means the 99%, the local man and woman. A regular Sunday for them would be to leave their house and go sit at India Gate all day. Our eventual aim is for these people to be able to come to galleries and exhibitions and spend their day off looking at art.”—Tarini Sethi
‘We’re here for those who can’t break out of their 9-5 jobs’
"The open call system gives way to every kind of person to apply, which is why we think it’s so important to keep going with it. We have received applications from a diverse group of people and we never look at their background or monetary capacity, just their application. There are so many people with 9-5 jobs who are actually fantastic artists but because of means beyond their control couldn’t break into the system. This is what we’re here for.”—Tarini Sethi
'Local artists and artisans never really care about putting their work out there'
"Having worked in the public art sector for about 3 years, I’ve personally discovered some hidden gems in Hyderabad, Pune, Varanasi & Jaipur. I was stationed in these cities for months working with local artisans and artists. They’d never really care about putting their work out there."—Anant Ahuja
‘Friends, family and community can be good support system’
"Our entire support system comes from friends, family and the community. We’re lucky enough to have some great friends who decided to come on board and help out in their own capacities."—Tarini Sethi
'Volunteers and young college kids can go home with new skills'
"As music curators we needed a big team to handle 30 acts with experienced sound engineers, a lot of volunteers applied and young college kids went home with new skills that can help them get work backstage with crew .they learned about lighting, live sound and artist management new addition in their resume"— Space Sessions
'Focus on more than one medium'
"One important thing about TIRAF is that we do not focus on only one medium. We give equal amount of focus on every kind of genre including visual art, performance,music, film, installation and I think this adds to the dynamism of the space."—Tarini Sethi
'Space and set-up make young and upcoming artists more approachable'
"With the move of setting up an exhibition in a space like Khirkee, the team has already broken many boundaries. Every artist communicates his or her inner self, their deepest secrets, memories, experiences through their work and these very stories demand to be heard, seen and felt (owing to the multiple mediums that have been curated at this year's festival). Unlike in a gallery-esque format of endless whites with high ceilings where there exists a very apparent layer of elitism, this space and setup encourage young and upcoming artists to interact with the audience at a greater and more approachable level."— Vrinda Mathur
'It's a fair. It's risky business'
"We had zero hours of sleep, a bed set up permanently in one room ( note to self for next year),a years supply of Gatorade, a year's supply of double-sided tape, a membership account with your local printer, more hours in the day, double the size of team and $."—Tarini Sethi
"All of the above, with like-minded people :)— Neethi "I sold my car, maxed out two credit cards, broke an insurance policy and took a small loan from the bank to make this one happen. At the end of the day, it’s a fair. It’s a risky business. You’re solely relying on the commerce of art. If it doesn’t happen, you’re not doing it right."—Anant Ahuja