The world knows that Kiran Nadar, 68, Founder and Chairperson of one of India’s largest museums, a private one at that, the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art, has a stellar collection of Indian art.
Now to take things a notch higher, Nadar, the wife of HCL’s Founder Shiv Nadar, is working towards building one of the biggest cultural centres in the country, the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art and Cultural Centre. “We want to build a standalone museum, which will house a public museum of contemporary art and a centre for dance, music and creative education,” says Nadar. British architect David Adjaye has been chosen to design the museum and Nadar’s team is in the process of finalising a plot for the same.
Like her work in the last nine years, since the inception of KNMA, this centre will surely prove to be a game-changer for India’s art and culture scene. In the last few years, Nadar didn’t just up the value of Indian art in the international art market but also promoted art education and played an instrumental role in having India participate in the 58th edition of Venice Art Biennale in 2019, just the second time in the 124-year history of the event.
The India pavilion curated by KNMA was rated among the top five at the global art biennale. And we have Nadar to thank for the feat. Naturally, the art fraternity is all praise for the persistent push and generous support the matriarch has given to this crucial cause of ensuring that India marches ahead on the global art scene. As the biennale concluded recently (November 24), all that Nadar hopes for is that it will be an “ongoing practice and not a onetime event”. “It is not enough to be there just once. We are trying to get the government to participate in the biennale regularly,” she says from London on the telephone.
Consistent and constructive promotion of the arts was Nadar’s intention when she launched her private museum KNMA in 2010. She started building her collection with Husains and Razas to adorn her home and her husband’s office. But as her collection grew, she decided to share the joy of art with a larger audience. She also felt the need to kindle interest for the arts among common people and to promote Indian contemporary art on home turf as well as internationally.
Over the past nine years, KNMA has organised exhibitions of modern and contemporary art across the country and abroad. With an aim to foster a museum-going culture, KNMA has opened two outposts, one in Delhi and another in Noida. Nadar’s efforts have paid off to an extent. “More people are coming to the galleries to view art. We also conduct many events at schools. But we still need to work on inculcating an interest for the arts among common people. That is still a slow process,” she says. As an advocate of art education, she is also happy with the response the various KNMA programmes, workshops, symposiums and art appreciation discourses are receiving. “The response has been good. The art fraternity fully supports us,” she says. And that cohesiveness of the Indian art world made the Venice Biennale a memorable one, despite its challenges. “It was quite a task. We barely had any time to prepare. It was also a joint venture between the Government of India, Confederation of Indian Industry (CII) and KNMA. Nevertheless, the pavilion was appreciated and ranked among the top five.”
Talking about how Mahatma Gandhi came to be the centre of the theme titled ‘Our Time for a Future Caring’, she reveals that the idea came from the government, celebrating 150 years of Mahatma Gandhi’s birthday. “But we chose not to make it a literal representation of Gandhi. We looked at his values and philosophy, and how they have been shown in various artworks and collated them. Different regions and art forms were put together. From Nandalal Bose to M F Husain to contemporary artists Atul Dodiya, Jitish Kallat and Shakuntala Kulkarni. It covered many styles and thoughts.” The exhibition weaved together diverse artworks — Ashim Purkayastha’s stamps, Atul
Dodiya’s curio cabinets titled Broken Branches, GR Iranna’s Naavu (Together) comprising padukas, and 16 of the 400 posters Mahatma Gandhi had commissioned modern artist Nandalal Bose to create. The posters portraying different aspects of Indian life were created on the sidelines of the Indian National Congress’ session in Haripura, Gujarat, in 1938. There was also a letter on a smoky screen, which Gandhi was supposed to have written to Hitler, titled ‘Covering Letter’ – an installation by Jitish Kallat.
Back at home though Nadar has been vocal about lack of government’s support in encouraging art, artists and museums. But she hopes that the successful participation at the Venice Biennale will bode well for the future. She draws references from Abu Dhabi, the country that strived hard to become one of the hottest art destinations in the world and home to Louvre Abu Dhabi. Talking about her experience at the recent Abu Dhabi Art fair she says, “The government there is offering good support to art. It’s not a very large fair, just some 50 participating galleries. But it is very nicely located, and they give a lot of benefits to participants and visitors.” She is also all praise for the home-grown Kochi- Muziris Biennale. “Venice and Kochi biennales show different aspects of art. Both have great plus points but they are very different. Venice has been there for many, many years while Kochi is a much more recent phenomenon, having started in 2012. Yet, it is rated very highly,” says Nadar.
She believes that all that India’s vibrant art scene and talent need is a little push. She continues to support artists by frequently buying and collecting works and organising large-scale exhibitions at her museum. Over the last decade, especially after starting the museum, her collection has grown manifold – from her favourite Bombay Progressives to many artists across schools, including miniatures and photographic works, it is vast and varied. She is also known for picking up Indian masters at whopping prices at auctions. “I buy works from outside the country only if something really strikes me. Otherwise, my emphasis is on patronising Indian art.”
In the recent past, KNMA organised several retrospectives of women artists Arpita Singh, Nalini Malani and Nasreen Mohmedi. Nadar feels that women artists are neglected, and that these retrospectives were part of a larger plan to show senior Indian artists. “There are several wellknown names who should be shown to the public,” she asserts.
While her endeavours in the art world keep her extremely busy, she has not forgotten her other passion — bridge! She has been an international level bridge player, having represented India on the global front. She brought home the bronze medal from the Asian Games last year when the game was introduced, and a gold medal from the 5th Commonwealth Nations Bridge Championship held in Australia. While we wonder where does she find the time, she says: “It is an important part of my life, so I keep my interest going. Bridge and art are two different passions that I would like to keep alive always.”