From reflection to resilience – how Tao Art Gallery blends physical exhibitions with online content

In this exhibition interview, Sanjana Shah and Urvi Kothari of Tao Art Gallery showcase the resilience of the art community during the pandemic.
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Vigilance and agility are the need of the hour in the pandemic era, according to Sanjana Shah, Creative Director at Tao Art Gallery, and Urvi Kothari, Gallery Manager. The ongoing pandemic is playing havoc with the art industry, and many exhibitions and festivals have been cancelled, postponed, moved online, or resorted to limited viewing.

Tao Art Gallery in Mumbai celebrated its 20th anniversary last year, with an exhibition titled The Tapestry of Time. It featured the works of 70 artists with a wide range of forms, styles, media, and themes (see our four-part coverage here).

The gallery’s current exhibition is titled Gaze, Reflect & Gather, and will continue until April 20. One activity, the Splash Art Workshop, was held last weekend, but the next workshop on Decoupage has been postponed due to the rise in coronavirus cases.

The artist lineup includes Akshita Gandhi, Dishakha Yadav, Illesha Khandelwal, Manish Chavda, Rahika Hamlai, Santosh Jain, Sharvari Luth, Surabhi Chowdhary, Vijit Pillai, and Vipul Prajapati. They come from Mumbai, Delhi, Kolkata, Hyderabad, Nashik, Vadodara, Ahmedabad, and overseas (Oman).

See also YourStory Mediacompilations of Top Quotes of 2020 on Art in the Era of the Pandemic, Indian Art, Art Appreciation and Practice, and Beauty and Business of Art.

Sanjana and Urvi join us in this three-way chat on the creative mindset, pandemic challenges to the artistic community, and resilience approaches.

Edited excerpts of the interview below:

YourStory [YS]: What was the vision behind the current exhibition?

Sanjana Shah [SS]: The vision behind this exhibition was to understand better the artist experience of this past year and help the common citizen resonate with this experience — the pain, the angst, the frustration, the joy, the freedom, the evolution.

This year has shown us the unpredictability of our world, and through this show, I hope to bring out the similarity between the abstraction of art and the abstraction of life! The experience for us all has been varied and beautiful and we are united in our surrender to it.

I believe that in the face of life’s unpredictability, as in art, our role is to be a bystander, to gaze, reflect, and gather.

Sanjana Shah (L) with Akshita Gandhi

YS: How were the artists and their artworks chosen?

SS: I wanted to work with new artists Tao hadn’t displayed before – so most of the artists in this show are first-timers at the gallery. I also wanted to work with a variety of artists from different age groups and cities across India.

So we have Santosh Jain from Delhi, who also comes into a more sensitive older age group and is still staying safe at home. Then, we have very young artists like newly graduated Surabhi Chowdhary who is from Kolkata.

I also chose variety in practice and mediums, from photography to abstract canvas work, and also mixed media. In many cases, artists used whatever material was available to them during in the lockdown, as shown by artists like Vipul and Santosh.

All artworks, barring a few, were created either during the lockdown or directly inspired by the experience of the year 2020. As this March marks exactly a year since India was hit by COVID-19, I thought it would only be fitting to curate works created as an expression of the experience of this time.

Tao Art Gallery

YS: How did your gallery manage to sustain activities during the pandemic period?

SS: I think the art world in totality recovered pretty quickly and was incredibly resourceful in adapting to the new normal. I decided to immediately go online with our exhibitions and one of our first exhibits was a virtual travel photography one that opened in May 2020, Through the Lens.

Over the year, we did a lot of social media activity to keep our audiences engaged. I was a part of a few Zoompanels and other discussions with artists and other gallerists to come together and ideate on innovative ways to bring art to everybody’s home.

As people spent more time in their houses and resigned to work from home, at least for the near future, I saw a spike in the number of people wanting to re-decorate or invest in art. Art, after all, is the crucial aspect that livens up homes, giving character and depth!

Therefore, we were thankfully able to remain afloat and do surprisingly well even in this period.

Urvi Kothari

YS: How did the experience during these tough times affect morale and motivation? How did you bounce back?

SS: This experience was tough – and in many ways it still is! I think the fear is what gets to you after a point. And the uncertainty. In a world where everyone likes to be in control, it’s tough to give that sense of surety up.

I did struggle in the initial days, a lot of plans — travel, personal, professional — were off-roaded and suddenly, everything was still. I think the calmness for me was unnerving. However, as time passed, I learnt to slowly take each day at a time.

Slowly but steadily one tends to adapt –  it is perhaps the best thing about being human. This period showed me what I was capable of surviving and what truly mattered. Such perspective is rare and I am grateful for it.

The bouncing back was done by realising that we already have all that we need — love, belonging, and family. I decided to enjoy this as a time that may never come back, a time to introspect and do all the things I love but never had time for.

 I think when you are able to find small things to live for daily, morale and motivation are naturally built!

YS: What special precautions are being taken for a safe viewing experience?

SS: As is the norm, mandatory social distancing in the gallery with masks and a limited number of people is implemented. We also deep-sanitise the venue on a weekly basis and push clients to make prior appointments.

So far, everybody has followed the rules and we’ve kept the gallery premises safe.

Surabhi Chowdhary

YS: What is the approximate price range of the artworks on sale?

SS: The artwork goes from approximately Rs 20,000 to Rs 6,00,000. It is quite a spectrum as I wanted to include variety in the artists being showcased.

However, overall the range is in the affordable art category and the more expensive works are usually proportional to the size of work and stature of the artist.

YS: What online activities are going on for sales of art or viewing art online?

Urvi Kothari [UK]: With audiences more diverse than ever before, online browsing tools have become complimentary for all our shows. With the idea of breaking geographic boundaries and expanding pathways to make our art accessible for all, we have a downloadable catalogue available on our website.

Trying to acquaint our collectors more with the artists, we have planned a series of artist talks, studio visits, and Instagram takeovers. This will allow our audiences to gain a window into the minds of our artists — their thoughts, inspirations, and concepts.

This show is all about encouraging everyone to introspect! Trying to create a more participatory experience, we have planned some interactive question tabs on Instagram for our followers, encouraging them to reflect on the year gone by.

Lastly, a virtual walkthrough video is made available on our social media platforms for clients who may not make it to the gallery for physical viewing.

Sharvari Luth

YS: What is the general reaction in the artistic community about overcoming these pandemic hardships?

SS: Different artists have had different experiences. It was tough for some, especially those who took inspiration from their interactions with the outside world through travel and exposure.

However for others, it was a cathartic period of self-growth as an artist. The isolation helped most of them to try out a variety of practices that they perhaps didn’t have the time to before!

However, the one thing that unites each and every artist is the creation of work. They all had the urge to express, and it is through their art that they get a conduit to do so. The art helped them to make sense, to rationalise, or at least, accept, the situation.

No matter how upsetting or enlightening the experience of the pandemic was, every single artist could not stop using creativity as a release for expression.

YS: What kinds of audience feedback are you getting so far?

UK: We have been receiving great feedback from our audiences. It is absolutely astounding to see people come in and truly connect with the artworks. Some nostalgically reflect back on their experiences during the lockdown months while viewing Santosh Jain’s sketches, while some transport themselves in the cycle of time and space while gazing at Akshita Gandhi’s psychedelic prints.

The window displaying stunning pieces by Radhika Hamlai and Sharvari Luth have truly allured many to come and view the show in person. Overall, people have been experiencing a plethora of emotions under the same roof.

Artwork: Santosh Jain

YS: How are the workshops being received? What is the audience and artist response?

UK: This show is all about introspecting and reflecting on the year gone by. What better way to express these thoughts by creating your own piece of art while being surrounded by art itself.

So, as a part of our ongoing show, we have planned a Splash art workshop —– an art therapy session in collaboration with Trishna Patnaik. This workshop is quite well received and we have been receiving signups.

It would be a great way to allow one to escape from the hustle-bustle of life and let emotions flow in their purest form. All of our artists are very excited to see the final artworks that the participants take home.

YS: What are the next steps for the gallery this year?

SS: Our calendar is currently being filled up with some very interesting shows. I am excited to have the gallery open again and while online shows and e-catalogues will continue, nothing can substitute this physical experience of the art.

We will continue with our previews and workshops in order to give people that personal experience, maintaining all precautions. I look forward to an exciting, innovating and ever-growing 2021!

Dishakha Yadav with Urvi Kothari (R)

YS: What are your words of advice for aspiring artists?

SS: I think that the only advice I can give is to never stop engaging with your art. Your art is yours and the best way to nurture it is by being involved in it as completely as is possible.

During the good and bad times, happy and sad moments, creatively inspired or creatively stifled moments, let your art guide you – and let your gut guide your art! I have always believed art to be the very primary human instinct to create, convey and connect.

YS: What are your parting words for our audience?

SS: Art is for everyone! The whole purpose of art is for the artist to express and the audience to express in response. It is a two-way process!

So, I urge everyone to step into the gallery. All this show asks its viewer to do is to gaze and reflect upon the emotions the works trigger in order to gather your own thoughts.

Art is a mirror! Please come in and enjoy this invaluable experience of being one with yourself.
Edited by Saheli Sen Gupta

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