Brush framed: Art Archive zooms in on Delhi artists, art scene

Dipanita Nath

New Delhi, February 18 Asia Art Archive (AAA), considered the world’s most extensive public database of art and artists, is gearing up to expand its India chapter this year. What makes the archive more important is that all material — catalogues, photographs, monographs, exhibition details, reviews, critical notes, press-clippings, brochures, leaflets, images of artworks and books on individual artists and art practice — is available free online at

For the past few months, AAA has been documenting the Delhi art circuit and has collected material on contemporary city artists such as Kanchan Chander, Anita Dubey, Ram Rahman, Manisha Gera Basvani, and Vibha Galhotra. The genres covered ranges from paintings to new media.

“All you need to know about these artists is now available at the click of a mouse — PDF-formatted books on them will soon be available on request,” says Nabodita Sarkar, AAA’s India researcher.

A non-profit organisation, the Archive was formed in Hong Kong in 2000 — a product of “frustration with the lack of resources in Asia, London or elsewhere one could get information on Chinese art,” says Claire Hsu, co-founder and AAA executive director.

Sarkar faced a similar stumbling block while studying art history at MS University in Vadodara. “Though the university has an extensive archive, I found a lack of visual materials and books on several contemporary Indian art, artists and art movements,” she says. “In contemporary Indian art, especially, there was very little research material available in most Indian libraries and archives.”

Sarkar says unlike Western art that is well documented by critics and historians, studies on Indian art, especially contemporary art, are scattered. “There was an urgent need to collate all the information on art and artists under one umbrella,” she says.

The database would serve not only art students but also those interested in educating art. Though the archive has data on artists based outside Delhi, like Shilpa Gupta, Jehangir Jani, Nikhil Chaganlal, Yusuf Arakkal and Vinod Dave (settled in New York) among others, AAA’s main thrust on the rest of India is only about to start.

In 2008, Sarkar says, AAA will begin documenting artists in Kolkata and Mumbai before moving on to other cities. “The digital archive has excited artists and art galleries. The Palette Art Gallery, Bose Pacia Nature Morte, Gallery Espace, Bodhi Art, Art Konsult and Devi Art Foundation have made available a lot of archival material on artists they have worked with,” she says.

Events like the Kala Ghoda Festival, Khoj Live ’08, Nandan Mela, Lalit Kala Academy’s Triennale will feature in the archive. The website’s ‘world events’ section will have ready information on exhibition by Indian artists.

The Archive also provides the AAA Martell Contemporary Asian Art Research Grant every two years. The $10,000 grant for 2007 was awarded to Rahul Bhattacharya, who is researching performance art practices in India from the 1950s to the present. “There is a growing interest in contemporary Indian art, with many artists being represented in international exhibitions,” says Chantal Wong of AAA. “But there was no systematic documentation of these exciting developments that risk being lost.”
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