Sugar baroness to start art college in Coimbatore

Kishore Singh
That Coimbatore-based Rajshree Pathy, who heads Rajshree Sugars and Chemicals, should be at the India Art Summit in the capital should be no surprise:. She is a well-known art collector, after all. But that she should be speaking – in the morning at Religare’s arts.i booth on sculptor Prithpal S Ladi, in the afternoon at the international speakers forum on five decades of collecting – sets her apart from, well, most collectors. But, interestingly, the cards Pathy is handing out at the summit are not of her sugar and chemical business, but of a company called Contemplate:.
The card is deceptively simple, she is chairperson of whatever Contemplate: is, but nowhere on the sliver of paper does it say what it is. Yet, she says, “Contemplate: has been in my head for many years.” As it turns out, Contemplate: is almost an alias, for the actual, new business she’s getting into is art education when, in January 2011, she will launch, along with a curated show, the Contemporary College of Contemporary Art, or Cocca, along with a Cocca Museum.

“It has been my personal dream, and challenge, to put together a museum and an institution for studying art and art history, art management, curation, investment, art journalism and writing,” she explains, having wound up her short lecture on the Shillong-based sculptor Ladi. “Art has become big business in India, and there are now any number of openings for people with a certificate course in art to get absorbed in different institutions.”

Pathy, a collector herself since the age of 17 – when she bought a Husain for Rs 17,000; her most recent purchase is a Manjunath Kamath installation for an undisclosed sum from the summit – believes that art needs to evolve outside people’s homes. “It can’t just belong to the kingdom of the elite,” she insists, “not everyone may be able to afford to buy it, but everyone can enjoy it.”
Contemplate:’s Cocca institution will offer certificate courses probably in affiliation to a foreign art school – “we are in talks now”, she confirms – in the 3.5 lakh sq ft of built-up space that already exists in Coimbatore, and here she hopes to drive art fairs, seminars, residencies and curated programmes, amidst “a faculty built of international and Indian artists and academics”
Pathy’s choice of home town Coimbatore isn’t driven just by the availability of easy real estate.
“Coimbatore fits in because it is a university town with 100,000 students”, she says, “so simple interactive programmes can be drawn up to include them in the process, as a result of which dissemination will be faster. It is a small town but it could be a high quality centre for education in art.” It’s “solitude and tranquility”, she points out, make it ideal for “intellectual debates”.
Nor, says the sugar baroness, are funds a likely problem. “Money flows in if you have great ideas,” she says, and “artists are committed to education” and have offered their services voluntarily for the residential college. “It will be a small institution, but with very high quality education,” she promises.

“Globally,” she points out, “art is owned by very few people, but people are able to go out and enjoy it” – which will be an important function of the Cocca Museum. A student of business herself, she doesn’t rule out enrolling for the course herself, she half-jokes, and not because “art is no longer collected as a passion, as we did”, but because “I’ve bought art as recklessly as I’ve lived life, I never know what’s next”. Maybe the sugar heiress is finally thinking of putting her life – and her collection – in order too.
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