Devi Art Foundation - expanding access to artwork and art practice

An interview with SOUTH SOUTH Ambassador, art collector and Devi Art Foundation co-founder Lekha Poddar

Devi Art Foundation emerged from collectors Lekha Poddar and her son Anupam Poddar expanding their personal interests in art to facilitating wider public engagement with artistic practice and curatorial interventions. At the centre of the Foundation is a contemporary art collection with works from India and other parts of South Asia. By presenting art from all over the subcontinent, the Foundation hopes to invoke a sense of shared history within the region. Connected to this are their Education and Outreach Programmes that intend to encourage seeing art as part of everyday life.

SOUTH SOUTH interviewed Lekha to find out more about Devi Art Foundation.

Installation view, Suññatā Samānta: Emptiness Equality, 2020.

Installation view, Suññatā Samānta: Emptiness Equality, 2020.

SOUTH SOUTH (SS): What inspired your desire to get involved in the art scene in India through collecting and other interventions?

Lekha Poddar (LP): Like many collectors in the world, I too do not come from an art background. I was fortunate that I had some great mentors who introduced me to the art scene in India, which led to my journey of collecting.

SS: What has become a central approach or consideration for how you think about your collection and the act of art collecting?

LP: What I would like to express is that in the late 1990s and early 2000s, I started becoming active in the Contemporary Art scene in India, because of my son, Anupam Poddar, who was friends with artists of his generation. We started the collecting together and our focus was on Contemporary Indian Art. Our collection has evolved over time. Through connections and friends, we got in touch with organizations and artists in the contemporary genre in South Asia. Over time, our Collection has grown and we have added, contemporary art works from South Asia, contemporary textiles from India and art reflecting the various living traditions from India, too.

SS: Where did the idea for Devi Art Foundation come from? How has your vision developed since you began 2005?

LP: In the early 2000s when the economy in India started to open up, people from all over the world came to India for new business opportunities. Many of them were art enthusiasts and collectors. A lot of people were being directed to our home to experience the mood of contemporary art in India. And so, in 2005, Devi Art Foundation was born out of a desire to facilitate the viewership of creative expression and artistic practice of Contemporary Art of South Asia. We hoped to invoke a sense of shared history within the region. We envisioned that the Collection would enable wider audiences to interact with cutting edge and experimental artworks.

Subodh Gupta, High Life ll, 2002.
Lekha and Anupam Poddar Collection.

We envisioned that
the Collection would enable
wider audiences to interact with
cutting edge and experimental artworks.

SS: Could you share more about the collection at the heart of the Foundation? Why do you think it is so important that these works be accessible in this way?

LP: Some of the works that we have in the collection are seminal. When we started to buy contemporary art in India, it was the start of something new. Because of the internet, artists could explore art globally. They were not focusing on traditionalist or modernist types of art but were becoming more expressive of their contemporary idiom. A new style of art was emerging in India. Because we were one of the early buyers, we were privileged to collect groundbreaking works by some of the younger artists, who are now considered quite important in the Indian context.

SS: Collaborative learning, outreach and public programming are essential pillars of the Devi Art Foundation. How did this become a critical part of the Foundation’s work?

LP: We believe that the diversity of the collection can become an important resource for learning. The Foundation renews its commitment towards integrating art into the discourse of public life by creating invigorating Education and Outreach Programmes. We wish to imbibe a culture wherein art does not remain cloistered within the confines of institutions and becomes a matter of active discussion and debate. It is our hope that such focused attention will make art an active presence in people’s lives and will enthuse them about the many kinds of artistic practices that are present today.

SS: The Devi Art Foundation also offers opportunities for those without a direct connection to curatorial practice to explore exhibition-making. Could you expand on your thinking behind this?

LP: By treating the collection as a resource, we wanted to offer an opportunity to people not in curatorial practice to come and create dialogues and conversations that were and are still important. We made it a point to keep the selections diverse and the conversations real.

SS: Looking at the current crisis globally, and specifically the second wave in India, how are you envisioning the role of the Foundation?

LP: We are looking to engage more with the educational aspect of things. We are working at opening up our Collection for research, aiding educational programmes under the aegis of the Foundation in India. Since SOUTH SOUTH has a global reach, we would like to take this opportunity to the young people all over the world to engage with our Collection. We would be thrilled if we could reach out to young creative minds through this platform and offer our Collection as a resource to curate online exhibitions, undertake research or suggest other conversations that we could take forward.

Background (left): Golnaz Fathi, Untitled, 2011.
Foreground: Amir Mobed, Candles, 2004.
Background (right): Afruz Amighi, Poppy Garden, 2007-09.
Lekha and Anupam Poddar Collection.

C. Bheda, Flying Rug, 2011.
Lekha and Anupam Poddar Collection.

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Installation view, Maneuvering through Featured Lines: the art of Mahbubur Rahman, 2009.

Installation view, Suññatā Samānta: Emptiness Equality, 2020.

CREDITS

Images courtesy of the Lekha Poddar.

Click here to find out more about the Devi Art Foundation.

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