Delhi-based art collector and patron of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, Shalini Passi, talks about her journey in the world of art, favourite art-collecting destinations, key finds of this month and more. By Priyanka Chakrabarti

Shalini Passi

How did you get interested in art?

I always had a sense of aesthetic appreciation. When I was at school, I learnt to observe artworks in terms of colour, form and texture. As I grew up,  I learned more about specific styles and movements in art, and my  appreciation developed a deeper level of meaning. I am drawn towards  creativity; it’s what drives me. I started the Shalini Passi Art Foundation to channel this energy into an initiative that I hope will play a significant role in developing and promoting a contemporary Indian aesthetic, by giving a platform to young emerging artists and creating opportunities for them to experiment and expand their practice.

How are you making an impact with – MASH (My Art Shalini) and Shalini’s Art Foundation (SPAF)?

The Foundation supports and encourages experimental new artistic practices through its series of awards and through MASH, which acts as a platform to showcase emerging artists and provides a vast source of information on institutions and events. Additionally, the Foundation’s programme of exhibitions, curator-led tours, and lectures on art and design seeks to broaden education on the arts.

What was the first piece of art you purchased? And, from where did you buy it?

One of the earliest pieces of art that I bought was by the Modern Indian artist Ram Kumar, from Vadehra Art Gallery. His works sit somewhere between abstraction and naturalism, and I love that he aspired to work in an art language that would be just as comprehensible in London or Paris as it would in Delhi; this resonates strongly with my own personal style and artistic expression.

Please tell us about your top favourite art-collecting destinations.

Where to begin! The galleries in Delhi and Mumbai are close to my heart and remain firm favourites. Berlin, New York, and Paris have been the centre of the arts world for decades (if not centuries!) and will always have a draw for me. Increasingly though, places like LA have really taken hold of the art market, and I love visiting the contemporary galleries here. Now that my son is studying there, I visit much more regularly and am continuously inspired by the work on show.

When it comes to blending art with history and travel, where do you like to go to soak in all of these?

That would have to be Paris and Rome. Both are extremely sophisticated culturally; they are steeped in history and have nurtured some of the most famous artists to date, and yet they manage to balance this perfectly with contemporary lifestyle and fashion.

Tell us about your key finds this month.

In this past month the Kochi Biennale opened for its fourth edition. Having a biennale like Kochi is huge for India! It creates a platform without commercial agenda to showcase interesting new work and, as India’s largest contemporary art event, it is always something I greatly look forward to. Some of my favourite discoveries from this year’s edition of the biennale included the performance-based artists VALIE EXPORT and Guerrilla Girls, both of whom challenge the idea of a mainstream narrative by revealing the under-story – the subtext – in politics, art, film, and pop culture. While they have been creating work in Europe and the US for some time now, they are rarely shown in India, so it was amazing to find their work in Kerala! 

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#collateral #kmb2018 Michelle Poonawalla’s collateral project for the Kochi-Muziris Biennale builds on her increasing interest in larger scale interactive installations and the use of new digital technologies in her artistic practice. This exhibition expands on the work in her most recent exhibition in Mumbai which used mapped projections and motion sensor technology. Poonawalla’s multimedia installation – 'Introspection', was born from a sense of discomfort and unease with the way images of violence and displacement are consumed today in endless news cycles. How do we acknowledge and articulate the numbing and apathy caused by this phenomenon? With this piece, Poonawalla has turned to sound, using a combination of audio clips from news as well as ambient sounds to create an intensely physical, immersive experience. The journey through this experience begins with sound and moves on to the visual with a 360-degree projection of torrential blood-rain, signifying the senseless violence and trauma described in the audio clip. The experience ends in a moment of catharsis as the fiery rain is washed away by a cacophony of butterflies that flood the screen, symbolising the final liberation of the soul. Using fragments of audio clips from newsreels combined with ambient sounds and motion sensor technology, Introspection creates a highly visceral and eerie experience which Poonawalla hopes, will push the audience into a contemplative space. Exhibition Details Venue: Tennis Court, Cochin Club | 7, St Francis Church Rd, Fort Kochi Dates: 12th December to 12th February  Timings: Open everyday | 10 am to 6 pm @michelle_poonawalla

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Tell us a little bit about the curation at the Kochi Biennale.

This year’s edition of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale is curated by Anita Dube, whose work I have followed for many years now (and her installation Theatre of Sade is possibly one of my favourite pieces in my collection). From feminism to consumerism, Dube’s art delves into some of the most pressing issues of our times, and for this fourth edition of the biennale she has placed a real emphasis on including marginalised artists, and using the biennale as a platform to give exposure to these voices. The invited artists offer glimpses – and sometimes questions – into a different mode of living, outside of established hierarchical structures. For me, this freedom of expression through art is what makes interesting and though-provoking work; art should be used as a medium to explore and share new ideas.

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#collateral As part of the Collateral Exhibitions for this edition, we have 'THOUGHT IS ALSO A MATTER' curated by Raju Sutar Artists: Hrishikesh Pawar, Rajesh Kulkarni, Sandip Sonawane, Vaishali Oak, Raju Sutar Organizer: artexperiments.com Venue: VII/35, Jew Town Road, Jew Street Dates: 12 December 2018 – 29 March 2019 The idea of thinking is embedded in the larger science of the human brain’s dense matter and how is this density of the matter through ‘chemical messengers’ able to communicate ─ How does it works on our minds and on different levels of our existence, conceptual or otherwise.  Does the thought go beyond the matter itself? Considering the thought is also a matter then the question arises, what is not a ‘matter’? With these question in mind, the curator wishes to pass these questions of mind and matter to the viewers. The next performance by Hrishikesh Pawar will be from 11th – 14th January, 2018. @rajusutar

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How consequential has travelling been in your life considering the fact that you are an artist and you thrive on creativity?

I seek inspiration wherever I go, so the more that I travel the greater the opportunity to experience new ideas, methods, styles and aesthetics. The inspiration for an artwork doesn’t always come from art either; last year we spent a wonderful summer exploring the Amalfi Coast – there is such incredible natural beauty there, it is truly awe-inspiring.

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After almost three decades of experimenting spontaneously as an artist, PR Satheesh has arrived upon a free-flowing form to articulate his visualizations. On view at Kochi-Muziris Biennale 2018 are recent oil paintings by the artist and drawings which were inspired by his walk through the forest adjoining his farmland in the middle of the night. The trees and natural life become animated in the darkness, while animals peer through thick vegetation with glowing eyes. Satheesh believes the time he spends in his studio in Kochi adds an entirely new dimension to this experience; the anonymity that the city allows him balances the mundane, tangible familiarity that is specific to his ancestral village. His engagement with the contrast between the two experiences — one that he lives while he is at home, and the other where he recollects those visions in the isolation of his studio — reflects in the layered visuals that compose his work. #prsatheesh #kmb2018

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What are the things one should keep in mind while travelling for art?

That depends, traveling to collect can be different to traveling for inspiration. There are some very interesting artists coming out of South East Asia at the moment. If you want to see the Masters then head for one of the major European cities, but if you’d like to discover something new then perhaps try Indonesia. The real joy of art is the personal process of discovery; you have to be prepared to go on an adventure.

What are the top destinations worldwide to experience art?

There are the classics such as Paris, London, and New York – as mentioned above – but cities like Berlin are exciting for discovering art: here there is a confluence of the historical with the subversive. Places that have experienced great change are often the most interesting for discovering truly great art.

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Heri Dono’s art practice emerged from his training in Wayang, a form of Indonesian puppetry that evolved from the spread of Hindu mythology and Tholu Bommalata storytelling from Southern India. The humor, folk elements, and characters present in the works expand beyond the conventional pretexts for Euro-American visual art, as his interdisciplinary foregrounding of music, storytelling, and commentary on sociopolitical issues provide a starting point for viewers to interpret his work from diverse backgrounds and geographic origins. 'Smiling Angels from the Sky' is an installation of hanging sculptures, with ten “angels” who don pleasant, enthusiastic faces and resemble toy airplanes. Dono presents the angel as a universal symbol of hope for the future that isn’t tethered to any singular tradition or religion, and can therefore be appreciated by any who comes across their winged forms. @studiokalahan #heridono #kmb2018

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Lastly, in the Indian sphere, which city is big on the art space and why?

That’s a good question! When it comes to Indian art, Delhi and Mumbai are undoubtedly the forerunners; they each have their strengths. Both cities have highly reputable galleries and while Delhi has India Art Fair, Bombay has Mumbai Gallery Weekend and a number of other great arts initiatives. There are several other Indian cities that are strengthening their arts offering as well: I’ve been a longstanding Patron of the Kochi Muziris Biennale and it’s great to see new institutions opening in different regions such as the Museum of Art and Photography (MAP) in Bangalore. 

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