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Issue 243

A New Art Space in India Takes a Wrong First Step

Despite a lackluster inaugural exhibition, Hampi Art Labs shows promise as a revitalizing institution in the region

BY Rahel Aima in Exhibition Reviews | 25 MAR 24

In the southern Indian state of Karnataka, a sinuous new art centre rises out of the red earth. Founded by billionaire megacollector, patron and ART India founder, Sangita Jindal – with daughter Tarini Jindal Handa serving as creative director – Hampi Art Labs, according to its website, promises to ‘create cultural links across the Global South’.

Exterior shot of Hampi Art Labs, 2024. Courtesy: JSW Foundation

Built on the private land that houses JSW employees, the art centre, designed by Mumbai-based firm sP+a, takes inspiration from the magnificent bouldered landscape of the nearby Tungabhadra River. Its snaking, manicured roof has been dubbed ‘the Hampi High Line’, in reference to its New York counterpart. (A sculpture park is to follow.) Although located some 30 kilometers away, the centre takes its name from the nearby UNESCO site of Hampi, in the kind of marriage of ancient civilization, cultural tourism and contemporary art that has become particularly popular in Saudi Arabia and Egypt.

Lubna Chowdhary, The World They Had, 2018, ceramic, 50 × 213 cm. Courtesy: the artist and Sangita Jindal Collection

The Jindals are longtime champions of the arts in India. Known primarily for their robust, South Asia-focused collection, they also support the talks programme at the India Art Fair in New Delhi. Unfortunately, Hampi Art Labs’ inaugural show, titled ‘Right Foot First’ – considered the auspicious way to embark on something new in Hinduism – falls a little flat. Curated by Phalguni Guliani, it pairs works from the Jindal collection in rather reductive thematic couplets. For instance, a ceramic skyline in Lubna Chowdhary’s The World They Had (2018) is teamed with Balkrishna Vithaldas Doshi’s spare, elevation drawing-like canvas, Untitled (2013); while a Tollywood-meets-Hollywood pairing aligns Atul Dodiya’s painting of a character from Satyajit Ray’s 1963 film Mahanagar (Arati, 2003) with Andy Warhol’s undated serigraph, Marilyn Monroe. But taken individually, there are some especially rewarding works here too, such as Reena Kallat’s Vortex (2022), a thumbprint of electrical wires, with each loop and whorl replicating a disputed riverine boundary. Additionally, the decision to include Manish Nai’s crushed aluminium piece, Untitled 1 (2018), is a satisfying nod to Hampi Art Labs’ steelworks setting.

Atul Dodiya, Arali, 2003, enamel paint, synthetic varnish and acrylic epoxy on laminate, 1.8 × 1.2 m. Courtesy: the artist and Sangita Jindal Collection

A number of works, like Praneet Soi’s Srinagar Archive (2016) – a floor arrangement of painted papier-mâché tiles detailing Kashmiri visual motifs – reference regional artisanal practices. In this, perhaps we might consider the exhibition effective in its indexing of the centre’s concerns: landscape, preserving Indian craft heritage and nurturing South Asian artists ‘from soil to coil’, to borrow a JSW slogan. Of the three shows planned annually, one will be dedicated to craft, with a particular emphasis on supporting local traditions like the austere, unglazed black pottery and banana-fibre products that are typical of the region.

Praneet Soi, Srinigar Archive, 2016, acrylic and gouche on paper mache tiles, 30.5 × 30.5 m. Courtesy: the artist and Sangita Jindal Collection

Far more exciting is the way Hampi Art Labs functions as much-needed infrastructure for the Indian art scene, beginning with its well-equipped, well-funded residency. The scheme’s five current artists – Bhasha Chakrabarti, Sharbendu De, Madhavi Gore, Promiti Hossain and Anirudh Shaktawat – come from disciplines that range from zero-waste sculpture to performance and photography. Crucially, there is no production imperative and, as Gore puts it: ‘How many residencies are available for a woman pushing 50 in India?’ Moreover, the steelwork factory that looms so large over the landscape, both physically and affectively, offers artists the chance to fabricate at a scale that hasn’t thus far been possible in India. Remarkably, there’s a sense of an institution willing to take its time as it waits for the dust to settle. While it might have gotten off on the wrong foot, Hampi Art Labs feels like a major step in the right direction.

Interior shot of Hampi Art Labs artist studio, 2024. Courtesy: JSW Foundation

‘Right Foot First’ is on view at Hampi Art Labs, in Toranagallu, India, until 31 May.

Main image: Exterior shot of Hampi Art Labs, 2024. Courtesy: JSW Foundation

Rahel Aima is a writer. Her work has been published in ArtforumArtnewsArtReviewThe AtlanticBookforum, friezeMousse and Vogue Arabia, amongst others.