Shared Narratives: The First Non-Profit For South Asian Art In The GCC Is Here

BY Ayesha Sohail Shehmir Shaikh / Mar 17 2019 / 20:53 PM

Ishara Art Foundation will be the first permanent and independent non-profit foundation in the Gulf region for contemporary South Asian art

Shared Narratives: The First Non-Profit For South Asian Art In The GCC Is Here

Nada Raza, Artistic Director of Ishara Art Foundation and Smita Prabhakar, Founder of Ishara Art Foundation. 2018.

Launching 18 March 2019, Ishara Art Foundation will focus on the shared histories between India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, Nepal and Sri Lanka, through a series of exhibitions and events. Spread across two floors in Dubai’s thriving Alserkal Avenue, the foundation will be a hub for nurturing upcoming and established South Asian artists. The word ‘Ishara’ originates from several languages including Hindi, Arabic and Swahili, denoting to “hint or gesture”. 

“Ishara is my contribution to the country where I have enjoyed great success, and where I have made my home, a way of sharing my passion for the art and artists of the region I come from,” says Smita Prabhakar, entrepreneur and founder of Ishara Art Foundation. Smita has been based in the UAE for over four decades and avidly collects South Asian art. “I have collected and am inspired by contemporary Indian artists, and see a space for their work to be appreciated and understood here in the UAE, where there is a global audience with a growing interest in international art.”

Shilpa Gupta, Detail from 'Untitled', 2015, Carbon on paper, 46 x 68.6cm. Courtesy of Galleria Continua.

The foundation’s inaugural exhibition Altered Inheritances: Home is a Foreign Place is an insightful collection curated by the artistic director of Ishara Art Foundation, Nada Raza. The exhibition will present the works of Indian artists Shilpa Gupta and Zarina, exploring the ideas of belonging, migration and the effects of geographical dislocation. Home is a Foreign Place (1999) by Zarina explores the journey of an expat, migrant and refugee. Known for her use of lines on handmade Indian paper, the artist uses 36 woodblock prints to draw on her personal experiences and memories of moving away from home.

Altered Inheritances - 100 (Last Name) Stories (2014) by Gupta navigates through universal transition and movement between countries, through compelling forms created using materials such as metal car parts and textiles. The work is inspired by families who adopt new identities as a result of migration. “I have followed Shilpa’s work closely over a number of years, she is a thinking, sensitive artist with great conceptual ability and a strong social conscience,” says Prabhakar. The intergenerational collection includes almost 40 works by the two artists, shown together in one exhibition for the first time. “The exhibition brings together works from the 1970s to the present, interwoven into a dialogue around displacement and loss but also ingenuity, emotion and poetry,” she says. The architecture of the exhibition has been inspired by Zarina’s home from her childhood in Aligarh, India.

Shilpa Gupta, 'Unnoticed', 2017, C-print mounted on dibond, fragmented spare motor parts, 123 x 172cm. Courtesy of the artist and Galleria Continua

Smita met Nada Raza, the Artistic Director of Ishara Art Foundation in 2018. Together, the pair expanded on their shared interest in raising awareness of South Asian art, turning an idea that was formed over a number of years into reality. “We want to be a space that grows audiences for South Asian art, provides in-depth knowledge, and surprises and appeals to both sophisticated and general visitors, shifting stereotypes of art and cultural output from the region,” says Prabhakar.

In partnership with Alserkal Avenue, the non-profit organisation serves to increase artistic and cultural exchange between budding and established artists through Dubai’s flourishing art hub. “Alserkal Avenue has developed footfall and has an audience, and we hope our arrival will help diversify that audience.” The foundation will also be home to various monographic presentations and group exhibitions, providing South Asian artists with a dedicated and perpetual venue in the UAE to showcase their work. “By hosting thought provoking shows, I hope that we will be able to interest the international communities that live in the UAE to come visit and go away with thoughts that have emerged due to their visit to the Foundation.”

Through the Ishara Art Foundation, Prabhakar hopes to inspire South Asian art in the Gulf region reaching local, as well as international, audiences. “We have gone from being a marketplace to a cultural destination and Ishara can be a part of that story.” 

Altered Inheritances: Home is a Foreign Place will run 18 March-13 July 2019 at Ishara Art Foundation.

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