Indian Philanthropist And Art Collector Kiran Nadar Discusses Her Artistic Journey Throughout The Past Decade

BY Iman Vakil / Jul 17 2020 / 09:00 AM

Launched in 2010 by committed collector and philanthropist Kiran Nadar, the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art is the first private museum in India, showcasing both modern and contemporary art stemming from the subcontinent. A decade later, Nadar muses on seminal retrospectives, political challenges and her delayed plans for the future

Indian Philanthropist And Art Collector Kiran Nadar Discusses Her Artistic Journey Throughout The Past Decade
Indian philanthropist, Kiran Nadar

Kiran Nadar’s introduction to art was later on in life, as a form of interior design. After finding herself drawn into the work itself, Nadar began collecting and learning hands-on of the regional movements and dialogues through her own research and attendance of exhibitions, galleries and auctions. Founded on the basis of her extensive collection, Nadar hopes the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art (KNMA) will instigate “a backward situation, where children will influence their parents.” To holistically foster an intersectional museum culture, she invests in art education.

The non-profit organisation currently operates two spaces in New Delhi and Noida and has exhibited artists from Ramachandran, Anish Kapoor, Arpita Singh, F N Souza, Jamini Roy, Jogen Chowdhury, Krishen Khanna, Bandi Abidi, to M. F. Husain. In 2019, KNMA curated the Indian pavilion at the Venice Biennale. Continuing its plethora of workshops, symposiums, public programming and outreach projects, KNMA has recently launched several digital exhibitions on Google’s Art and Culture platform and online competitions for children.

Installation view of Kiran Nadar Museum of Art

Consistently committed to education, the Nadar family has also established a research-led university, an engineering college and a boarding school in India’s most marginalised communities.
Witnessing a positive shift in the museum’s reception, exhibition attendance continues to be a challenge, despite being situated by a mall to demystify the act of museum-going.

“Considering India has such a heritage of art, the interest of Delhi public is very limited,” summarises Nadar. “Initially when we started going out to schools and asking the principals if they would like to send kids to the museum, they were very indifferent. Today we have a minimum of five schools a week.” Nadar reaffirms that Delhi in particular, “is a completely bureaucratic city.

For the expansion of art, the government must give it emphasis and must realise the importance that art can play in the development of a nation.” In ten years of exhibitions, Nadar started “basically, with works from the core collection.” Going on to mount increasingly rich and diverse retrospectives of overlooked South Asian artists, she found the display of the trajectory of an artist’s practice to be the most rewarding and appropriate in light of institutional paucity.

Installation view of Kiran Nadar Museum of Art

Often focusing on female artists, Nadar recognises, “They have not had the kind of acclaim that male artists have had in India. Woman artists need to be visualised much more today, worldwide,” pointing out that the disproportions in representation are not limited to the region.

Having held retrospectives of Nalini Malani, Rameshwar Broota, and Arpita Singh, Nadar is particularly proud of the international recognition that her retrospective of Nasreen Mohamadi led to, with the artist’s early sketches, linear drawings and later photographs travelling to the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía in Madrid, and the Met Breuer in New York.

An installation view of Twice upon a time by Nalini Malani

With the rise of right-wing radicalism, violent sectarianism and oppressive legal frameworks dismantling citizenship and Kashmiri autonomy, Nadar is surprised to see little engagement from contemporary artists. “There should be much more comment, in whichever way they put it out. It is a very destructive phase for India,” she reminds us, “and it has gone into a worse state. It is still happening somewhere in the back of the page, behind everything, but with COVID […] we don’t see anything else.”

COVID-19 has also forced the KNMA to prematurely close its retrospective of Zarina Hashmi and postpone its promising plans to build a new, monumental museum space with progressive British-Ghanian architect David Adjaye. But Nadar is optimistic. “There is going to be a difference in our lives,” she predicts. “The way we have treated the world has been terrible,” she adds, stating that both socioeconomic inequality and culture, “have not been given the importance that they have needed. People have a lot more time to follow what’s happening in the world, rather than just be in their own world. This is the time to grow museum culture.” 

Images courtesy of Kiran Nadar

From the Summer 2020 issue of Harper's BAZAAR Art