Experimenter's Priyanka Raja talks about the importance of posing uncomfortable questions that define our contemporaneity

For a decade now, Kolkata's Experimenter has been blazing new paths for modern, reflective art from South Asia and beyond. We ask Priyanka Raja about the challenges of navigating the changing visions

author_img Ujjainee Roy Published :  22nd November 2019 06:58 AM   |   Published :   |  22nd November 2019 06:58 AM

On Experimenter's 10th year, Raja reveals her vision

In its tenth year, Kolkata-based art space Experimenter stands as the vanguard of artistic exchange and critical thought, balancing the momentum within exploratory fine art. Priyanka Raja, who co-founded Experimenter with her husband Prateek tells us that the gallery was conceived as a mirror to our society with designs of challenging and ambitious programming.

An installation by Julien Segerd at Experimenter

Today, Experimenter represents and manages the careers and practices of some of the most crucial artists in South Asia and its programs are a reflection of the gallery’s ethos and the fundamental right to ask uncomfortable yet urgent questions that define our contemporaneity. 

How significant has Kolkata been in establishing Experimenter as a multi-disciplinary space for contemporary art and discourse?

Kolkata is one of the most forward thinking cities in the country, it’s audiences are entrenched within the arts and can cross-reference from politics, literature, philosophy and contemporary points of view as easily as it can reference from popular culture and historical perspectives. People are receptive and critical in equal measure and it is challenging for us to program for the city which makes our work evermore exciting. 

Viewers at Experimenter Ballygunge

How has your role as a curator evolved since the inception of Experimenter?

I would not call ourselves curators. A curator is a loaded word and comes with several responsibilities and needs a certain kind of pedagogic framework and education. Our artists make us see things that are ignored in plain sight. This informs our exhibition making process deeply. 

Belonging (I) by Prabhakar Pachpute

We are also acutely aware of our immediate environment and often long conversations and opinionated discussions on philosophy, politics, culture, intolerance, pluralities several such broad ideas open our view of the world. Our curatorial vision helps us to delve deeper into ourselves and what we see. 

The Experimenter Curator's Hub has been a one-of-a-kind platform for artistic exchange. In its 9th year, what is the agenda behind your chosen programs?

The Curators’ Hub is a dialogical conversation-led initiative that was organised out of a crucial need to critically discuss and debate curatorial practices across the world, to learn, converse and possibly throw open possibilities of understanding what lay behind significant contemporary exhibition-making.

Experimenter Curators' Hub 2018

The objective of the Curators’ Hub is to create a space for uninhibited discussion that celebrates free speech, dissent and constructive discourse. ECH has expanded its scope and reach manifold over the years and has grown technologically as well.

What is one of the most daunting challenges or boundary faced by contemporary curators/exhibitionists today? 

I think the biggest challenge is to remain focused and yet grow from within. If there is anything that can sustainably make a difference to our ecosystem, it is knowledge-building, sharing, celebrating multiplicities and debating contrarian points of view.  

Searching for an Old Song by Soumya Sankar Bose

How has the market in Kolkata evolved when it comes to buying contemporary, exploratory art? 

Acquiring contemporary art, especially the kind of art we show is not easy, whether it is in Kolkata or elsewhere. Often our artists are presenting works that pose questions that are uncomfortable and political. Having said that some of the most amazing private and institutional collectors from all corners of the world have supported the practices of our artists. 

Searching for Stars Amongst the Crescents, Experimenter

In Kolkata there are a handful of collectors for our kind of work and we are actively working with them to build their collections and take them closer to their vision. 

A change that you want to see in the modern art spectrum in the coming years?

A larger awareness of art and public art is something that is important. Also art education from the primary level to higher levels has to change, and move from mere pedagogy to more experiential learning. Visiting museums and art spaces for children is a habit that has to be cultivated young. 

Can you reveal anything about Experimenter's future projects?

With two galleries in the city, Experimenter Hindusthan Road and Experimenter Ballygunge Place, that show 10 exhibitions a year, an iterative project space called Experimenter Outpost, over 6 international art fairs a year and full fledged year-long Experimenter Learning Program, we have our hands full and we will continue our programming, growing deeper into our thought process and attempt to present ambitious and challenging contemporary art exhibitions. 

A few shows we are eagerly looking forward to are the solos of Prabhakar Pachpute, Sahil Naik, Biraaj Dodiya and Sohrab Hura 2020.