Prateek and Priyanka Raja look back and look forwards after 13 years of Experimenter Gallery’s annual Curator’s Hub platform
ArtReview What motivated you to start the Curator’s Hub? It’s something that’s beyond the general practices of a commercial gallery.
Prateek and Priyanka Raja The curators’ hub was born out of a deep urge to learn. It was originally rooted to our own curiosity but very soon we realised that these were conversations that were urgent and one had to organise them for a much wider audience. It was a response to the need of the hour, which is really how a contemporary programme should function, since it’s a reflection of the time.
We had just started our programming in 2009 and were encountering such incredible exhibitions taking place all over the world, but found no place to know more or to speak about these exhibitions and learn from the amazing minds who had given them shape, had thought intensely about the ideas that anchored these exhibitions and literally brought them to life. We were quick to also realise that in other geographies the role of non-commercial institutions was significant, we had no such institution in a country as large as India (we still do not have such an institution) and if we wanted to pursue our need to know, we had to build this dialogue from the ground up. And that is exactly what we did and continue to do 13 years on. It felt like a responsibility, and a way to give back to the community we represent.
AR Does the way in which curators think affect the ways in which the artists you work with think?
P&PR For us, how we work with artists and how our program evolves is a very personal decision. It is a reflection of ourselves and the moment of time we are in. They speak about the challenges they had to face, what they felt their successes and failures were, how they thought about what they did at the time and in hindsight. Of course, very often when curators speak of working with artists, especially over long durations (time and durational relationships with artists are of deep interest to us) we think of our own relationship with the artists we work with and how those conversations and relationships evolve over the years and maybe subconsciously there are strands of thoughts that stay behind from the Hub, but the Hub remains, as always, a very organic and fluid system. We feel it leaves seeds of thoughts in people who participate, not just for us but for the curators, the artists, the general viewers, the collectors, the writers and the representers of other institutions alike who attend it.
AR How has the hub evolved over the past decade? What (if anything) has changed?
P&PR The Hub has remained anchored to what it started out to be and we think that there is a central DNA of the Hub that will never change. Such as, being a space for free thinking, a fearless platform for discussing and debating openly contrarian points of view respectfully and constructively, embracing an openness that allows for mindfully reflecting of where we find ourselves and what our possible future may hold. These things are core to it. What has developed over the years is of course the advent of technology and the way we share, learn and build from knowledge. Also, emergent voices and urgent issues are increasingly palpable just below the surface and needs a space for them to be discussed. The Hub was always such a place and now we find that to happen ever more. With curator Natasha Ginwala’s close involvement with the hub, there are year-long conversations of how we want the hub to evolve while, over time, she has also nurtured the Hub beautifully. We feel that there is a sense of care that has evolved over time and the audiences and curators feel the need to be ensconced in that space more than ever before.
AR Has the hub informed how you operate within the workings of the gallery itself? Has it created different ideas regarding the immediate and distant landscapes in which you operate?
P&PR The Hub reinforces to us every time how crucial these conversations are, and how it is so important to take a pause and reflect. It serves almost like a punctuation in time. Its nature is such that one thinks about ideas spoken over time. Many of our past participating curators often return as audiences and a large part of the general audience is also a repeat audience. The repeated thinking over the successive editions of the hub is a crucial aspect of the way one thinks. Within the gallery there is always an excitement as the Hub approaches as we think of what possibilities the Hub may throw up. And as we said before, ideas are birthed often in constructive discussion and then there are long term impacts of those ideas.
AR There’s a balance within successive hubs of the local (as in the context of India/Indian diaspora) and the international. Is the idea to create a global standard for curatorial practice or to build on how the one informs the other? And are there examples that you might point to regarding how this works?
P&PR The world is learning to look more inclusively but there is a long way to go. It is not easy to shed pre-conceived notions and challenge one’s core beliefs. The Hub allows for that to happen with the diversity of thoughts that the distinct group of participating curators bring to it every year. While geographies are important, what is more important is what is being said or done in those geographies. So yes, although the successive hubs have an inter-geographical mix of participating curators, for us it is important to recognise the voices that bring up these conversations and what they are saying. The Global South, for example, has become increasingly important over the years, the conversations on gender inequality and the role of women artists and curators as well as the overlooked practices of artists are all things we discuss very openly and fearlessly at the hub.
AR We live in times of rapidly changing geopolitics. Some of which inform the workings of the artworld and some of which do not. Do the hubs to any degree reflect different ways of dealing with this?
P&PR Absolutely and most definitely we do this actively. We confront these issues as they are – in their most bare forms. The contemporary art world cannot work in its own bubble. Artists are confronting issues, especially politically fraught and difficult topics all the time and these topics are always spoken about in detail at the Hub. We also come to terms with harsh realities of a divided world, the atrocities that have been committed and are continuing to be committed in indigenous lands and the erasure and re-writing of histories. We speak collectively about so many of these crucial ideas at the Hub and is one of the main reasons that we all look forward to it each year because it becomes a shared space of learning and caring.
AR Do you have particular expectations of this year’s event?
P&PR The beauty of the Hub is that it often brings out the most unexpected responses and reactions from the participants and curators and that is something we look forward to each year. The space of nurture and care paves the way for this intimate form of sharing that in turn lays the ground for future possibilities. Over the last few years we have been inviting a guest speaker, people who have been trailblazers in the crucial work they do and also people who have worked against all odds to stand for the most difficult choices. This year we are fortunate to have Jacinta Kerketta who is a poet, a journalist and an incredible voice for the Adivasi communities of Jharkhand, where she is from. Her work has brought to light gender-based violence, especially against women and displacement while questioning the apathy of governance. It would be amazing to hear her speak and to learn from her.
AR How do you see the programme moving on in the future?
P&PR We will continue to do what we do with single minded focus. We look at ourselves as translators of a particular moment in time and the custodians of a space that cradles free and fearless thinking. The space for such discussions is very quickly diminishing all over the world, visibly very much so in India. We hold this space sacred and want to continue to protect and nurture a position of dialogue and conversations so we can pave the way for a sustained alternate thinking process. We want to bring to the Hub more curators and thinkers who are able to hold a mirror to us so we are able to see ourselves without the guises and the protections we have set for ourselves and continue to challenge our ways of seeing and experiencing the world.
Experimenter Curators’ Hub returns for its 13th edition at Experimenter – Hindustan Road on 24 & 25 November 2023, in partnership with ArtReview.
Register now through this link. The Hub will also be live-streamed on artreview.com.