WOMEN OF LOVEBIRDS
04 PRIYA JHAVERI
FROM COLLABORATING WITH ARTISTS FROM DIVERSE BACKGROUNDS AND CREATING A MAGNIFICENT SPACE CONDUCIVE TO SHOWING ART TO MELDING HER PERSONAL STYLE WITH AUTHENTICITY AND IRREVERENCE; INDIAN ART SCENE’S INDISPUTABLE FORCE AND ONE HALF OF JHAVERI CONTEMPORARY, PRIYA JHAVERI TELLS ALL IN A CANDID CONVERSATION.
1. You have a very diverse collection of art and an array of artists that you represent. Is there a unique approach to the selection? How has this evolved over the years?
Priya: Amrita and I are drawn to practices that are materially driven and thoughtful and the artists in our roster, which is transnational and intergenerational, are further united by an engagement with South Asia.
What began as a mandate to show artists from a wider diaspora has evolved into a programme additionally invested in more marginalised positions (overlooked art historical figures for instance or pioneers of certain methods/processes (weaving, colour photography) or artists set apart by considerations of gender and sexuality) – and the staging of carefully curated thematic exhibitions.
Over the years, we’ve become as excited by discoveries (young, old, dead – we are not ageist) as the very making of exhibitions. Keeping collaboration central to our work, conversations with colleagues in the wider field of art – writers, curators – help us think through propositions for exhibitions, to probe connections (or dissonances) that might be interesting to explore. We really enjoy this process.
Finally, we take immense care to install each show so that these arguments are amplified and the work can be shown/experienced in the best light possible.
2. You have a breathtaking studio space with very impactful design elements. How important is it or difficult has it been to create this immersive arena to stage your art?
Priya: Thank you. We were very lucky to find the gallery’s current home.
JC was a shell when we inherited it (no glass in the windows, no electrics or plumbing, no walls suitable for installing artworks), however it had many of the right attributes: history, character, light, volume. Beyond this, it offered something virtually impossible to find in our city – a view! (The gallery is on the third floor of a heritage building with large windows and balconies that look out onto the Gateway of India and the Arabian Sea. This outward-looking feature resonates strongly with our values.) All in all, a resounding YES.
A lot of work went into the making of our gallery. The difficulty, or challenge rather, was recognising what to restore and what to renovate; and I very much hope we’ve got this balance right. In the end, we kept our interventions to a minimum, retaining as many of the space’s original features as possible (Burma teak frames, raw walls) while creating an environment conducive to showing art.
3. You have recently re-imagined your brand identity. Can you tell us a little bit more about this rebirth?
Priya: This was long overdue. We’re a very small team and a new website that captures a decade of exhibitions, fairs, and publications is a big undertaking. While the original site mirrored our work as a project space, the new site (and identity) had to represent our role as a gallery, one that keeps artists at the core of its mission. A subtle but significant shift.
The year that was 2020 gave us time to collaborate with the wonderful Sthuthi Ramesh, who has also developed our identity. Ramesh looked to Le Corbusier, Bauhaus’ modernism, Wabi-sabi…but more directly to the particulars of the gallery’s interiors. Four colours now represent JC: blue of the gallery’s rafters, red of its floors, orange and beige of its raw walls and reclaimed teak windows.
4. You are the powerful, modern Indian woman that we as a brand seek inspiration from and aspire to dress. We want to understand your style and what fashion means to you. How do you translate your ideologies into your sartorial choices/practices?
Priya: That’s kind of you to say.
I value style if we’re thinking about it more broadly, along with authenticity and irreverence, but fashion less so. This doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy fashion – I do very much, in fact – rather I don’t actively follow trends. I wear things that I feel suit me, that feel natural and comfortable, and I tend to gravitate towards more classic silhouettes. I love irregular details – a pocket here, a button there – and patterns that are graphic, playful, sometimes even delicate. Beyond this, it’s quite simple: if I’ve got to think about it too much, it’s not working.
My hankering for beautiful things notwithstanding, I’d like to own fewer things, to consume less. I’m not there yet, but I’m working on it.
5. We understand that you're a conscious shopper that supports sustainable fashion practices. Do you think the two industries of art and fashion stand in similar positions in the long road to complete sustainability?
Priya: I’d like to be a more responsible shopper. Over the past few years I’ve found myself drawn to smaller, local businesses that are mindful of more sustainable practices.
Coming to your second question, I’d say the fashion industry is far ahead in terms of sustainable practices. The art world has taken a step back in its enthusiastic embrace of NFTs.
The pre-pandemic art world wasn’t kind to the planet either: constant travel, art fairs, crating and shipping of works of art around the world, all in all a very heavy carbon footprint.
6. Just like our designer duo at Lovebirds, Jhaveri Contemporary is a collaborative venture between you and your sister. How did this partnership come to be?
Priya: Like the best things do, accidentally.
Amrita and I had worked on a book together in my early days in publishing and realised that we made a good team. I was at a crossroads when she encouraged me to get involved in the art world – it’s not something I’d ever considered or wanted for myself. It took some convincing at first but it’s been 14 years and I haven’t looked back.
As sisters go, it’s the classic case of two different people who are on the same page a lot. We’ve got our clear strengths and proclivities – Amrita is more adventurous for instance, I’m more cautious; she’s got the bigger picture, I get lost in the details – but we value the same things, even like the same things. At the end of the day, we’re family. We’ve got each other’s back.
7. Your style advice/favourite trends of the moment.
Priya: I’m hardly one to give style advice!
On a different (but perhaps related) note, I’d like to say that one of the bigger challenges for us as gallerists has been engaging people with the art itself rather than the art market. Too often, people are interested in (the words are Matthew Arnold’s) “the grand name without the grand thing.”
PRIYA JHAVERI IN LOVEBIRDS SS'21
IMAGES BY: SAHIL BEHAL
LOCATION: JHAVERI CONTEMPORARY, MUMBAI