written by Shivangi Ladha
In January 2020, galleries and art spaces throughout the city of New Delhi were glittering with fanfare, welcoming audiences and showcasing talent with one event after another in tandem with Asia’s biggest art event—the India Art Fair. ArtBuzz Studios took a leap of faith with a highly experimental printmaking exhibition called Pushing Print, in collaboration with India Printmaker House and curated by Bess Frimodig, a practicing interdisciplinary print-based artist and curator based in Delhi and London.
The thought behind the title Pushing Print intended to showcase how far reaching print can be—political, critical and socially engaged as well as participatory. Prints were hung from the ceiling, on pillars, low and high to make the viewer take them in by physically moving around. Case in point, there was a clothes rack of wearable prints (etching on fabric) imitating skin diseases made by printmaker Sheshadev. The audience literally embodied the works, breaking the interaction barrier further by trying them on for selfies—an exercise in empathy. Another point of interaction was a screen-printing station in the middle of the room where visitors could make their own prints as a takeaway of the exhibition experience.
The show was well-received with feedback that spoke of an inclusive, playful event—one visitor expressed that it was the least ego-tripping art event she had ever been to, something ArtBuzz studio consciously set out to do. Exhibitions that focus solely on printmaking are currently rare in India, and the aim of the studio is to challenge the normal and represent printmaking as a contemporary practice.
Historically used by the British as a medium to expand the profitable export market of India, printmaking developed as an artistic practice towards the end of the 19th century. Raja Ravi Varma became one of the first artists in India to experiment with printmaking during this time, and his oleographs gained popularity as they were accessible to the masses. As a medium of fine art, printmaking gathered steam in 1919 when the Tagore brothers established Kala Bhavan in Kolkata, a salon-style institution for printmaking and painting that took on the gurukul approach of community learning with artistic techniques using technology. A century later, the First Print Biennale India was held in 2018 by the prestigious Lalit Kala Akademi in New Delhi, an endorsement that prompted all eyes to shift to this art form.
India is catching up. Slowly but surely, printmaking is making its impact on the art circles as the intensely technical and skill-driven mode of artistic expression that it is, claiming its worthy spot in the radar of younger artists and collectors. The Indian art fraternity is taking notice, like ArtBuzz Studios, India’s first privately owned artists’ co-working studio space that set up a fully equipped printshop in 2018. Increasingly becoming a catalyst for dialogue between artists, curators and community organizations, ArtBuzz is a neutral place for artists to come together and work in a contemporary twist on the gurukul legacy. Identifying a lack of support for young artists in India, the co-founders Anubha Gupta and Amisha Chowbey aimed to build a vibrant and eclectic community, an inclusive space that inspires critique and collaboration.
The following is an excerpt of conversation with the co-founders of ArtBuzz Studios, Anubha Gupta (AG) and Amisha Chowbey (AC), about their journey with setting up a studio and printshop in New Delhi:
What is your organization’s origin story?
AG: Amisha and I always wanted to do something for the artist community since we established ArtBuzz India, and what better to do than to bring them together in creative space? That is exactly what we set out to do and we’re happy to see that we’re well on our way to achieve it.
AC: When we were looking at different studio models, we felt that a solid support for printmaking was missing and it fit right in with our vision for the space. All spaces that catered to painters and printmakers were either in colleges or government institutions like Garhi that had a very complex and stringent application and selection process. So we set out to make a space that is more flexible, modern, and approachable to artists as a creative work space.
In what ways has the printshop evolved since you first opened?
AG: Since we’re not artists by profession, it took us a while to understand the process of printmaking, the right equipment required and the peripheral support that an artist would need while using the setup. We’ve focused on first educating ourselves about the technique and assessing the voids in the field so that we can work towards filling the gaps, which the artists help us with. I think we are more aware about what we want to do now in creating a niche for printmakers and we will continue to evolve and learn on the job to provide a more artist-friendly platform for emerging printmakers of the country.
How do you engage with your local community (e.g. workshops, print fairs, exhibitions etc)?
AG: Most of our major programming is based on collaborations with our peers and young artist groups. When it comes to the printshop, we have worked extensively alongside India Printmaker House, an initiative to promote young and emerging printmakers. Together we have hosted numerous workshops like the Summer Print Club (2019) and a collaborative exhibition called Pushing Print, curated by Bess Frimodig, earlier this year and served as their venue partner for the Manorama Young Printmaker Award and residency, making it an active engagement throughout the year. It’s always great to work with like-minded artist-run groups, as they are a great match to our sensibilities.
AC: Basically, we have always tried to be approachable to any collaboration as long as it involves our studio space being used in its best capacity by artists. We have had a series of workshops by a dynamic group of illustrators called Blue Jackal, hosted interactive art walks with other cultural venues around us called the Okhla Art Walk, showcased works by artists who work from the studios in prestigious spaces like Lalit Kala Akademi, HT Imagine Fest and so on.
What is the most used or popular type of print making among the artists in your printshop?
AC: Our space is mostly used by artists who have recently finished their studies and are experimenting beyond what they have learned at art school. We see a lot of etchings taking shape, and recently, there seems to be a fascination for monoprint amongst the studio members—so lots of colours and experimentation.
What is a challenging aspect of running, managing, maintaining a printshop that you have experienced?
AG: One of the main challenges we have faced is wastage of materials and organization of the setup. Since we don’t have a designated person handling the space on our payroll, it gets a little difficult to track the consumption. It also led to disorganization since the setup was being used by different artists. With time, things have fallen in place and the artists have gradually started working together in keeping the setup as organized as possible, respecting the practice of other artists. It’s great to see the artists coexisting and working together with us to create a cohesive space to work in.
AC: We learn and grow on the job, and that’s what keeps things interesting and exciting at all times. I think at the end of the day, we love what we do, connecting young creators and providing them an extremely neutral space to work out of. Above all, it’s a happy place!
ArtBuzz Studios is India’s first co-working studio space for artists and creative professionals in New Delhi. Established in May 2018, it continues to function as a great place for like-minded artistic community members to come together. For more information, visit their website artbuzz.in and follow them on Instagram at @artbuzzindia.
Lalit Kala Akademi https://www.lalitkala.gov.in/showdetails.php?id=424
Raja Ravi Varma, Saffron Art https://blog.saffronart.com/2013/01/23/raja-ravi-varmasoleographs-the-making-of-a-nationalidentity/
India Printmaker House https://indiaprintmakerhouse.com/
Blue Jackal https://www.bluejackal.net/
Bess Frimodig http://www.bessfrimodig.com/