IN CONVERSATION WITH HENA KAPADIA OF TARQ
Built by architects Gregson, Batley & King in 1938, Dhanraj Mahal in Colaba is an art deco marvel. After you are sufficiently enchanted by its phenomenal architecture, tranquil courtyard, and charming bougainvilleas, you should find your way inside to TARQ, a contemporary art gallery launched by Hena Kapadia in 2014. Over the last four years, TARQ has not only focused on showcasing works by young, emerging artists but has also made itself a highly interactive space by hosting events, workshops, and talks. We spoke to Hena about her experiences at TARQ.
TARQ, F35/36 Dhanraj Mahal, C.S.M. Marg, Apollo Bunder, Colaba, Mumbai 400 001. Tel: 022 6615 0424
WORDS BY PAYAL KHANDELWAL
The City Story: In terms of the location of the gallery, was Colaba your first choice?
Hena Kapadia: When we opened in 2014, a lot of galleries were already in Colaba. I did investigate the possibility of opening in Lower Parel or Bandra, but commercially it was more affordable to open a gallery in Colaba, especially for the type of property we have. Also, logistically it becomes easier to do a lot of things in Colaba, because there are a lot of galleries in the neighbourhood. So we can be a part of things like ‘Art Night Thursday’, for example.
Getting the space in Dhanraj Mahal was by chance, as I was entirely at the mercy of my realtor. But I did love the building, and everything that came with the space – including my one parking spot.
TCS: TARQ is spread over two floors – is there a particular show where you were able to use the aspect interestingly?
HK: Yes, there was a show earlier this year where the space worked really well. This was ‘Wasteland’ curated by Birgid Uccia, in collaboration with the Swiss Consulate. The curator wanted to explore the gallery space spread over two floors, so we had an installation that combined both the floors.
To be honest, when I chose the place, I was a bit worried because of it being on two floors. We are used to galleries that are single floor, wider, industrial spaces. But somehow, it has worked quite well for the shows we do.
TCS: What were some of the challenges when you were starting out?
HK: Initially, logistical stuff like packing and shipping were a major headache, but we have figured this out over the years. Another thing we have hammered out is our catalogues. We always wanted to do catalogues for each exhibition, especially because we work with young artists and feel that we need to develop that writing for them. So what we do is commission these catalogues. Initially, with the catalogues, each artist wanted a different kind of catalogue which was very difficult, but now every year we do a series, and each catalogue fits into that.
TCS: It’s interesting that you are developing an identity for the gallery instead of for each artist, so at the end of the year, you have this cohesive set of catalogues. Was this a conscious decision?
HK: This was a conscious decision because every time we had to design this, I would pull my hair out. It wasn't about gallery identity versus artist identity. We privilege our artists in many ways. Having a unique design for each catalogue was just impossible logistically, especially because these are small-scale publications. Now it has become a much more streamlined process. However, we make sure that artist is comfortable with what we are doing, with who's writing the essay, how the catalogue is designed, which images are included, etc. It is still very much a dialogue, just better formatted.
TCS: You have been doing a lot of interactive events like workshops, talks, etc. Was that always integrated into the gallery program?
HK: Yes. I wanted new people to come into the place and was looking for ways to engage them. One of the earliest events we did was a poetry club called ‘Canvas Kavita’. We would send images of the current show to amateur poets so they could respond to it in verse. The whole impetus behind doing the programming can be find in the name of the gallery – TARQ, which means dialogue or discussion. I always wanted it to be a space where conversations can happen, and I think we have managed to do that.
TCS: What’s the most fun and the most tedious part about running a gallery?
HK: I love working with my artists. I enjoy the fact that I am constantly in conversation with them, the back and forth that goes on. I enjoy that closeness. I also like the fact that I get to talk to strangers who visit the gallery.
I don’t dislike anything about being a gallerist. I just really, really love my job.
TCS: A lot of people in the industry say that you are quite a workaholic. How true is that?
HK: Yes, it is true (laughs). Though I have now been consciously trying not to go crazy. Last year, we did seven shows, but the year before that we had done 10 shows. That’s when I killed myself a little bit. We are now in groove with the space and the artists, so it’s very comfortable. But I feel that anyone in this business has to be a bit of a workaholic, at least for the first five years, because there is a lot to figure out.
TCS: What’s been your most challenging show – conceptually or logistically?
HK: We did a show in 2016 called ‘In Letter and Spirit’ which had works from three artists – from India, Pakistan and the USA. Just getting everything together was a bit of challenge for that show, but we have now figured this out. We are doing solo shows with those artists. Conceptually, there has been no difficult show so far. I also feel that when a show is tough, intellectually or logistically, it’s a challenge to learn and grow from.
TCS: Apart from your regular programming, do you have anything particular planned for 2019?
HK: We are participating in two art festivals – Art Basel in Hong Kong and India Art Fair. Since 2017, we have been holding workshops for our artists to celebrate our anniversary. It’s like a weekend or a three-day get-together in the gallery. We are trying to make this meaningful for everyone. So last year, we did a writing workshop with Skye Arundhati Thomas where the artists got to workshop their Artist Statements, which has been a bit of a struggle for us as we are constantly editing the statements. Also, most artists are reluctant to write these. I understand that, and that’s exactly why we needed to have this conversation. It became a very productive dialogue. The artists also got to interact amongst themselves, which led to exchange of ideas and stuff.
Photographs courtesy TARQ