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Sanjana Shah – Curation beyond Walls

Updated: Feb 14, 2022

Creative Director at Tao, one of Mumbai’s leading art galleries and an independent curator; Sanjana Shah is a prudent visionary that is shaping the art scene in India with passion and benevolence. Not limiting herself to her home ground in Mumbai, Sanjana has been constantly marking the world art map with her footprints; bridging the gap between global and Indian art space.

Born in a family that understands art and space, that sees art beyond the mere wall attractions or square canvases; Sanjana developed an understanding of art and aesthetics since a young age. For her – art is not just limited to pretty things, but the translations it makes to the audience, the synergy it creates; and this binds her role as an independent curator with that to the artist and the audience. Having curated a multitude of shows and interacted with artists across all spheres of life, Sanjana found a home in narrating these pieces to the audience. Beyond curation, she enjoys writing. Communicating the vision of the artist to the audience is one of the key responsibilities as a curator and her love for writing ensures she is able to give justice to this vision.

Sanjana graduated with a dual degree of BA in English Literature and the WPP Communications work-study program from the Parsons – Indian School of Design and Innovation, Mumbai. She also has completed a summer course at Christie's London titled ‘Human Creativity across Time and Space’ and two at the Sotheby’s Foundations in Contemporary Art and Introduction to Curating.

Sanjana spent her childhood thriving on art and culture. Her vacations included accompanying her mom on art tours across borders. This infused in her a love to know and understand different cultures, art forms, and styles. Her interest in history and sociology also seemed to flourish. As a child, her interactions with Hussainji and Razaji instilled in her a profound curiosity about the world around. The conversations shaped her creativity and gave form to the imagination, paving way for new perceptions to blossom. Attending art exhibitions engraved a deeper appreciation for Art. Adding to this, at home she witnessed her mom, paint and bring a vision to reality. She says, “My mom couldn’t tolerate empty walls. So, every house I have lived in had a presence of art.” For Sanjana, art has had an omnipresent existence in her life. Art fills her with energy and is reflected in her passion for building a more beautiful world.

As she grew up, what stayed with her was the childlike innocence that an artwork carries. As a child interacting with artists, gave her the opportunity to channelize her innocence into awe-inspiring ideas and concepts. She used these to paint alongside her mother and later these mirrored in her writings. Gradually, these interactions helped her think about business and the art gallery with a wider spectrum. She doesn’t limit herself to curating and showcasing art. For her, an art gallery is much more – a stage for an artist to perform, collaborate and grow. She plans to take Tao to a higher level by culminating in different art forms and a platform for art connoisseurs to appreciate and celebrate art.

She never faced any pressure from her mom to take over the gallery, but while interacting with artists she feels at home. Completing this is her strong communication skills, ability to ask the right questions, and understanding and articulating the artists’ vision, she decided to step in as the Creative Director of Tao in 2018. Building on the foundation laid by her mom, she is merging ethics with ideas and opening doors of the gallery to all the art-lovers out there.

She recalls – “Cohesion Within Chaos” – a show that she put together at the end of 2018 to be one of her favorites to date. Inspired by the French salon-style hanging, Sanjana dug through the in-house inventory of Tao to mix and match small format works to put together. This brought forward an intellectual discourse and a topic of discussion as to viewing and presenting art. Curating an interesting variety of art forms and artworks alongside one another gave her the opportunity to exhibit creativity with a dramatic flair. Being consistent yet breaking the monotony of the space with her curatorial vision is what makes this memorable.

Her plans for the coming years include collaborating and branching out into the wider spheres of art. She aims to create new synergies by exploring the other dimensions of the art world. Not just limiting herself to the gallery, she is paving her way into art consulting. As an art consultant, she hopes to light the areas of Spatial Design, Art Pricing and Art Buying for the new generation art collectors. She wants to break the boundaries of art synonymous with canvases and sees an amalgamation of fashion and theatre into her curatorial journey.

A challenge she sees in the art industry is the lack of knowledge and awareness among the art buyers and collectors. Their decisions are heavily influenced by their architects or interiors which leads to not-so-solid investments in art. Indians need to learn to appreciate art and see it beyond a décor piece. People need to step up from just buying the classical arts and dive into the contemporary arts too. There is still an awe of abroad when it comes to buying art that Indian Art Galleries and Artists suffer. A paradigm shift in mentality is required to overcome this challenge and see a difference in the purchasing power when it comes to art.

Art is not a commodity neither a stock market and collectors and lovers of art need to be conscious about this. Buy art for the pure joy it emits and feel the connection. Buy Art so your family can enjoy it as a legacy. Drown in art not trying to understand what it is but how it makes you feel. Savour Art and see it beyond the wall on which it is hung.

To artists, Sanjana says – “Be super clear about your purpose of creating Art”. Do not get carried away or influenced by what is selling. If everyone creates that, it won’t sell. Don’t overthink, just keep on creating. Use your own life as your inspiration. Never create to please others, create it to find yourselves. Find the mood of Ikigai through Art.

Pandemic has made us value art connection. We have each individually experienced a range of emotions. The need of having a cultural outlet in every city has resurfaced. Sanjana says art doesn’t need to make us feel intimidated, art is an expression. “Galleries are looked as vicious sharks” – Sanjana aims to burst this stereotypical prejudice and make galleries a space to walk-in just to appreciate and experience art without having any need to buy art. And, this vision she has already started working on at Tao.

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