Introduction: Tell us about yourself, your background and what you do currently
Sushma K. Bahl, is an independent arts advisor, writer and curator; formerly, Head, Arts & Culture, British Council India. She is the author of 5000 Years of Indian Art, published in English and Chinese, and Forms of Devotion a two-volume book which won the Publishers Award, besides other books.
Sushma has spearheaded and worked on several Indian and international collaborative artistic and cultural projects, including the Festivals of India in the UK (1982) and South Korea (2005). She was the Guest Director for XI Triennale-India 2005, Project Consultant for India International Theatre Festival Bharat Rang Mahotsav X11 held in 2010 in Delhi, Jury Member for the 14th Asian Art Biennale held in Dhaka in the same year, curator of India-ASEAN Artists’ Residency & Exhibition 2012, ‘Yoga Chakra’ art exhibition in 2015 and Commissioner for SCZCC 29th National Contemporary Art exhibition in 2016.
Most recently, she conceived and curated a large ongoing international art project Forms of Devotion for the Museum of Sacred Art in Belgium. Following its launch in Delhi in March-April 2015, the exhibition was shown in Bangkok. It was then held at the China Art Museum in Shanghai and at three different venues in Spain between 2016 and January 2017.
Sushma also writes for various Indian and international art publications and journals and gives lectures on Indian culture, arts, crafts and heritage. Recipient of the British honour MBE – Member of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire – for her contribution to India-UK cultural collaborative work, and the IHC Art India Award for her curation of ‘Ways of Seeing Art’ exhibition, Sushma is associated with various cultural organisations and is a member of the Paris based International Association of Art Critics (AICA) and a trustee/advisory committee member of Abhyas Trust in Delhi, Arts Acre Foundation in Kolkata and Harjai Global Gurukul in Mumbai, among others.
Tell us about any current projects or initiatives you wish to promote
Currently, I am working on two books. ‘Aadi Anant: Artisans at Work’ which features nearly 100 craftspeople working in nearly 50 genres from around India based on personal interactions with them, is nearly finished and is due for publication by Development Commissioner Handicrafts and handloom in 2018.
The other book I am writing is on life and work of Jamini Roy. Currently being researched and due for publication by Art Indus in 2018/19.
What has been your biggest challenge in achieving your success?
The gap in the working systems between the International and Indian cultural organisations, and between public and private or corporate/NGO setups. Having worked with many of them, I see that each one has its strength and issues. Trying to work with them, involving all stake-holders and using the best practice from each domain has been both a challenging and exciting experience.
What has been your greatest achievement personally?
I would like to list three achievements here:
- To bring into centre stage artists hitherto unknown and from smaller towns onto the centre stage and gallery space instead of restricting the dialogue to often repeated ten or so biggies.
- To write what communicates to a wider audience making the scholarship more accessible as I attempted in my book ‘5000 Years of Indian Art’ published by Roli Books in English and Chinese editions.
- Bring arts in different disciplines from across the board – visual to performing arts together on a single platform through carefully curated and designed art projects such as the Henry Moore exhibition and the Festival of India during my tenure at the British Council and more recently Forms of Devotion (FoD) exhibition project for the Museum of Sacred Art in Belgium.
FoD features over 400 art works in varied media, modes and manifestations sourc
ed and commissioned from all over India, including some big names and unknown artists and featuring enormous as well as miniscule creations. Following its launch in Delhi, it toured to Bangkok, followed by a four-months run at the China Art Museum in Shanghai and then three different Spanish cities until January 2017, accompanied by workshops, lectures and performances. The two-volume book published by Niyogi Books won the publishers award and the exhibition has been receiving overwhelming response throughout.
If you weren’t doing what you do now, what would you be doing?
May be work in theatre. Whatever it had to be in cultural domain.
Who has been your biggest inspiration?
Many individuals but also travels around India and the world.
What does the future hold for you?
There are miles to go…