Arts of the UK 2020: An Interview with Kaneka Subberwal, founder of Indigo Advisory
LONDON – Kaneka Subberwal, the powerhouse behind one of the Middle East’s biggest art fairs, ArtBAB, has launched a new company, Indigo Advisory. Indigo will provide art learning, collector advice, art and luxury auctions and a platform to shop and purchase artisanal items.
Indigo Learning will give artists and art entrepreneurs access to affordable virtual and online educational courses. Indigo Collectible will see three online auctions held every year, giving collectors the opportunity to access art and artisanal and luxury objects from India and the Middle East. Indigo Life will produce curated collections of artisanal fashion and home goods, with a strong focus on the environment, sustainability and ethical production.
With such a new initiative, the best way to find out more about it is to talk to the founder herself. We spoke to Kaneka Subberwal about the decision to launch Indigo Advisory, details on what it hopes to achieve, and ultimately, the accessibility of arts in a COVID-19 stricken world. Read the interview in full below:
Bakchormeeboy: Hi Kaneka, the last time we spoke with you, you were busy promoting ArtBAB’s Singapore debut back in 2018. As someone who is a veteran in the art scene, how would you say Indigo Advisory differs from your previous initiatives, and what made you decide to start it? (Could you also comment on the company’s name, and why ‘Indigo’?)
Kaneka: Hi, yes time flies! So, ArtBAB was one of the projects Artselect conceived, created and managed. It was the largest we’ve done so far. Over the past 15 or so years, Artselect, which started as a ‘platform of, for and by people in art’, grew to create exhibits around the world, art lounge concepts (we were the first in the region to introduce these 10 years ago), build art investment portfolios and so on. ArtBAB grew that experience to focus on the creative wealth of a nation which could be communicated across borders, whilst bringing the global arts fraternity to a common ground.
Over four editions of a successful art fair and showcasing the artisanal strength of the artists of Bahrain, our journey which had launched at the V&A in London concluded La Biennale Paris 2019.
In school we had a motto: “There’s no excellence without labour”, and this was one part of it. The further theory to it is (this is my version) “if excellence isn’t challenged, it will not grow”. And that’s how Indigo was born, with the aim to wrap all my past experience together and spread it over a wider global platform from art to artisanal design, communication, the creative alternate. There’s always another way forward – we just need to push our boundaries.
It’s funny you should ask about the company name, I can’t take any credit for it. The brief was inspired by someone I trust. I was told to think about depth, art, legacy, colour and authenticity. I kept flipping through images and photos and came across an installation we once did with these organic drapes suspended from the ceiling. Guess what – they were Indigo!
Bakchormeeboy: Because of COVID-19, multiple art fairs this year have had to cancel or postpone. Some of course, have opted to go digital, with online versions of the fair. Would you say that this is what the future of art fairs looks like, and is it comparable to having a real life art fair?
Kaneka: I am an old school veteran and I am personally am all about touch and feel; these are irreplaceable things. Having said that, adapting new ways and forms is the only way forwards. “The more you learn the more you grow.”
I have seen the online art fairs and think the efforts are commendable. As far as the future of art fairs goes it’s a question that I keep asking. Today Covid-19 has changed the narrative but, that aside, we must ask if the current format of the fairs could have continued without changes.
Having created an art fair, I am a firm believer of the concept but, that said, I do believe the current format we have followed over the years needs another look. We introduced artists as an integral chapter at my fair, it wasn’t the norm, but ended up being a key feature.
Being a past gallery owner myself, I used to run two galleries in Dubai, I know the challenges and have a huge amount of respect for those who maintain the balance of the best quality of art, manage artist relationships, establish price points to cost points, and more. This in itself is quite a feat. Yet the thread binding everything together is the artist and this needs more focus. We also need to take a step back and evaluate how much can be absorbed. I don’t just mean visually, but we must ask questions such as are we allowing new galleries to come in? If there are 500 galleries at an art fair, how many are actually getting visibility? If they are fantastic then maybe they are seen. If not then the time to think and re-assess is today. I believe a correction is in order and I feel it can only benefit this industry.
Bakchormeeboy: Indigo Advisory seeks to provide advice to collectors, art learning, auctions and as a platform to shop for artisanal items. What makes Indigo Advisory different from the platforms and organisations that already exist in the market?
Kaneka: The art consultancy continues to be Artselect’s forte, along with the art related education. Indigo Advisory aims to be a platform to realise the Global Creative think tank acquired by Artselect. The commerce and Business of Art is often a topic that is not addressed headlong for the fear of ‘being commercial’. But we shy away from the obvious – how can an industry run without commerce? The creative industries today contribute to a significant portion of most economies so we should be looking at ways to maximise this.
Artselect and Indigo Advisory are sister companies and so have a dual edge of mapping creativity across borders of genre, culture and form. They exist to grow and strengthen this creativity with knowledge and education and to finally realise these things in a format that is self-generating and sustainable.
Bakchormeeboy: What kind of educational courses can we expect to see offered from Indigo Learning? Is there a specific aim this arm of the initiative has in mind with its educational aspects?
Kaneka: I sat on a panel for Russian Art Week in London a few years back and my opening statement was: “I have the least education in the field when compared to the rest of the panel, but what I do have is experience. I started learning on the field, I’m learning today and will continue to learn even when I’m teaching.”
I think there is a requirement for practical knowledge for those who are educating; yes, the definition of this would typically differ across regions, whilst most may have it, there are many who are still finding their balance. Knowledge is needed on both sides with the artist and the galleries and those acquiring the art.
Bakchormeeboy: With Indigo Collectible, you will be working with artists from India and the Middle East. What made you decide to focus on these two areas in particular?
Kaneka: Indigo Collectible will focus on emerging markets, artists, artisans, the Middle East and Africa. These are thriving hubs with so much potential to tap into. India with its number and talent, the skills in Eastern Europe. The focus is vast!
Tapping into potential and giving it a platform from which to communicate has always been our focus.
Bakchormeeboy: Indigo Life has a focus on environment, sustainability, and ethical production when it comes to its collection of goods for sale. But the words ‘ethical’ and ‘sustainability’ are also often associated with a hefty price tag. With the current state of the world economy, how will people still be willing to invest in luxury products such as these?
Kaneka: Being a self-starter and first generation entrepreneur, my proof of concept, viability and feasibility come from a practical perspective. I believe in being hands on and establishing a proof of concept and then endorsing it. Plans and projections are great but the joy and accomplishment of creating that drawing testing it is priceless.
I used to run a homegrown enterprise before I started collecting art around 20 years ago. The homegrown business started as a need for pure, breathable, and practical clothing. It successfully ran its course until it was time for me to ‘sketch a larger canvas’ but the ideas remained and waiting to be re-visited. Purity is priceless and true but the skill lies in making it affordable, so it becomes a way of life.
Bakchormeeboy: Ultimately, what is your view of art and accessibility? Is it something that is reserved for the upper echelons of society? Or is there a way or purpose for those who come from humbler backgrounds to be able to own and appreciate art and artisanal products in their life?
Kaneka: You’re asking my favourite questions! If I had to ask someone to write something for me this would be the first question because no one has ever asked me how did Artselect come about and this addresses your question.
I walked into a gallery exactly 18 years ago, a 25-year-old woman in my joggers and sneakers. It was my first step and, until then, I had never waited to be served. I learnt my lesson the next time, I walked in with hair done, the right bag and shoes and I was shown 42 canvasses with starting prices of $20,000 USD. I bought nothing. Instead, I walked across to an exhibit by a group of artists and picked up the entire collection. That was the birth of Artselect.
Who defines an art buyer? Who forms the art community? Who is a collector and why? Luxury is a true reality true but will it remain viable? What are these nuances except borders, barriers we set for ourselves? What makes me better than you? Am I? Or is it just that I give myself comfort?
I remember Artselect’s first exhibit at the Grand Hyatt in Dubai. Who does an art exhibit in a hotel? We did and today it’s a normal occurrence. Who does workshops and exhibits under one roof? We did and today, again, it’s the norm. Who has artists themselves at an art fair? Artselect did this with ArtBAB and, now, look around you.
In the first edition of the fair, someone said to me, “We didn’t meet any collectors”. That is because a true art lover will come, acquire and leave because they buy the art for themselves, not just to be known as a collector.
Emerging markets and artists are a reality and the future and they need ‘emerging collectors’. A million may mean nothing to one person but 1,000 means a lot to someone else who has worked for it and today wants to invest, to start investing in art. Let us not restrict who can be a collector, let us not isolate people because, when we don’t, we can start to see the future.