In 2014, when Hena Kapadia opened the doors to her art gallery in south Mumbai, she wanted to create a friendly, welcoming space around art. These are not typically words associated with the art world. (Or, for that matter, with SoBo.) But ask creators, buyers and lovers of art if TARQ has succeeded in its mission and the answer would be a resounding yes.
Kapadia was keen on inclusivity, not just preserving the accepted hierarchy that places the wealthiest buyer at the highest rung of the gallery ecosystem. She tells us, “This whole idea of ‘Oh this [artwork] is available for you but not for anyone else’—we don’t do that. The idea is everyone should feel happy coming here.” Thanks to this approach, TARQ attracts many who are looking to make their first serious investment in art.
TARQ’s commitment to inclusivity and joy in art made it a perfect partner for Sarmaya and the first stop in our four-part series of collaborations with gallerists who have influenced our collection. This series kicked off in August 2021, when we opened our show Shifting Selves – Between meaning, mythology & mirage with three artists who work with the gallery, Saju Kunhan, Saubiya Chasmawala and Rithika Merchant. The show juxtaposed objects from other genres of our collection with the paintings of these brilliant young artists.
Of Shifting Selves and the Sarmaya collaboration, Kapadia said in her catalogue note: “It is thrilling for me, and gratifying in a sense, that the artists we work with are being exhibited with artwork that has stood the test of time. It is even more meaningful that the practices of artists at TARQ can hold their own thematically across time and space, whether the works are in conversation with the numismatic collection, traditional Indian art, or even senior contemporary artists. The thoughtful and meticulous curation of the show also put together three artists that we work with, that I would have never thought to put into the same exhibition.”
We spoke to Hena Kapadia about the show and her own journey with founding TARQ. How did she come upon its winning formula? Where does she discover all these original new artists? And what according to her is the role of the physical gallery space in the increasingly digital world of art? We have all the answers.
When did your personal encounter with art begin?
“I’ve always been interested in arts; my mum is an art historian. But I have no skills and for me, it was not a career option. While I was completing my undergraduate degree from Tufts University in Boston, I happened to intern at Sakshi Art Gallery with Geeta Mehra. It’s when I realised that this was a job, and one I could be very good at. I love the business part of being a gallerist, but I also love the art part of it. So I double majored in art history and economics, and then did my masters at Christie’s Education in London.”
What was your intention with TARQ?
“I moved back to Mumbai in 2012 when the art scene was still reeling a bit after the ’09 crash. There was no place that was seriously showing younger artists’ works. You had a lot of group shows, and then you’d never hear of those artists again. So I opened TARQ with the intention of having a space where younger artists could show very seriously. Where we could build a community. I still feel the art world is a little bit alienating. Gallerists are perceived as intimidating. I wanted to support younger collectors, so they could support young artists. I knew a lot of people who want to buy art that will appreciate and find the stuff out there too expensive.”
What do you think a gallery like TARQ can do for artists who are starting out?
“You know, I had an artist tell me the other day, ‘If your gallery show does well, you’ll get 500 people in a month. I get 500 people with my Insta Story in 10 seconds.’ And they’re not wrong. But I believe the gallery does something valuable for young artists. For one thing, whether we like or not, institutions are central to the art world. Institutions are able to preserve the legacy of an artist by preserving their works. Secondly, artists don’t like to do what we do. I see us as agents and managers to the artists. Lastly, I wanted to work with artists in my generation. If you don’t support people of your own generation then who’s going to do it.”
Talk us through your process of discovering new artists.
“Ooh it’s lots of fun! It’s very organic and happens through friends, curators and other artists, who have now become friends.”
How have you formulated for yourself the role of the contemporary gallerist?
“One of the biggest questions in our space is, how does a gallery survive the death of a gallerist? Nobody knows what’s going to happen, for instance, to the Gagosian Gallery after [Larry Gagosian] dies because this role is completely based on relationships with artists and clients. With TARQ, my idea was to create a gallery that is a creative space where people feel comfortable to come and have conversations about art.”
How did TARQ grow into this role?
“I think it’s been the most exciting journey ever, especially in terms of working with artists and building a community around them. We don’t just buy and sell art. For example, we do artist workshops with the artists we represent. If there’s an aspect of their work, like archiving or contracts, that we notice artists are struggling with, we get experts in that orbit to conduct workshops. On one hand, it’s skill-building, but on the other, it’s immense community-building. We started these annual workshops in 2018 and for the past two years, they’ve happened online because of the pandemic.”
What kind of challenges has the lockdown thrown up for the gallery?
“During the pandemic, while our focus on community has not reduced our ability to do things for the community has. Online engagements are simply not as rich as in-person engagements. Especially with things like workshops, film screenings or walkthroughs, which are centred around physical objects. But what we have been doing is staying open by appointment for the safety of our visitors.”
What’s your secret to drawing new collectors or first-time buyers to TARQ?
“Understand what the person in front of you is looking for—accept that and go with it. The first-time buyer is usually someone who has just moved into a new home and is looking for art for their walls. We walk them through the gallery and work with their requirements, whether in terms of décor or budgets. When we started, we would bring collectors from different walks of life to our gallery through programming. But now the word of mouth is strong enough that people who were my target audience from the beginning have started coming to me organically.”
Tell us about the collaboration with Sarmaya.
“It’s been very exciting to see how this exhibition has come together. I think the Sarmaya collection builds bridges. Shifting Selves validates what we do here with the historical connections it draws; you have coins from medieval India in conversation with the work of someone like Saubiya. And that’s what TARQ means—debate, dialogue and discussions.”
What are your personal impressions of the three artists in Shifting Selves?
“With all of them, it’s their practice that draws me. Saubiya gives so much of herself to her art. Every time we do a studio visit or a phone call, it’s something new and exciting. Saju’s work is just incredible. He’s very quiet but his work speaks volume. Rithika creates such beautiful, delicate art and shows such a meticulous attention to detail—makes her a real joy to work with.”