Yamini Telkar has been an accomplished art historian in the Indian art industry and has been engaging with its various facets for the past 25 years. She is Head of the Art Program at the Bangalore International Airport and has held several esteemed positions in other institutions. She was Senior Vice President of the Delhi Art Gallery and Assistant Vice President of Saffronart for over a decade. Mrs Telkar has always been at the forefront of public art engagement initiatives and is extremely humble about her achievements. From training as an artist to teaching at the Sir JJ School of Art, Mumbai, to heading the Jaya He Museum and the GVK New Museum at Mumbai Airport, Mrs Telkar has played an influential role in establishing public art paradigms in India. Prerna SM Jain spoke with Mrs Telkar on her work and philosophy.

What are your aspirations?
If I can get more people engaged in art, especially the youth, and if I can get them to walk into a museum, I think that would be an achievement. The burning desire I have right now is to make people engaged and sensitive to the world of art. When I say the youth, I don’t refer to a particular age but to the enthusiasm towards art or a museum, just admiring and appreciating something, it can be a painting, it can be textiles, it can be anything.

How did your journey into the arts begin?
I come from a family of artists. I am the third such generation. My father is from the world of advertising but he studied at the JJ School of Art. My mother also studied at the JJ School of Art. My dad’s mom was an art teacher. I guess the question of what to do was never a question because my brother got into the Sir JJ School of Art, so it was but natural that I would do the same thing. I didn’t question it because I grew up in that ambience. It was always something that was a part and parcel of one’s life and when the time came to choose the college, I chose the Sir JJ School of Arts. The only act of rebellion that I would say I did was that instead of Applied Art, I decided to get into Fine Arts.

Tell us about your college years.
I was a voracious reader in college. I would either be found in the canteen or in the library. Forever I had one bag with my art material and one bag with books. My Art History professor encouraged me to take up teaching as a profession. When my professor asked me to take up the job in her stead, as she was migrating abroad, I was only too happy. I would get more books to read, which I couldn’t earlier take home to read, if I became a teacher. Plus, I love teaching, so I started teaching there.

Tell us about your time with Saffronart.
I must say that I am very blessed that things just fell along the way. With Saffronart, when they were starting up, they needed someone who would write artists’ profiles, and I said yeah, sure, why not, and so I did it and I would try to do other things for them. The website had just launched and I said that, you know, I think this thing needs to be written this way, or this particular medium needs to be described this way. They said you are making a lot of sense for us, would you consider coming on board? I said again, sure, why not!  Those were times of the ‘internet boom’. The internet gave me a new medium to make art available to the masses, albeit with challenges. I learnt tremendously from my role at Saffronart which is helping me today to make art more accessible.

You have been introducing Indian art to the community since a very long time. What were the major hindrances in doing so?
There was this block at the outset that ‘I don’t understand all of this, that this is too fancy, that this is all modern art and I don’t know what it is.’ Then there is this denial that I don’t want this, I don’t want to make an effort. So I took that as a challenge. Unfortunately in our school education, at least when I was growing up, art was just a skill class. Students were taught to draw well, paint, stay within the lines, but nobody actually spoke about it, nobody actually made an effort to connect it to what was out there. We have to start appreciating art in our everyday life. Do you enjoy a good performance, which could be of dance, or of music? If you can enjoy that, you can also enjoy art. Let’s not try finding verbal meaning in it, it’s not about telling a story. Do you feel good about it when you look at it, let’s make it as simple as that. If you look at a beautiful work of art and admire it, then decoding it, demystifying it, all that can happen later. But let’s connect to it first, let’s enjoy it.

How has the coronavirus pandemic influenced you personally and professionally in your current role?
Personally this has been a time of evaluation and introspection. It is making me conscious of the fact that I should try reaching out to more people, however that may be. The online medium is one way, and I have been doing it with my own little friends and groups and talks and impromptu chats. That has been one way of connecting, a lot of sharing of articles, podcasts. It’s good to keep your mind on different things and talk about different things. The pandemic is going to change everything. There was this mad rush towards grand shows, blockbusters, and museum shows moving from one place to another. There were so many art fairs, biennales. Is that really necessary? At the moment, the white cube space has been replicated online, but we should move away from that, and we should make it more fun, without losing out on the deeper meaning and the seriousness that’s there. I am sure that will happen.
Professionally, work continues, there hasn’t been much of a break as such. There is a lot more planning, though, before a public programme. So, this time has been instrumental in sensitising different teams to the changed requirements, easing out the entire processes, and not rushing into something.

In retrospect, what is the best advice you could have given yourself?
In terms of changing anything, I wouldn’t have. I am quite happy with the way my life has turned out.

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