Pranamita Borgohain is an art curator who has extensively researched and curated contemporary art of North East India. She has served as the Deputy Curator at the National Gallery of Modern Art, and as an Art Consultant at the Lalit Kala Academy in New Delhi. She has worked with Anant Art as an Art Consultant received the Curatorial Intensive South Asia fellowship for young curators, a fellowship for art students from South Asia that is supported by Khoj and Goethe Max Muller institute.
As a curator involved with the Students’ Biennale, a part of The Kochi-Muziris Biennale, Borgohain had curated and showcased works by various student artists. Her teaching experience at College of Art, University of Delhi, has allowed her to forge a profound connect with young artists who are just embarking upon their journey. Since then, she has been actively contributing towards their development through her non-profit organisation, Shield Art Initiative. Her organisation provides young artists opportunities and platforms to exhibit their works to the public. As a perceptive observer, Borgohain meticulously goes through a vast array of artworks by student artists and supports them through various programmes devised by her initiative.
Borgohain has also written for several prominent publications such as thisistomorrow, Art India, Contemporary Art Journal, Creative Mind, Chinha and Canvas, amongst others.
Borgohain comes from a liberal family who are trained in technical professions, but as she always had an inclination towards the arts, they supported her in honing her art skills. When she was in Delhi with her brother, she decided to enrol into the Master’s programme at School of Arts & Aesthetics, Jawaharlal Nehru University. Prerna SM Jain spoke with her.
Can you tell us something interesting about your time at JNU?
When we were there, things were very different from what they are now. I really enjoyed my time over there. I did theoretical studies and had the opportunity to participate in various esteemed conferences and workshops. We got top-notch art historians and curators from across the globe to lecture us. The libraries were open till midnight for reference or for self-study.
What was your journey after your studies at JNU?
After completion of the course at JNU I went on to work with the National Gallery of Modern Art as the Deputy Curator. The experience was great as you get access to a huge repertoire of significant works from the masters. It was a great learning experience while working with senior curators and being involved in prestigious retrospectives of Ram Kinkar Baij, KK Hebbar, and Stefan Norblin. After this enriching experience I moved on to work at Lalit Kala Academy where I got the opportunity to work with many emerging artists. I took a break for one-and-a-half year, when I had my child in 2013. However, during this period, I stayed involved in writing reviews and artists’ profiles.
In 2014, the Students’ Biennale, which is a part of the Kochi Biennale, was initiated and a call for curators was announced. I got selected, but I was in a dilemma whether to take this challenge due to my infant kid and travel constraints. But with family support I went ahead. The organisers helped me by giving me colleges in Delhi – the College of Art and the Ambedkar University. The role was to select a few student artists and survey the government colleges. The survey showed that the College of Art was not in a very good position. But things change with time.
How did the Shield Art Initiative start?
I got an opportunity to teach art history at College of Art as a visiting professor and I felt a good connection with the students there. I founded an initiative called the Shield Art Initiative with the support of a few artist friends. We started by inviting artists to have talks along with slide presentations at our house, and we had movie screenings. Then we started moving out and collaborating with galleries and had performances, screenings and exhibitions there. Later we invited senior artists to have a talk with these young artists so that they can guide them. Our objective was to have young artists from small towns and interiors to be able to use this opportunity, people who would have difficulty in articulating their thoughts but were very good artists. So, we started visits to senior artists’ studios. We would spread the message and encourage everyone to come. Some of the artists whose studios we visited were Jagannath Panda, GR Iranna, Arun Kumar HG, George Martin, Veer Munshi, amongst others.
What are the challenges that student artists are facing during the Covid-19 pandemic?
Survival is the biggest challenge. Artists were already struggling to find their sustenance and Covid-19 pandemic has added to their problems. In our existing art ecosystem, we face a dearth of opportunities and platforms, and post-Covid times may cut them down further. We must have more arts initiatives that can create opportunities for the young and upcoming artists. For example, at Shield Art Initiative, I have seen that many artists have got opportunities like exhibitions, residencies, national and international grants.
What is the Covid -19 impact on you as a curator?
Covid-19 had a sudden and substantial impact on all of us. Initially I relaxed for a while as I had been very busy last year with almost 8 curatorial projects. But slowly when everything started going out of control, apprehension came over work and survival, as being a freelance curator my work was hugely affected. Throughout these lockdown days, staying at home, doing household chores and being a full-time mother, I am occupied in a different ecosphere. Two shows were planned during the month of April which we have postponed for now. However, we all need to move on. Today all organisations are using the digital platform. Just now I have curated an online exhibition, ‘The Poetics of Space’, for Gallery Art Positive. Shield Art Initiative in collaboration with Art Positive has started an online talk series called Art + Practice. Digital space has lot of opportunity but still there are some challenges in showcasing particular artworks and we are exploring the ways to overcome this.
Can you talk about your curatorial fellowship, CISA, by Khoj and Max Muller?
I was shortlisted for the CISA curatorial fellowship 2019 meant for young South Asian curators. The intensive programme was for 15 days where we were taught by senior curators and experts on different curatorial aspects. Then we had to come up with a curatorial project and I worked on a project on the NRC issue of Assam. Later I curated two more exhibitions working with artists on the concept of North East India, one at Akar Prakar Contemporary, Delhi, and the other at Bihar Museum, Patna.
What is the best compliment that you have received?
During one of the exhibitions curated by me, a senior contemporary artist made a remark that, “You are doing a great job by supporting these young artists and you must continue with this pursuit of bringing in new talents”. Since then I feel that I am on the right track.
Which are some of the paintings in your house?
In my house I have the paintings of Pratul Dash, Rajesh Ram, Digbijayee Khatua, Samir Mohanty, Santanu Dey, Gopal Samatray, Ranjeet Singh, and Murari Jha.
Who is your favourite artist?
I can’t name one favourite artist but there are art works which are still vivid in my memory – Anish Kapoor’s ‘Whirlpool’ (I viewed it in KMB 2014), Jitish Kallat’s ‘A letter from Gandhi to Hitler’ (viewed at NGMA, New Delhi), Chittaprosad ‘Bengal Famine series’, (viewed at a Retrospective in DAG), to name a few.