Art entrepreneur Tushar Jiwarajka brings Mumbai’s Volte Art Projects to Dubai

Dubai - An 8,000 sq. ft. art haven for a world-class city


Purva Grover

Published: Thu 2 Sep 2021, 7:28 PM

He landed here when two of his close friends moved to Dubai a few years ago. When Tushar Jiwarajka, an art entrepreneur and gallerist, came to visit them he discovered the cultural and non-touristy scene of Dubai. “I saw it as a world-class city, with amazing infrastructure and a government that enables you to do business.” Today, Tushar, founder and director, Volte Art Projects, is prepping for the opening of Mumbai’s Volte Art Projects in Alserkal Avenue, Dubai. The gallery will open doors in mid-September and the three artists, whose works will be showcased as part of the opening are: Based Upon, Sheba Chhachhi and Wim Delvoye. When asked to compare the art scene in the UAE with that of India, he shares how in India the focus is mostly limited to Indian artists and that of the subcontinent. “Here, just like the country, the art scene is very international, you get to see artists and galleries that are from all over the world.” A global nomad, Tushar grew up in Mumbai, but has lived all over the world: Boston, New York, London, Singapore, and later spent the years between 2008 and 2019 in Mumbai working on the gallery. We learn more about the origins of Volte Art Projects in Mumbai, its latest destination, an 8,000 sq. ft. space, in Alserkal Avenue, and more.

How did Mumbai’s Volte Art Projects come into being?

Out of college, I had spent 10 years in the corporate world and had realised that it was not my cup of tea. Most of my friends tended to be doing something creative with their lives: think artists, musicians, filmmakers, architects, and designers. One of my best friends, Mukul Deora, an artist and musician, encouraged me to set up a gallery, which I felt would be something that would get me excited to get up to go to work every day. We worked on it together for several months, and he (Mukul) opened the gallery with an incredible participatory performance in which the audience had to smash a car in a derelict mill. The interesting thing is that the gallery model has evolved a lot over the years, as we have always been dynamic and responsive to the needs of the audiences.

Could you throw insight on the christening of the gallery, especially the Cabaret Voltaire bit?

Yes, Cabaret Voltaire was an inspiration. I did feel art was elitist in India where I started, and there was a lack of contemporary art museums at the time. Cabaret Voltaire in Zürich was the hub of all intellectual activity in post-World War I Europe, Switzerland being the neutral ground. There would be performances and recitals. This is where futurism (an artistic and social movement that originated in Italy in the early 20th century that later also developed in Russia) and Dadaism (an art movement of the European avant-garde in the early 20th century, with early centres in Zürich, Switzerland) was born. We wanted to create a space of that sort, and having a public programme with various events, screenings and performances has always been an important part of our strategy.

In the UAE, how did you zero in on Alserkal Avenue as the location?

It was natural choice for us: it has fantastic spaces, everyone interested in art in the region visits the galleries there, and they treat you more like partners rather than tenants. This was one of the last unoccupied warehouses, so we feel quite lucky to have got it.

What shall we expect in the opening months of the gallery?

We are quite excited to have an ambitious and large scale show as our opening exhibition, which in a way would be representative of the upcoming programmes at the gallery. We will have major works by some of the most reputed artists and studios globally, which will include monumental sculptures, AI (artificial intelligence) artworks, room-sized installations and design art pieces. The theme of the opening show would be Art, Nature and Technology.

How do you plan to make arts more inviting and relatable for the audience in the UAE?

The gallery-visiting crowd here is quite aware and literate, but we hope to increase awareness among wider audiences, to whom art seems mystifying and unappealing. If one brings very conceptual art right away to the UAE audience, I don’t think it will be well understood and appreciated by anyone other than a minority. Also, I think people here are hungry to learn and understand art more, so audience education is certainly a big part of our strategy. We will have talks, screenings and events with our artists so people can have a chance to be more engaged with our programme.

Amid a pandemic, what are the changes you predict in the art world?

I think the pandemic will precipitate a move to art that is more multisensory, immersive and interactive. The object will slowly lose importance and relevance to the experiential.

Highlight a few elements that we’ll find in Mumbai’s Volte Art Projects, but not in other galleries in the UAE?

We will be doing large scale immersive projects with iconic international artists, who have never been seen in the Middle East or seen sparingly. We don’t have a regional focus, but we tend to work with artists, who work with a variety of different media, and especially those who use technology as a tool to create their works.

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