To promote awareness of art and culture, it is important to have a space like the JKK. Sood points out, “We have lost many public spaces. At JKK everyone feels comfortable walking in, wearing their chappals. Even though it has been spruced up, it is not intimidating. It is not a glass and chrome corporate structure; it is a public space that invites you to come in and explore.”
At JKK, she is also trying to — as much as possible — introduce diverse elements, even while celebrating the local and the traditional. Sood, emphasises, “We cannot take art or artists for granted. We often invite even those who are not trained artists to show their work for it pushes you to think. There was a great leap of imagination when Brave New World came out, but now everyone is going back to it and Aldous Huxley.”
Sood believes that a curator and gallerist also needs to be a good arts manager, who knows the importance of planning and budgets. She says, “Though we do not use the term arts manager so often — lest it be interpreted as being less than a curator — we actually manage art, speak to the world and help an artist to sell. I am not embarrassed about not being an artist; I love working with them on platforms like Khoj and JKK just so that people can see fabulous work. New ideas and cultural developments teach us to respect ‘difference’, if nothing else.” In all her roles, her MBA has helped — and her attitude of roping in specialists where she feels the need for informed decisions in domains beyond her core competency.
Art often reflects and drives social trends and issues. For instance, Sood believes that at Khoj the connection between food and art came about because they were looking at ecology. “When we looked at food as art it was more about expanding the idea of food and its politics. Then we looked at light — through different technologies and mediums. We looked at migration too because a few years ago there was a huge influx of Africans in Khirki Extension. Post Brexit, it has become even more important. You can sense social issues if you have an ear to the ground.”
When I ask her how she spots talent, she states, “I look at the person’s attitude. The basic skill is necessary, but it is his questioning attitude, what he is thinking, and the kind of questions he asks in his work that makes it all so exciting. We have a programme called Peers and Peers Share — young artists, some of whom may not be fluent in English interact with established names like Parekh and Gupta. We bring two generations together. The older one gets to know what the younger one is doing, and the latter learns from the comments of the seniors. This kind of interaction keeps art alive and flourishing.”