Khoj: An Enduring Legacy From its inception in 1997, Khoj can be described as an experimental oasis for the production of contemporary art, free of restricting academic, formal, cultural and commercial pressures or judgement. This workshop and artist residency program prioritises the primacy of artistic practice, fostering creative exchanges between an artist led community and a support network that breaks down obstacles and borders. Khoj began as an inspiring alternative vision, an innovative anti-institutional curatorial outsider - a living critique on the status quo of subcontinental contemporary art. From its initial temporary structures at cultural centres like Delhi to the ad-hoc pop-up workshops in what were more peripheral zones, Khoj has successfully retained and disseminated its core mantra. A not-for-profit organisation, Khoj has never been driven by financial gain seeking to operate outside of the established market. Many of the artists who have walked through the metaphorical and literal doors of Khoj have since achieved international critical and commercial acclaim. Subodh Gupta, Bharti Kher and Atul Dodiya are represented in major international institutions and collections, and have participated in biennales the world over. Their success has not diminished or diluted the sense of community that Khoj fostered between them, and they remain forever part of the extended Khoj family. It is fitting therefore that ten of these prestigious artists, now superstars of contemporary art, have each generously donated a lot for auction, with the proceeds to benefit Khoj and the future generations of artists. India's current artistic landscape and infrastructure is unrecognisable compared to what it was in 1997, when Khoj was founded. By consistently reinventing and adapting to socio-economic, cultural and institutional changes, Khoj has remained not only relevant to contemporary art practices in the country, but also is a fundamental and necessary platform for artists of the future. MAPPING KHOJ - IDEA, PLACE, NETWORK Extracts from The Khoj Book 1997-2007, Contemporary Art Practice in India Khoj as Idea The idea of Khoj was a gift. Offered to us by Robert Loder, the visionary founder of the Triangle Arts Trust, the gift was one of possibility. At a time when Indian artists felt isolated and unsupported, it provided the possibility for young practitioners to create an open-ended, experimental space for themselves on their own terms; a space where they could make art independent of formal academic and cultural institutions and outside the constraints of the commercial gallery. It offered the chance to establish international networks without institutional support. Artist-led, it was an initiative for artists by artists. It provided the liberating potential of creatively intervening in the prevailing status quo. In 1997, our encounter with international art was limited to exhibitions brought in by the cultural arms of foreign embassies or the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, and opportunities to travel abroad came only via personal invitations or scholarships offered by the Inlaks Foundation and Charles Wallace Trust. Within this milieu, Khoj as 'idea' was made tangible by the first workshop held in Modinagar, on the outskirts of New Delhi, for two weeks in 1997. The gathering of 24 mid-career artists--half local, half international-- resulted in a dynamic explosion of energies - a crucible that catalyzed and configured new imaginings. Working together, drinking, dancing and debating, the workshop encouraged experimentation, stimulated conversations, threw up discomforts and differences, but nevertheless forged contacts that extended well beyond the limits of time and place. As Anita Dube, one of the founding members, wrote in the first Khoj catalogue in 1997: 'Our aim was to function as an experimental art laboratory that would bring artists together from different parts of the country, from the subcontinent and from around the globe, setting up a co-operative, non-hierarchical work situation where dialogue, exchange and transfer of information, energy and skills could take place as an intensely lived experience. Khoj is an emblem of our vision of working together in difficult situations, somehow pushing under the establishment's grain the rubric of creating sensitising encounters, opening up insularities and closures to address the binary polarisations that have hardened into unchangeable positions both inside and outside.' This was the closest Khoj ever came to writing a manifesto for itself. Over the next four years artists from across the world participated in our annual workshop at Modinagar. Invitations went out to artists from Triangle's vast networks in Africa, Cuba and Europe. Back then, the terms 'periphery' and 'other' had a different resonance. Hungry for direct contact and keen to develop connections with the 'global South', we mined our neighbourhood of South and Southeast Asia, drawing in artists from mainland China, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore and Japan, extending the Triangle family in mutual reciprocity. Process-driven, the workshops pushed for a radical rethinking of the current trajectories of knowledge production, and countered the tendency to privilege theory over practice. They created an alternative learning space outside of formal educational institutions with their hierarchical structures of teachers and students, and built a powerful repertoire of ideas and practices through the sometimes frictive juxtapositioning of individuals from diverse contexts. As entrenched values jostled and challenged one another, new perspectives and positions emerged. For those two frenetic weeks, Khoj was simultaneously 'part laboratory, part academy and part community centre,' with the artist squarely centre stage as practitioner, curator, critic and friend. By the end of 2001, Khoj had held five successful workshops in Delhi - the annual pilgrimage to Modinagar had become a part of an increasingly lively contemporary art scene--but there was a feeling that they had run their course. Something new was needed. Khoj, as idea, had to reinvent itself and move elsewhere. The Itinerant Workshop While we struggled in Delhi with our own institutional logic, morphing into a temporary, office-based structure, we offered the workshop to colleagues in different parts of India. This was more than a matter of mere relocation, of repeating the same activity in another space. It was based on a desire to create new relationships and spin-offs: to support autonomous groups of artists working at sites that held local meaning; to develop a vision of what Khoj, as 'idea', could mean for different artists. The first 'itinerant' workshop was held in 2002 in Mysore--the acclaimed cultural capital of south India. Khoj Mumbai, held in the vast grounds of the Jindal steel factory on the outskirts of Mumbai, followed in 2005, with Khoj Kolkata in 2006 [...] Then, in 2007, as the sound of gunfire dulled for a few hopeful months in Kashmir, we were able to organise Khoj Kasheer at an old but gracious house nestling among chinar trees in Lalmandi, Srinagar. It was the first international art project to be held in Kashmir since 1947. Looking back, these workshops were perhaps the embryonic beginnings of a network of artist-run spaces in India: spaces with similar values and beliefs which, over time, could develop different operating models and approaches to presenting practice. Khoj as Place While the workshop took on a nomadic identity, Khoj in Delhi morphed from being a fluid annual entity into one situated in bricks and mortar. In 2002, Robert Loder helped us acquire a studio building in Khirkee village, Delhi. An anomaly of both the rural and urban, Khirkee lies in the middle of posh South Delhi [...] In the heart of this 'urban village', we discovered a charming two-storeyed building, purpose built as an architect's office, where six well-ventilated rooms overlooked two internal courtyards. These became five studios and an office-cum-library, the studios doubling up as exhibition space when required. Since 2002, Khoj Studios has seen a spate of residencies. While both workshops and residencies are process and exchange driven, the intention and outcomes are slightly different. With 20 to 24 artists, workshops occur in fairly secluded and, in a sense, protected environments; together with their shorter time frame of two weeks, this generates intense, catalytic experiences. The slower-paced residencies, which generally last six to eight weeks, are limited to a smaller number of participants--at most, six--allowing for a sharper interrogation of the city, as well as a more intimate and meaningful exchange between artists and their work processes. As the programme developed, we began to use a media-based focus to curate residencies: ceramics, photography, a foray into collaboration with an environmental activist, a public art project in a university complex. Even as we struggled with the administrative aspects of the studios, we became ambitious for the space: our programme began to include exhibitions by younger artists, a summer residency for new graduates from art colleges across the country (the Peers programme), and informal presentations by interesting 'friends of friends' from across the world who dropped in. Khoj as Network-2002 If a network can be loosely defined as a social structure made of individuals (or organisations) connected by one or more specific types of interdependency - in this case, friendship and relationships of difference, belief and knowledge - the Khoj workshops and residencies have helped practitioners in India forge such networks with artists from across India and the world. Ironically, however, it has been across our most obdurate borders within the subcontinent that Khoj has made its most radical contribution. Since 2001 Khoj has researched and developed a thriving network of artist led spaces in Karachi, Colombo, Dhaka and Kathmandu. Fondly named SANA or the South Asian Network for the Arts, this network has been crucial in shaping a regional solidarity in the field of contemporary art, facilitating a dynamic exchange of ideas and people across some of the most contentious borders of the world. In the face of increased political volatility post 9/11, and the enhanced securitization across borders, maintaining such connections is ever more challenging, and simple procedures, such as obtaining visas for visiting artists, are often fraught with difficulty. However, despite all odds, each group has generated significant ripples. The projects between India and Pakistan have been particularly fruitful, spawning invitations to practitioners to collaborate, curate and teach in one another's countries, including, in 2005, the mounting at the National Gallery of Modern Art, Mumbai, of a major exhibition of Pakistani art, 'Beyond Borders'. When such ripples intersect, they create eddies of deep significance. The exhibition 'Six Degrees of Separation: Chaos, Congruence and Collaboration in South Asia', held in September 2008, was one such moment of significance. Five editions of the exhibition opened simultaneously in Karachi, Colombo, Kathmandu, Dhaka and Delhi. Curated by Vasl, Theertha, Sutra, Britto and Khoj respectively, they displayed more than 45 projects conceived and produced by South Asian artists from neighbouring countries in the many regional residencies and workshops that had taken place since 2001. Transitions-2005 2004-2008 was the boom period for contemporary art in India. Re-envisioning the direction that Khoj needed to take at a time when the spotlight was trained on the 'edifying' rubric of the art market, the international exhibition and giddying auction prices, was a challenge. We began to examine a range of artistic practices that were temporal, research-based and collaborative; projects that employed radical new digital technologies as well as those that were concerned with older, more activist, modes of engagement with communities. These approaches were situated outside the supportive structures of the gallery and within the extended idea of the public realm. In short, the focus on the market and exhibition-export was eclipsing the socially engaged and post-medium art practices being explored by Indian artists; and we decided to make these our key areas of inquiry. In doing so, we were also trying to create alternative art worlds - worlds populated by creative practitioners whose work failed to fit neatly into existing categories of art. The curatorial shift implied a shift in the perception of what Khoj stood for. Increasingly, Khoj was being pigeonholed as a place for the incubation of emerging artists. We felt it was equally relevant for established artists pushing in exciting new directions: for the incubation of new ideas. In retrospect, then, can such moments of rupture and departure be seen as something positive? can they be viewed as significant opportunities for introspection, growth and change? Khoj Today-2014 In April 2012, Khoj embarked on its most ambitious project thus far: to purchase, extend and refurbish its studio space. Through generous donation of art works by artists and a committed architects studio, the new Khoj building, which boasts of a 3 bedroom residence, 5 studios, a project space, a reading room, and a cafe, opened its doors in January 2013. Khoj has persisted in stretching its limits and taking risks in the domain of cutting-edge contemporary art practice in India. Today Khoj works across several registers - within its imediate locality of Khirkee village through community based art projects; in its studios, through its varied interdisciplinary programmes which focus on ecology, urban issues and the intersection of art with science, technology, fashion and sport and internationally, through the forging of fruitful collaborations with leading institutions and curators globally. With its repurposed building in Khirkee Khoj has the potential to offer even more support to art practitioners in Delhi and across the coutnry. Excited by the potential of art for change, it continues to make things possible: enabling artistic ideas and initiatives alike. Closing Thoughts Viewed from the inside, the making of institutional history and related notions of success seem irrelevant. In writing about what Khoj has (or has not) achieved in the past ten years, I find my headspace occupied with issues that Khoj is struggling with today: on the one hand, its intrinsic economic fragility, and, on the other, its ambition for the future - its raison d'etre, if you will. Over the years, Khoj as 'idea' has evolved into an amphibious creature which is, at once, a physical space and an extended network; simultaneously curatorially led and artist run; an active player and a passionate facilitator. It has challenged ideas of what can constitute art practice in India; it has acted as a site for both emerging artists and 'emerging art'; it has formed networks, introducing and connecting non-local artists into local communities, and vice versa. Of greater valence is the fact that Khoj has anticipated change and worked to keep pace with it. It has viewed disruption as a challenge and has been persistently self-reflexive while walking the tightrope of institutionalism. But, mostly, Khoj has always looked ahead, even while looking back and looking around: constantly walking - constantly moving - constantly searching. Pooja Sood, 2009-2014 Artistic Director, Khoj International Artists' Association SOLD TO BENEFIT KHOJ INTERNATIONAL ARTISTS' ASSOCIATION

Hyperbolic Spiral

Hyperbolic Spiral
signed, dated, titled and inscribed 'Bharti Kher 2011 "HYPERBOLIC SPIRAL" Khoj Auction 2014' (on the reverse of frame)
bindis on mirror
23½ x 23½ in. (59.7 x 59.7 cm.)
Executed in 2011
I am amazed at what you achieve in testing circumstances. . . I am so pleased that we have been able to work with you and your team.

In terms of the larger perspective of India, Khoj managed to bring to life out of what appeared to be barren ground. It planted seeds of a certain kind of artistic thinking that was outside the system and triggered many ideas and careers as a result. In the late 1990's, it was one of a kind and hence invaluable. It has since reinvented itself and become bigger. Its role will be unquantifiable for another decade.

By giving a space for things to happen, Khoj encourages art-making in its most interesting forms...An autonomous space such as Khoj is vital to how we look at art practice in India. That process is a fundamental tool to creating and that product isn't neccesarily an end. Art is about ideas and that's what I like to think Khoj stands by. this is one of few spaces in India where anyone in the larger space of the art world can call home. I'm very proud to be a part of its history. We don't achieve everything we wish and there are mistakes but the fact that our artist friends support us means that something resonates with them. We now need to put a core fund in place to keep Khoj going.


It's more of an idea: that you have another eye, another way of looking, another way of seeing. For me, that is something that hasn't changed at all, it's something that has stayed. (Artist statement)

Bharti Kher, born 1969 in London, now lives and works in New Delhi. Her work draws from the artist's experiences in both Eastern and Western cultures. In this piece, Kher appropriates an Indian icon, the bindi, using a readymade to form a pattern. In utilising the bindi, a small circular symbol typically worn by Indian women on their foreheads, Kher's work reflects on class, feminism and the relationship between traditional and contemporary culture. Whether representing the all-seeing third eye of Shiva or acting as an indicator of a woman's marital status, Kher meticulously places hundreds of bindi's into a lively spiral. In doing so, the artist suggests the transgression of the bindi from a significant symbol now universally identified with Indian culture. This elaborate abstract work with it's swirling constellation of vibrant red and grey bindis creates a unique image, offering the viewer a moment of almost spirtual contemplation and meditative stillness.

In recent years, Kher has exhibited with several leading museums including the Arken Museum of Modern Art, Denmark; Tel Aviv Museum of Art, Israel; Centre Pompidou, France and at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, Washington D. C., making her one of the most sought after artists, not just from India but on the international arena. Earlier this year Rockbund Art Museum in Shanghai, China presented a major museum solo exhibition of her work.

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