Mumbai’s Iconic Art Gallery, Chemould, Turns 60

Mumbai’s Iconic Art Gallery, Chemould, Turns 60

The intergenerational celebration of six decades of Mumbai’s iconic art gallery, Chemould, will continue till December

Deepali SinghUpdated: Friday, September 22, 2023, 11:53 PM IST
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Artwork by Dhruvi Acharya |

Right at the very beginning of his book Citizen Gallery: The Gandhys of Chemould and the Birth of Modern Art in Bombay, author Jerry Pinto quotes Tasneem Zakaria Mehta, Honorary Director and Managing Trustee, Dr Bhau Daji Lad Museum – “Kekoo, Khorshed and Shireen are an extraordinary family. So, if you were to write a history of the professional lives of the Gandhy family, you would be, in a sense, writing the history of modern art in Bombay”.

Indeed, this is telling of the contribution that the gallery has made to what we know as Indian contemporary art. Starting in 1963 as Gallery Chemould on the first floor of Jehangir Art Gallery by Kekoo Gandhy and Khorshed Gandhy to its current location at Chemould Prescott Road, the six decades of the gallery’s existence have been marked with experiments and discoveries and nurturing artists such as Bhupen Khakhar, VS Gaitonde and SH Raza among others. Over the next four months, there will be four shows across three venues to mark the seminal year.

Six decades of pushing boundaries  

Kekoo and Khorshed’s daughter Shireen, who has helmed the gallery directorship since 1988, recalls her childhood as one that was not necessarily lonely, but being the youngest in the family and also not having too many friends, it often meant being alone for most parts of the day. Most outings were reserved for visiting the gallery. “I was with my parents a lot. I have very clear memories of tagging along with my grandfather and going to the gallery in the afternoons,” she says. She was not particularly inclined towards the arts but taking over the directorship came organically to the 25-year-old.

At the time, Shireen recalls Chemould being one of the few art galleries, along with Pundole’s and Cymroza Art Gallery which came up a couple of years later. “Every country needs to have a space which is a platform for the art-going-public. A gallery provided that platform,” she says. Over time, even the nature of art began to change. “Artists were trying and experimenting with different mediums. I feel that is where we really contributed in terms of becoming a space that was neither gallery nor museum but something very experimental. It was a space where we allowed for the many new diversions that artists were taking. For instance, Nalini Malani was painting on walls; Vivan Sundaram was doing installation art. These are very viable today but at that time, it was just allowing for a new language,” she elaborates.

Artwork by Gurjeet Singh

Artwork by Gurjeet Singh |

Onward and upward

There is a lot more to be done but Shireen does not believe in planning too far ahead. “I feel like we are part of the change. At any point of time, we are contemporary,” she says. Her daughter Atyaan Jungalwala co-founded Chemould CoLab in 2022 along with Sunaina Kewalramani in order to nurture new artists and Shireen finds it wonderful to see the third generation of the family adding the much-needed freshness to the art space. “This is what the gallery needed. I didn’t have the bandwidth to do that since my artists here demand a lot of my time, so it is wonderful to see my daughter doing that,” she adds.

Artwork by Shailee Mehta

Artwork by Shailee Mehta |

The exhibition

For the exhibition, curator and historian Shaleen Wadhwana pored over 15,000 archival items such as letters, awards, invitation cards, albums, catalogues, press clippings, photographs, CDs, mounted slides, stamps, emails, telegrams which are part of documentation from India, Switzerland, Italy, Afghanistan, UAE, Germany, UK, USA and Australia. CheMoulding: Framing Future Archives is a two-part exhibition which consists of Framing (Sep 16-Oct 28) and Futuring (Nov 14-Dec 23) at Chemould Prescott Road.  “The name Framing has a double connotation – one alludes to how the art frame moulding company started the gallery and it also means framing historical context,” Shaleen explains, adding that all the concepts have a historical touch. “What are the emotions, what are the ways in which we understand nurturing and what are the ways in which we reflect on society and ourselves with concepts of the past. In Futuring, we study where we are going from here - what remains timeless even in the future. These are the ways to look at these two shows,” she says.

Khorshed, Shireen and Kekoo Gandhy

Khorshed, Shireen and Kekoo Gandhy |

More than 30 Chemould contemporaries ranging from Jitish Kallat, Shilpa Gupta, Anju Dodiya to Varunika Saraf, have responded to personalised curatorial prompts from the archive, surrounded by archival memorialisation of veteran artists ranging from Tyeb Mehta, KH Ara to Bhupen Khakhar, Rummana Hussain and Jangarh Singh Shyam. The mediums explored are painting, sculpture, textile, film, printmaking, audio, photography, drawing, literature and installation. Remembering (Oct 30-Nov 5) is a week-long nostalgic revisitation of the former Gallery Chemould space with public programming. Continuum (Sep 14-Nov 4) at Chemould CoLab will see young artists respond to artists that are part of the current roster of Chemould Prescott Road. “Creating these intersections, our young artists have been given prompts that will nudge, provoke and create new conversations,” says Atyaan.

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