Sanya Malik

Jogen Chowdhury

Sanya Malik Black Cube

What were your growing up years like?
My upbringing was infused with a deep connection to the world of art. My family has always had a close association with modern and contemporary artists, and I grew up around Indian paintings and sculpture. It was a truly inspiring experience that allowed me to develop personal relationships with some of my favorite artists.

A little about your childhood days…What were the aspirations back then?
I always wanted to become an artist when I was younger. Art was my sanctuary, and I found solace and joy in creating. This transformed into forming personal connections with artists as I grew older, engaging with their practices and delving into the depths of their creative processes. I realized my true calling lay not in creating art but in understanding, curating, and contextualizing the work of those who could.

What is your first memory of art?
One of my earliest and most vivid memories of art traces back to around two decades ago when I had an encounter with the work of Himmat Shah. I distinctly recall peering into the studio where Himmat Shah was tirelessly creating abstract figures out of clay. A few weeks later, I visited a foundry where these clay sculptures were to be transformed into molds and ultimately cast in bronze. This visit was a profoundly interesting experience for me, and I remember it as a significant moment that ignited my curiosity and passion for art. Interestingly, I had the privilege of coming full circle when, in 2018, I had the opportunity to showcase Himmat Shah's sculptures in Black Cube's debut exhibition, and now once again for Art Mumbai in November!

How did your time at an art college helped determine the path you want to take in your life?
At Royal College of Art, London I had the privilege of being exposed to a diverse array of industry professionals. This included interactions with gallerists, biennale directors, artists, public and private curators, and many others. What truly stood out about my experience was the peer-led learning environment, which fostered a spirit of collaboration and interdisciplinary exchange. In addition to the valuable skill set I had already acquired while working across the various sectors of the art world, my time at RCA served to crystallize my vision for the intricate intersection of art and business. It became clear to me that I wanted to forge a path that would blend these two realms in a way that was truly supportive of artists and their practices at the core.

Could you tell us a little about your stints in art before you decided to do something of your own?
I always knew I wanted to do something of my own, but I also wanted to learn as much as I could before I set myself on an individual path. I have worked in non-commercial spaces such as St+art India Foundation, a non-profit organization with a noble mission of democratizing art in public spaces. Following that, I transitioned to a role at the India Art Fair, where I focused on VIP relations. While these experiences were invaluable, my yearning to be at the forefront of the art world, working closely with artists and facilitating their creative processes, ultimately led me to the conceptualization and launch of Black Cube. I have always had a profound interest in the transformative power of curatorial vision within the art world, so after that I pursued my masters degree, and since then I've had the privilege of serving as an associate curator with The Gujral Foundation. This alignment with my curatorial passion is a crucial part of my vision for the future of Black Cube.

Sanya Malik Phaneendra Nath Chaturvedi

Phaneendra Nath Chaturvedi

What inspired Black Cube?
The inspiration behind Black Cube was born out of a profound desire to revolutionize the art space, to shatter the barriers that I, personally, had felt during my formative years when visiting traditional "white cube spaces." These spaces often felt intimidating, stifling, and riddled with unspoken rules, making it difficult to ask questions and engage with art on a deeper level. It was during my early twenties that this frustration was brewing, and it became the catalyst for Black Cube's inception. What further fuelled this endeavor was the evolving global landscape of contemporary art, with a growing emphasis on immersive and interactive experiences, as well as the exploration of the themes of "play" and engagement. In 2017, I saw an opportunity to introduce this concept to India, where I felt there was a gap waiting to be filled. Accessibility was paramount, and I aimed to make every audience member feel like they belonged in the space, free from intimidation. Black Cube was born out of the desire to revolutionize art by making it more inclusive, engaging, and thought-provoking, transcending the traditional confines of the art world. I'm so happy to see more of this being explored in India now.

Personally, what kind of art resonates with you?
For me, it transcends the artist's name or the specific medium used. There are certain works of art that simply captivate you, and they tend to stay with you for a long time.

What I find most compelling in art are themes like satire, irony, and social commentary. It should carry a meaningful message. An example that left a profound impact on me was Olafur Eliasson's 'Weather Project' at the Tate's Turbine Hall. I was quite young when I experienced it, but I can vividly recall how it left me utterly awestruck. Lately, it’s Phaneendra Nath Chaturvedi’s beautiful butterfly sculptures. The simplicity his work poses with such complex undertones really excites me. Ultimately, what truly resonates with me are works of art that convey depth and significance, offering a unique perspective on the world around us.

How is this space different from a traditional art gallery? 
What sets Black Cube apart from traditional art galleries is its dynamic and ever-evolving nature. It's important to note that Black Cube doesn't have a fixed physical location. Instead, it transforms into a physical space only when an exhibition is actively taking place. This unique model allows us to be an alternative platform that adapts and shifts from one space to another, depending on the specific contextual needs of the artists we're showcasing.

For instance, during our debut exhibition, we utilized an interiors and light studio in New Delhi as our canvas. Now for Art Mumbai 2023, Black Cube will transform into a white cube space, aligning with the fair model. We are rooted in the core ideas within art, rather than being confined to a fixed physical space. This flexibility is central to our identity.

Tell us about your debut in Mumbai coming up in November?
Our upcoming debut at Art Mumbai in November is a significant milestone for us. It marks our first foray into the vibrant world of art fairs, where we're stepping into the forefront of the commercial side of the art industry. Up until now, our focus had been primarily on private clients in the primary market.

The anticipation surrounding Art Mumbai is palpable, as we're eager to showcase an exhilarating and diverse mix of artistic creations. Our exhibition will feature a remarkable collection of sculptures, ranging from modern to contemporary, indoor to outdoor, and encompassing works in various sizes. A dynamic and engaging blend that reflects the rich tapestry of the Indian art world.

I'm thrilled to share that our showcase at Art Mumbai will include the work of several renowned artists. The line-up includes Himmat Shah, Thota Vaikuntam, Jogen Chowdhury, Krishen Khanna, Manu Parekh, Madhvi Parekh, Phaneendra Nath Chaturvedi, Yashika Sugandh, Arunkumar HG, Valay Shende, and Dhananjay Singh. What sets this roster apart is that all these exceptional pieces are sculptures, offering a unique and captivating perspective. It's a milestone we're eagerly looking forward to and sharing this first with Art Mumbai, being their first edition of the fair as well.

Words Hansika Lohani
Date 20.10.2023