INTERVIEW: Diana Campbell, Director and Chief Curator of the Creative India Foundation

By Tehezeeb Moitra

Your very impressive experience prior to coming to India in 2010 focused largely on the finance aspect of art. What provoked the change that now draws more on the artist and curation?
I was never interested in finance or business much to my mother’s chagrin. I took many undergraduate and even some graduate Art History courses at Princeton and also worked in the Princeton Art Museum, but my parent’s would not pay for my education unless my degree was in Economics and Finance, departments which Princeton is famous for. I also studied Chinese Language and Culture, and was able to work in my Art History education into my thesis, which I wrote on the Chinese contemporary artist Xu Bing. After doing the typical Princeton thing and joining an investment bank post college, JP Morgan, I realised that no amount of money could compensate me to do that job. I regularly met with the CEO and CFO of Sotheby’s as part of my job at JP Morgan, I told them how unsatisfied I was with my career, and they hired me. Ironically, it was the banking job that allowed me to work in the arts because there was no way my parents would subsidise me on an entry level art salary. With parental and financial constraints gone, I could pursue my passion. I was lucky to have mentors who saw my true interests and potential who helped me transition my career to where it is now. Right before I came to India, I co-curated a show at Marlborough Chelsea with artists such as Ahmed Alsoudani, Phoebe Washburn, Nir Hod, whose careers have exploded since I left for India. 

WHO: Shilpa Gupta             
WHERE: Carter Road, Mumbai
WHAT: Creative India commissioned public sculpture

Photo: Courtesy of the artist

Can you talk a little about your work at the Creative India Foundation?
My role is to mentor artists and support them to create works for the public realm and eventually for a 150-acre sculpture park outside of Hyderabad. This is a huge task because all of these sculptures will have to be commissioned and most artists in India have not created substantial outdoor sculptures before. There is a culture for “camps” in India where artists are given a fee and materials and asked to make a work which usually goes on a roadside island somewhere, however these works are rarely successful from neither an artistic nor a conservation standpoint because the artists aren’t given resources to think through their ideas and long-term implications on the public landscape. Over the past three years, I have been working with artists to realise ambitious new commissions all over the world, where the artists are given time and expertise in order to make their ideas a reality. Most recently I was thrilled with the results of the Shilpa Gupta “I Live Under Your Sky Too” commission that we supported on Carter Road in Mumbai. 

WHO: Vishal K Dar            
WHERE: Cass Sculpture Foundation
WHAT: Creative India Commissioned sculpture

Photo: Courtesy of the artist

What are the challenges you face and what inspires you in your line of work? Specifically, but not limited to your choice of artists and the commissioning of artworks.
Where do I start…climate? Lack of trained art handlers and shippers? Government permissions? Art world politics? Material constraints (finding good quality metal is very difficult in India)? Import/Export laws? Luckily the choice of artists has never been a challenge, the challenges come when one executes ideas into reality. To paraphrase one of the artists I have worked with - realising a new commission is like having a baby - you have to look after it. 

WHO: Camille Henrot        
WHERE: Bold Tendencies, UK
WHAT: Creative India commissioned sculpture

Photo: Courtesy of the artist

WHO: Zuleikha Chaudharai      
WHERE: India Art Fair, New Delhi
WHAT: Creative India commissioned sculpture

Photo: Courtesy of the artist

What do you understand to be the current, and future trends of Indian sculpture, keeping in mind the rich cultural history that India has as far as sculpture goes?
India has a long tradition with bronze and stone sculptures, two types of sculpture that are relatively rare in contemporary art in India (as I mentioned finding high quality bronze is difficult here, fabricators often add lead or other metals which dilute the bronze and cause complications later). I have been responding to sculptures who engage with vernacular Indian traditions in making their work, such as Asim Waqif who explores vernacular architecture in his Bamboo works, Hemali Bhuta who explores the aryuvedic minerals such as alum in her sculptures, LN Tallur who uses cow dung and silicone in his sculptures which reference antiquities, etc. 

WHO: Rathin Barman           
WHERE: Frieze Art Fair, New York 2012
WHAT: Creative India Commissioned sculpture

Photo: Courtesy of the artist

The rather obvious question that asks why you chose India to pursue your professional aspirations?
I didn’t! I gave up my career to move to India to get married in 2010. That relationship did not work out but led to another, and through my ex-fiance I met the founder of Creative India and my journey with Indian art began. I’ve since taken on another project in Bangladesh and I look forward to widening my engagement with the subcontinent (no pun intended) beyond India, and will eventually move to France once the sculpture park comes to life.

WHO: Aaditi Joshi         
WHERE: Shanghai, China
WHAT: India Focus commission for SH Contemporary Art fair

Photo: Courtesy of the artist

Taking into account your fluency in the Chinese language and experience at the Shanghai Biennale in 2012; would you look to expand your repertoire to China or perhaps forge further dialogue between Indian and Chinese art?
Unfortunately the ethics of exhibition making in China leaves much to be desired. I enjoy the work of many Chinese artists and have brought works by Ai Weiwei and Cheng Ran into India. I am not interested in art based on geographic classifications; the world is so global these days that the references come from all over. Cheng Ran references Bill Viola as much as he does Chinese Cinema history. I do not want to be a “Curator of Indian Art” or a “Curator of Chinese Art” – it is very limiting.