“I wanted a name that was different from others, that signified an area, that gave a feeling of a space where anything can happen,” Malini Gulrajani, founder of 1X1 Art Gallery told Folio. Adding with a wink, “and most of the time it puts me at the top of every listing!” 1X1 has had several incarnations during the past two decades, but its name, its focus and its owner’s ambition and pragmatism have remained on track. Malini was early to set up in Al Quoz: her first epic showcase of installations by Chittrovanu Mazumdar ran during the first Art Dubai in 2007. This month marks two years since the gallery opened its 7500 square ft warehouse in Alserkal Avenue. The exhibition The Star is Mine runs until 4 January 2018.
It is the fourth major exhibition Malini has worked on with curator Sumesh Sharma, who she met at Art Dubai in 2014 when Clark House Initiative’s The Kinematic Modern was included in the fair’s commissions. Sharma spoke to us about their collaboration: “Malini’s interest in looking at South Asia makes it interesting for me to propose exhibitions that you would largely find in the context of an exhibiting institution, not within a gallery”. Indeed the exhibitions he has presented have not felt overly commercial, their themes covering portraiture, feminism and trans-nationalism. This time he looks at how landscapes from Morocco to South-East Asia are being affected by mining. “Landscapes have not been altered and people have been displaced at such scale since the ice age,” Sharma explains. “The Star is Mine reminds us of the possibilities and the limitations of possession, narrated by artists who poetically attempt to predict our destiny”. Exhibiting artworks by 12 artists including installations, photography and film, it is an ambitious show. Some artists such as Sachin Bonde have had solo exhibitions at 1X1; others are presenting work in the region for the first time. A highlight are three films by Shannon Te Ao, Sammy Balloji and Taloi Havini, as well as tantalizing works by Moroccans such as Mohammed Fariji. “People tell me Morocco is the next big thing,” says Malini. “Shows like these increase our platform; it’s different, edgy”.
It isn’t the first time Malini has predicted a success story: 1X1 gave Hassan Sharif his first solo exhibition in 2009. Just a year after Flying House was born and a few months before Catherine David had taken a selection of Sharif’s work to Venice, Press Conference offered the Dubai arts community a first taste of Sharif’s ready-mades, expressive paintings, quirky caricatures and playful sketches. Further collaboration with Mohammed Kazem and Cristiana De Marchi came with the launch of Empty 10 in 2013. For two years the trio mounted experimental exhibitions in the small warehouse complex close to Alserkal Avenue, which showcased Kazem and De Marchi’s work together with artists Malini worked with and younger artists from the MENA region. She also maintained her villa on Al Wasl Road where the gallery had started twenty years before. Since 2015, however, everything has been brought together in Alserkal Avenue.
“I love my space here – so simple, no design; it is exactly how we got it,” Malini tells us. “To do interesting things you need a space like this.” Not afraid of filling large exhibition spaces, Malini has curated shows abroad too, in locations such as the Beirut Exhibition Center, MACRO in Rome and MANA in New Jersey. 1X1 usually participates in two art fairs a year, one in the UAE and one abroad. In February she will return to the India Art Fair, the second edition since the takeover by the MCH Group who run Art Basel.
“I am proud to focus mainly on India,” says Malini, who has lived in Dubai for 30 years but was born in Bombay and lived in Hydrabad and Bangalore as a child. Indeed, her closest supporter is leading collector of contemporary Indian art, Smita Prabhakar. “1X1 has a very important role to play in educating the community about the dynamics of Indian Art”, she tells Folio. “The gallery brings cutting edge shows to the public and offers a taste of what is being shown in India and around the world. As the only gallery in the GCC showcasing Indian Art consistently, it provides a haven for collectors.”
Recent sales of Indian art at Christie’s and Sotheby’s in London have been buoyant, despite a rocky period in the market with the introduction of demonetization 11 months ago and a new general tax. In Paris during FIAC, a major solo of the contemporary artist Nalini Malini and an exhibition of Indian Modernism curated by Catherine David opened at the Centre Pompidou as did Punascha Parry at Villa Vassilieff. Art advisors Gurr Johns just opened in India which signals confidence in the market, and Dubai will always be an important place for sales of works by Indian artists. As Gaurav Bhatia, MD for Sotheby’s India told us: “Dubai is a developing art market with a vibrant Indian diaspora and a number of collectors who engage in art actively”. That is why galleries specializing in Indian art return to Art Dubai year after year. “For anyone looking at South Asia, Dubai is the place to be seen,” Conor Macklin, Director of Grosvenor Gallery, London remarked. It was at 1X1 that we first came across Bose Krishnamachari, curating AfFair in 2008 and showing his own paintings in NO in 2010 - this was two years before the launch of his successful Kochi-Muziris Biennale, which will hold its fourth edition in 2018.
So for the future? Malini is contemplating a modern show in December - she has always had that as a second string to her bow – as well as another solo of her great first success story, Chittrovanu Mazumdar, for those who were not here in 2007. “We started out really small but soon the gallery encompassed my whole life,” Malini muses. “It did not feel like work, although it was and remains a constant struggle. I just love it. It became my passion and made me really happy”.