When the beloved Café Samovar shut shop in the March of 2015, the city’s cognoscenti mourned.
The Jehangir Art Gallery’s (JAG) chairperson Adi Jehangir, however, was determined to make something better out of “a cafe that bloomed beyond everyone’s imagination“. In fact, in an interview with the Mumbai Mirror last year, Jehangir pointed out, “Wouldn’t it be financially feasible to give all of the six licensee’s spaces out to a posh restaurant or private gallery, and charge them South Mumbai rentals, while keeping only three auditoriums for India’s young artists? But that’s not the objective with which my grandfather established the gallery.“
Article by Alka Dhupkar & Reema Gehi | Jehangir Art Gallery
Jehangir was referring to Sir Cowasji Jehangir, who funded the public art institution for emerging artists that opened in 1952. JAG receives 2,500 applications annually, of which only 450 can be accommodated at a nominal rent of Rs 3,500 per day (exhibition hall). An artist has to wait for a minimum of five years before heshe can exhibit his work here.
On Thursday, Jehangir confirmed to the paper that plans to make an art gallery at the place of Cafe Samovar was unanimously passed by Mumbai Heritage Conservation Committee (MHCC) in meetings during March and April. “The Heritage Committee has informed us that the proposal has been passed. But due to some red tape, the heritage committee has not provided a written letter yet. So without that important document, we cannot go to the BMC to get further approvals,“ he said.
According to Jehangir, “Although we had originally planned it as a sculpture gallery, we may change it to a gallery for paintings. The gallery will be standing in front of the current Jehangir Art Gallery, so we are planning to build see-through glass walls. We are not sure how much time we need to get all the permissions. But once the permissions are obtained, the new gallery can start operating within a couple of months. Apart from the glass, small changes will be made to the roof, and the flooring will also be altered with lighting arrangements.“
JAG is also set to have one more gallery of around 1,200 sq feet area that will be built underground. “At present, we have openings only in 2021 at JAG. This is not fair for the artists. But we are helpless as bookings are full. So there is a waiting list of five years. If we start the underground art gallery and a new gallery where Samovar was located, it will reduce 30 per cent pressure of the current bookings. For this gallery, we will just wait till the monsoons get over. We have finished water-proofing and will do renovation in July. Civil work will be done after we get confirmation that there is no leakage.“
Members of the art fraternity have welcomed the plan. Abhinit Khanna, a creative arts manager based in the city, said, “I feel any additional cultural space adds value to our city. We have plenty of cafes that open in Bombay every day but we don’t have enough cultural spaces that exhibit provocative work.With this move, not only emerging artists will get space to exhibit their work, but we can also see various emerging mediums of art such as sound, performance, folk and craft. I see it turning into a hybrid space. Nonetheless, Samovar will still be remembered as a place where one could bump into their favourite artists and thinkers.“