India has its fair share of people who not only love art, but also believe that every person should have the opportunity to experience it. One of them is Richa Agarwal of the Emami Group, which is promoted by her father-in-law R S Agarwal and R S Goenka and their families. Having come a long way from just acquiring artworks for their private collection—owned by both the families jointly—today, she proactively promotes art by primarily organising art exhibitions and fairs. These were initially held at the Emami Group-owned Emami Chisel Art and then since 2018, at the Group’s Kolkata Centre for Creativity, a multi-disciplinary interactive arts centre that also houses the premier gallery space, Emami Art.
Richa Agarwal was born in a traditional, close-knit joint Marwari family. Her grandparents had migrated to South India from Rajasthan after Independence, and so she spent her childhood in Chennai and Coimbatore. She grew up with lots of aunts, uncles and cousins, and though strictures were placed upon them, her parents were very cosmopolitan in the upbringing of their children. Completing her schooling from St Hilda’s in Ooty, she proceeded to Nirmala College for Women in Coimbatore for graduation. At 19, she tied the knot with Aditya Agarwal, the elder son of R S Agarwal. Life after marriage did not see her being confined to the role of a homemaker though. Rather, she was encouraged by her loved ones, especially R S Agarwal, R S Goenka and her husband to pursue her interests, which in her case, was art.
Love for art
So when did her passion for art take root? It began in her childhood, replies Richa Agarwal, adding, “My maternal family was more into music, while my paternal family was passionate about art and craft. When planning our holidays, my grandmothers on both sides of the family would make sure that every vacation of ours included ample sports, art and craft and visits to factories, temples or historical sites.” But her in-laws played an even greater role in nudging her towards art. They would collect artworks even when they had limited means, as R S Agarwal believed that people who appreciate art should support it too. A new chapter in the family’s journey on the art front began from 2007, when they started meeting artists, sometimes even visiting their studios to talk to them. That was when R S Agarwal noticed her keen interest in art and encouraged her to pursue her passion more seriously.
‘Rasa’ exhibition by artist Ravinder Reddy, held at Emami Art in 2019
Following her passion
Emami Chisel Art was born in 2007. Spread over nearly 15,000 square feet, it occupied the ground and first floors of the Emami Tower in the eastern part of Kolkata. Apart from displaying the Emami Group’s personal collection, Emami Chisel Art organised art exhibitions, fairs, auctions, retrospectives and talk shows. Little wonder then that it emerged as a popular destination for art enthusiasts.
In November 2018, Emami Chisel Art was relaunched as Emami Art, at the Kolkata Centre for Creativity (KCC). Explaining the reason behind taking this step, Richa Agarwal says, “I had realised that through Emami Chisel Art, we were not promoting art and culture the way R S Agarwal and R S Goenka had envisaged. In collecting art over the last decade, their desire to nurture and promote creative talent from the region to an international stature had grown and developed.” Emami Art, together with KCC were more in tune with their corporate philosophy on art, she goes on to explain, and by merging different artistic disciplines under one roof, they were broadening conversations about creativity and for creative people to connect with. She currently serves as the chairperson of KCC and the CEO of Emami Art.
R S Agarwal (left) and R S Goenka, Founders of Emami Group
Spread over 70,000 square feet, KCC houses Emami Art, a second exhibition space, an imagination area, Restaurant Grace, a gift shop, a conservation lab, professional audio and video facilities, a dance studio, a material library, a book library and a skill development section. KCC was designed by architect and Richa Agarwal’s mentor Pinakin Patel, who also serves as KCC’s creative director.
Richa Agarwal says that KCC has been encouraging participation in art and culture related activities and boosting creativity through multi-disciplinary exchange. In just a little over a year since its inception, it has curated and hosted around 200 programmes, such as creative workshops and courses, talks, seminars, theatres, musical soirees, art exhibitions, photography shows, sessions on art restoration and environment conservation, and open-mic sessions for poets, comedians, musicians and performers. Apart from associating with national and international artists for exhibitions and projects, it has collaborated with museums, government institutions and foreign consulates in India.
Richa Agarwal (left) with husband Aditya Agarwal
Optimism about the future
Looking back at the years gone by, Richa Agarwal says, “It has been quite an exciting and enriching journey for us. While there have been many high points, by way of super successful art shows, highly engaging art sessions and mutually enriching art collaborations, there also have been some challenges.” An ongoing challenge is that at KCC—which she considers a child with an immense potential—it is always a tough task to ensure a whirlwind, high-voltage engagement 24/7, throughout the year. Nevertheless, Richa Agarwal is optimistic that KCC will build a culture of art and craft through a global network of institutes, governments and public partnerships, with research, documentation, conservation, display and public engagement serving as enablers.