Making Art Accessible – The Inspiring Story of Richa Agarwal and Emami Chisel Art Gallery

Creators And Collectors

There is love at first sight. And then there is the gradual pull that tugs you in slowly, but steadily. For Richa Agarwal, Director of Emami Chisel Art, her love affair with art followed the second story line. Married into the Kolkata-based family that owns the Emami Group of Companies, soft-spoken, ever smiling Richa has found her calling in the beautiful world of art. 

The First Brush with Art

Growing up in Coimbatore, Richa was surrounded by Indian art forms at home. Whether it was clay modelling or learning to sew from her grandmother, she spent much of her childhood immersed in various forms of art and craft.

“We were a group of 17 cousins who got together during every summer vacation. And each year, we had to learn something new. It was like a picnic rather than rigid learning, because there were so many of us,” recalls Richa. Among all the art forms that she learnt during those vacations, Tanjore painting struck a chord with her, and she continued to create Tanjore art well after she got married.

A Deeper Connect

But it was only when Richa Agarwal and her husband Aditya Agarwal, Director – Emami Group of Companies, started collecting art for the new Emami corporate office, that she started looking at art with a new eye. During this time, Richa and Aditya spent a lot of time visiting galleries, meeting artists and inviting them home to see and discuss their work.

Richa Agarwal with her husband, Aditya Agarwal 

“All the artists we used to meet, knew of and respected my father-in-law, Mr. R. S. Agarwal, who has been an art patron for long. They were aware of the Emami Group’s interest in art, and many of them asked us to start a gallery.”

Spurred on by the faith that the artist community placed on them, the Emami Group started art auctions, art publications and art libraries. Over time, these ventures streamlined into what has today become the prominent Emami Chisel Art (ECA) Gallery, spread over 20,000 square feet of space, with Richa as its key driving force.

The interiors of the Emami Chisel Art Gallery

“I got married when I was just 19, and I wasn’t sure I could helm such a huge initiative. But my in-laws and husband had complete faith in my abilities and encouraged me all the way,” says Richa. “During the initial years after opening the gallery, I was living my father-in-law’s dreams and aspirations surrounding art. But over the years, I’ve fallen completely in love with art, and have developed my own ideas and aspirations.”

Giving Back Through Art

The premise and the foundation of Emami Chisel Art is that ‘art is for everyone’. Every event and exhibition at the gallery focuses on sensitizing people about art. “For us, art is everywhere and in everything. The gallery was our way of giving back to the city of Kolkata that has given my father-in-law and the Emami Group so much. The company was founded here and has flourished in this city,” shares Richa.

The Emami Chisel Art Gallery 

Today, the gallery focuses on all forms of Indian art, and has represented some of India’s most celebrated artists, such as Seema Kohli and Bratin Khan. At the same time, they have also been instrumental in bringing many young artists to the forefront. The annual ‘ECA Calling’ art exhibition provides a platform for young, aspiring Indian artists to display their works of art along with well-known, established artists. “Last year, over 800 artists applied! We appointed two juries to do the final selection.” Richa Agarwal proudly notes that Anjan Modak and Sujith SN, both of whom are well-known artists today, sold their first paintings through the ECA Art Exhibition.

Richa Agarwal (right corner) with her sister-in-law, Pinky Agarwal (middle), and acclaimed artist Seema Kohli (left corner)

Richa also makes it a point to organize educational events as part of the gallery’s regular activities. During acclaimed artist S.G. Vasudev’s show, the gallery arranged for primary school children to engage in a painting activity along with the artist. Richa recollects an amusing incident from the day. “We had an 8-year-old walk up to S.G. Vasudev and say ‘actually, your paintings are quite nice’! Initially, I was embarrassed, because he is such a senior artist! But the incident made me realize – that’s how you create access, and build appreciation for art.” It’s evident that for Richa Agarwal, selling art is not a commercial activity in its essence. It is about her love for art, and the passion for connecting people to art.

The Personal Collection

While on the one hand she is excited about the business of running the gallery, Richa is also extremely passionate about the family’s personal art collection, which boasts of works from S.H. Raza, M.F. Husain, Anish Kapoor, Dashrath Patel, and the largest piece of art made by Satish Gujral. “We have four people in the house who are passionate about art, and we have heated arguments before we buy any work,” says Richa. Any personal favourites, we ask her? “We’re all very attached to the Ganesh Haloi and Ganesh Pyne works that were the first paintings my father-in-law bought, while he was still in service,” she shares.

The personal art collection at the Agarwal residence

A New Journey

Richa is now on a journey to break new ground with the gallery. In September 2017, Emami Chisel Art will spread its wings to an expansive 60,000 square feet space, where Indian handicrafts will be showcased along with art. The space will also house a museum and offer art courses, amongst other exciting initiatives.

As Richa looks ahead with excitement at this mammoth project, she also reflects on her journey so far, feeling both pride and humility, at her achievements. Elated about the grand opening, Richa has vivid clarity on her vision for the new space, which will let people experience art like never before. “At the beginning, when I visited art galleries, I used to be very conscious of what I said, because I didn’t want to sound unaware or say anything wrong,” shares Richa. “At ECA, we’ve tried to create a space that removes such inhibitions.”

From left to right:  Shankar Mazumdar, Richa Agarwal, Ramananda Bandyopadhyay and Ganesh Haloi

As someone who has honed her instinct for art over the years, and maintains a simplistic view of a field that often appears complicated from the outside, Richa has sound advice for new collectors: “Always read about the artist and gather more information from the gallerist or online store you are buying from. Budget is a very personal thing, and you can buy great art for a small or large sum, so don’t let your budget restrict your thought. Both the artist and budget are secondary; what’s most important is the connect you to feel to an artwork. Buy what you can live with, and what you will enjoy seeing every day.”

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