September marks 50 years of south Mumbai based art gallery, Cymroza. In celebrating this golden year, the gallery is hosting three shows spanned between three different galleries – Cymroza Gallery, Pundole’s and Chatterjee & Lal. Thematically, the contents of each exhibition are designed to complement each other. At Cymroza, select archives were on display, providing a fascinating insight into the gallery’s exhibition history as well as gallery owner Pheroza Godrej’s personal journey with art. At Pundole’s, art critic Ranjit Hoskote curated a major group exhibition, titled Mapping the Lost Spectrum, incorporating highlights from the collection of Jamshyd and Pheroza Godrej. Finally, at Chatterjee & Lal, Nancy Adajania has curated the first retrospective of the important textile artist Nelly Sethna, an artist championed by Godrej. The exhibition is titled, ‘The Unpaved, Crusty, Earthy Road.’ That it is already 50 years of Cymroza, has caught Godrej by surprise. “I don’t know where the years have gone by,” she says.
Pheroza Godrej (nee Shroff) founded Cymroza, in Breach Candy area of South Bombay whilst still only in her 20’s. Over the next 50 years, the gallery went on to host a range of seminal exhibitions. Godrej became a leading figure in the arts ecosystem: not only as a gallerist, but also as a collector, a philanthropist, a patron, an art historian, and, lately, a policy-maker.
In 1971, Godrej entered the then nascent and yet to evolve contemporary Indian art field by establishing Cymroza Art Gallery. At Breach Candy, though the gallery was away from the art district of the Jehagir Art Gallery (JAG) and Prince of Wales Museum (now the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahlaya, CSMVS), it was not a deterrent. It was a buzzing neighbourhood. Right opposite the gallery was one of the most popular restaurants at the time Bombelli’s, a popular book store Reader’s Paradise, a temple down the road and a multi-purpose hall on one side, and down the other side was the Bhulabhai Desai Foundation and National Centre for the Performing Arts housed at Akash Ganga building.
With such limited options for artists and other creative people to showcase their art, Cymroza was a breath of fresh air. Getting a date for a showing at the JAG was next to impossible (and still is), and at other times artists were told to find a group show to be a part of. At Cymroza, Godrej would find a group for the artist to be a part of to showcase their work, so they didn’t have to find a group on their own. Over time, Godrej got in ceramic artists, potters, and tribal artists to showcase their works at the gallery. Initially, the gallery showed new and young artists. The older artists from the Progressive artists group were not that open to come to Cymroza. It was 25 years before any of the Progressive artists showed at Cymroza.
Godrej’s interest in the arts is wide-ranging, and includes a specialized knowledge of modern Indian paintings, prints and drawings. Over these last four and a half decades, she has curated exhibitions ranging from the colonial period to contemporary art both, in India and abroad. Since then, her specialty has extended to the prints of Indian subjects by British artists, also known as the Company School.
In 2009, to celebrate the cultural ties between the Victoria & Albert Museum, London, and the CSMVS, along with Pauline Rohatgi, Graham Parlett and Shirley Imray, she worked on an exhibition, book and seminar: “Indian Life and Landscape by Western Artists,” highlighting paintings and drawings from the 17th to the early 20th century.
Godrej and Rohatgi both gifted prints and drawings from their personal collections to the CSMVS to establish a permanent “Prints and Drawing Gallery” at the Museum in 2015. She curated two exhibitions: “Bombay to Mumbai – Door to the East with its Face to the West” in January 2015, and “Kolkata through the Colonial Eyes – Prints and Drawings of British Artists in the 18th and 19th Centuries” in October 2017 and edited respective exhibition catalogues.
On the corporate front, Godrej is the chairperson of the Godrej Archives Council and spearheads the preserving of the corporate heritage within the Godrej group. Started in 1997, the Godrej Archives has now evolved into one of the leading business archives in India using state-of-the-art standards and practices. Encouraged by her, the Godrej Archives annual lecture series, an initiative to increase the awareness about and encourage research in business history was started.
In addition to the exhibitions, a series of talks and panel discussions are planned, with a focus on the history of the commercial gallery scene in Mumbai, using Cymroza as an anchor. A publication is also planned for release in early to mid-2022. Together, the Cymroza at 50 events present a landmark moment, and – through the history of both gallery and founder – contextualise the history of exhibition making and collection formation in India over the last half-century. Here is looking forward to another 50 years for Cymroza.
The archival exhibition at Cymroza is over. The shows titled Mapping the Lost Spectrum at Pundole, and Nelly Sethna’s retrospective titled The Unpaved, Crusty, Earthy Road at Chatterjee & Lal is on till October 19.