‘The sea was Nasreen Mohamedi’s enduring source of inspiration’: Masanori Fukuoka

Interview with the art collector and founder of Glenbarra Art Museum, Japan.

Published : Dec 01, 2022 10:30 IST

Masanori Fukuoka

Masanori Fukuoka | Photo Credit: Kristion Colaco

What drew you to Nasreen Mohamedi’s work?

My engagement with Nasreen’s work has been driven by my curiosity and a desire to understand her work better.

Is there any work in particular from this exhibition which you think deserves a special mention?

In this exhibition, more than showcasing any individual work, I wanted to highlight a sense of how Nasreen’s practice and artistic investigations shifted in the three decades over which she created the artwork represented here.

Why open in Goa rather than in Mumbai, where she spent her childhood? Or for that matter, Baroda, where she lived and taught art?

The sea was an enduring source of inspiration for Nasreen Mohamedi. She revisited it repeatedly in her drawings, paintings, and photographs. In Goa, where the sea remains an integral part of the experience, Sunaparanta provided the ideal setting to kick-start this travelling exhibition. It will travel to Vadodara, New Delhi, and Mumbai—cities where Nasreen lived and worked at one time or another.

You have had these works for some time. Why did you feel the need for this show now?

Since 2009, Glenbarra Museum’s collection of Nasreen’s work has been loaned to museum exhibitions in 11 cities across Europe and North America. While it is exhilarating to see the international attention her work is receiving, it has always troubled me that these works have never been shown together in India. This is the idea behind the current exhibition.

Did you know about Nasreen’s Japanese connection when you first bought her works?

I did not know about Nasreen’s interest in Japan or Zen when I first collected her work. My interest stemmed from an engagement with the work itself and a desire to understand it better.

While the origin of your passion for Indian modern art is known, when and how did your love for collecting art in general begin?

My engagement with art collection happened in fits and starts. In the 1980s, I used to travel to Europe for work. On weekends, since everything was closed, I would visit galleries and eventually bought 10-15 paintings for our hotel as well as our home. But my true engagement with collected art really started with Indian art in the early 1990s.

Could you describe your journey as a follower and collector of Indian modern art—how has it changed from the early days, in the 1990s, when you first began to acquire it, until now?

By 1997, I had collected hundreds of works by over 60 artists with a view to promoting Indian art in Japan, as opposed to simply collecting what I liked. All of that changed after the 1997 exhibition, “Image Beyond Image”, travelled to New Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru, and Kolkata. I felt the responsibility to promote lifted from my shoulders after this exhibition. I decided to focus on building a collection centred on 10 artists whose work I admired. This group includes Arpita Singh, Nasreen Mohamedi, V.S. Gaitonde, and Jogen Chowdhury. That focus has guided my collection for over two decades now.

You said that little was known about Indian modern art in Japan when you acquired your first works. How has the Japanese audience evolved since you first established Glenbarra Art Museum?

Even after I opened the museum and started an active lending programme to important art museums around Japan, I was not successful in generating much interest in Indian art among the Japanese.

What is the story behind the name, Glenbarra Art Museum?

My family ran a fish-processing business, and at some point, we decided to pivot on producing smoked salmon. Back then, smoked salmon was regarded as a special gift. We decided that a Scottish-sounding name would stand for quality in the brand-conscious Japanese market. That’s how the name Glenbarra came about. Since the first iteration of the museum was in the Glenbarra factory, it naturally took on the name.

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