Gallerist Priyanka Raja’s home is an intimate showcase of her art and aesthetics
Actor and author Lisa Ray introduces Raja's world to us
I’ve always sought out the company of dynamic and strong women; women who are mythical in their role of illuminating a powerful roadmap to help us navigate our growth and choices, as well as teach us how to tend to the heart fire of home and beauty in the world. Priyanka Raja is one of these women. She’s a woman I want to be. Let me explain. I first heard about Experimenter, the critically acclaimed contemporary art gallery in Kolkata (which has become synonymous with refined, avant garde programming) from a Hong Kong-based friend who grew up with the art connoisseur couple-founders, Prateek and Priyanka.
“You’ll absolutely love Priyanka,” he exhorted through bites of char siu and barbecued duck. “You must meet her,” he said. I nodded slyly, because I was already conspiring to make sure our paths crossed.
I’ve been passionate about art for as long as I can remember, perhaps a response to the middle class pragmatism of my mother, who in my childhood was a sort of productivity Baptist. Time spent gazing at canvases or a screen and not using your hands was sacrilege. Perhaps this also contributed to the gravitational pull towards my father’s Bengali heritage, which places art and literature at the apex of human achievement.
Living room with drawings by Julien Segard (left) and prints by Krishna Reddy (right)
Yet the world of fine art and those who inhabit it, as I’ve come to know it, can feel very remote and cold; non-inclusive. But I felt nothing of the sort when I first spotted Priyanka at the Experimenter stall at Art Basel in Hong Kong. Rather, a warming yellow light of kinship and an authentic and playful presence greeted me—like meeting an old friend. All beautiful doe eyes and smartly cut clothes, Priyanka exudes a rare combination: here is a woman affected by beauty over gain; who is proof that with dedication and skill, both emotion and calculation can co-exist. And the success of Experimenter is a testament to that. In a single meeting I felt anchored to this woman who along with her husband Prateek has navigated Experimenter into an international art institution to reckon with.
Coffee table with books by Dayanita Singh
I soon made plans to visit the Ballygunge outpost of Experimenter on a work trip and fell in love, feeling Priyanka’s unique hand in moulding a space that encourages dialogue and connection, that like her, is a catalyst for process, yet wears its identity lightly. Soon after, when I was debuting my first book, Close to the Bone, I could not imagine a better venue. With characteristic generosity, Priyanka opened the rooftop terrace to a magical launch event and then threw open the doors to her and Prateek’s wrap around terrace and stunning home to an eclectic group of musicians, artists, seekers, old compatriots and Kolkata hipsters.
Guest bedroom with photographs from Sohrab Hura’s series ‘Midnight Studies and a Self Portrait’ (2008)
That evening was touched with love, solace, tenderness, beauty and deep connection, a poignant stepping away from the day-to-day existence for many of us, though I suspect it is closer to everyday reality for her. In a world as distracted as ours, the phenomenon of becoming filled with a singular evening is grace.
She’s a woman who doesn’t let a day slip through her fingers.
Works on display include To Fanon (Out of the water, out of itself), ink on paper works by Samson Young (left wall); Laissez le temps au (2008) mixed media on canvas by Nadia Kaabi-Linke (back wall)
Top, Lounge upstairs with photographs by Tadashi Kamawata (right) and watercolour on paper by Rana Begum (left)
Library displaying books recently studied or waiting to be read
Priyanka‘s daily 5am ritual: preparing notes and exhibition design before a team meeting at Experimenter
Pushing aside nothing as unimportant. A working mother who is pollinating institutions of culture in a way that enables the spirit to soar to a vantage point within ourselves where we connect with grace and truth and provocative emotions. All the essential things.
Priyanka is the woman I want to be. In the meantime, we can talk about toddlers exacting their revenge on the Persian rug and how life is not a drill and how Calcutta does everything better and I’ll accept an invitation to stay at home if I bring my twins along. And laugh bawdily. And art. Always the art running through her like the thread of a song merging into a sea of beauty.
For her and this I’m deeply grateful.