Why buy a grand work of art if it’s for your eyes only? “I get no thrill in tucking art away in private galleries,” says Namita Saraf. “I’m not an obsessed collector. All my artworks are out in the open.”
The Mumbai-based connoisseur, whose family owns a chain of hotels, plays the role of both curator and incubator for artists. She not only identifies art for display at her own substantial properties, but also actively works with artists and communities to commission new works and kindle new ideas.
Born in Kolkata into the family of a jute merchant, Namita was the eldest of four sisters. Her mother would paint in her free time, and all siblings were creatively inclined. Married at 19 when she was in college, Namita gave birth to a son at the age of 20, and a daughter at 23. In a sense, she practically grew up with her children.
By her 30s, her husband’s hotel business had grown manifold. Starting from the landmark Yak & Yeti in Kathmandu, they had expanded to India and owned various hotels that were run by the Hyatt group. Constantly on the go, travelling from one city to another, the couple decided to put the kids in boarding school to stabilize their education.
But that left a vacuum in Namita’s time. She had to figure out what to do next. “You have to be independent and follow your own calling,” her husband Arun encouraged her, “else you lose direction.”
Namita turned to art.
She visited every Biennale around the world, from Europe to North American to Asia. She also began working with designer Rajeev Sethi, designer and chairman of Asian Heritage Foundation, on art projects curated by theme.
One of them was the bee project to create awareness about the threat the species faces. The resultant works were displayed at the Hyatt Chennai.
For her ‘Shiva’ project, Namita commissioned artists such as Jitish Kallat, Atul and Anju Dodiya, and Hema Upadhyay, among others, to create works that would celebrate and reinterpret the Shiva myth. About 100 of these works were displayed at the Grand Hyatt Mumbai.
With both her children now married, the 53-year-old prefers to stay away from the media spotlight, and follows the Buddhist way of simplifying life. Following her life’s purpose has made her content.
“I’m an enabler,” she says, simply. “This is my calling.”