In 2003, when Goutam Chakraborty moved to Uttara, he thought of turning his ground floor into a gallery.
But he also decided that the gallery was not going to be a typical one focusing only on exhibitions, it was going to be a creative space where artists were going to be nourished.
The planning and interior designing took around five months after which 'Galleri Kaya' began its journey. And for 17 years, it has been holding exhibitions, workshops, art camps, art trips and much more to keep art alive and artists engaged in the country.
The Business Standard had a detailed discussion with the renowned artist, gallerist and director of Galleri Kaya Goutam Chakraborty about the gallery's journey over the years, the art industry in Bangladesh, the need for art patrons and his future plan.
When he first opened the gallery, there were quite a few challenges. The first was its distance from other galleries or art hubs such as Shahbagh and TSC.
He worried whether people were going to travel all the way to Uttara to visit it. "I needed to plan something very, very unique so that people came to the gallery. So I designed the programmes keeping that in mind."
There were many ups and downs in the beginning, but with time Galleri Kaya gained momentum and became one of the most renowned galleries in the country.
One time, it held a workshop on 'Gajir Pot' (folk painting) at Jamuna Resort where eminent artists like Qayyum Chowdhury, Kalidas Karmakar and Nitun Kundu among others participated.
"It was not just a workshop, it was a lively discussion, a vibrant 'adda' where all these artists were drawing, talking, and sharing life stories, one more interesting than the other," Goutam shared with us.
This is essentially what makes Galleri Kaya different from others, it creates platforms where artists can express themselves freely.
Galleri Kaya is also hosting a 17th anniversary exhibition today, marking the birth centenary of the Father of the Nation and Bangabandhu, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman. Creative works of 32 modern and contemporary artists are being displayed here.
Our first question to the artist was, "Is there a sufficiently large enough market for galleries to survive?"
"Not in our country. We tend to do things under manipulation; we always look for favours from each other. Art cannot flourish like that," he replied.
According to him, those who claim that they have large art collections ought to know that those who directly deal with art (artists, gallerists, etc) know more than them.
"I was telling a collector the other day, if you have a lot of money, you can instantly buy a lot of expensive things," he said, adding, "But building a good art collection is not easy, it requires time, and an eye for art."
"Do we have artists who create high-value paintings?" we asked him.
"We had artists like Zainul Abedin and SM Sultan. For high-value paintings, there needs to be people with genuine interest in art and plenty of artwork," he opined.
According to Goutam Chakraborty, there are not enough art patrons in Bangladesh. "There is no commitment. Someone claiming that s/he has the largest art collection in the world is not the same as patronising art."
However, as he went about his journey with Galleri Kaya, he received overwhelming support from artists. "Senior artist or junior artist, whoever I approached, always responded warmly."
We then asked him to share his take on the size of the art industry in the country. "There is no substantial market, so how can we call it an industry? What we have, cannot really be called an industry."
Who are Kaya's competitors? "I guess Galleri Kaya's competitors are other galleries, or I am their competitor," he promptly replied.
From its inception, Galleri Kaya has consciously mixed senior artists with comparatively newer ones and brought them under the same roof.
"As a student of art, as a son of an artist, I made a commitment to look after artists. Established artists do not need support from galleries, the young, talented ones do," said Goutam.
He believes art is going through such a time where we need to break barriers and go beyond borders. "We lack research in art, there are no good books or analysis."
"Only holding exhibitions is not enough, the journey of art is long," he said, adding, "There has to be exchange programmes of international standard where artwork would be carefully curated and displayed."
For Goutam, some of the most memorable shows at Galleri Kaya included one held in 2008, which was graced by artist Bijan Choudhury from Kolkata along with Aminul Islam, Qayyum Chowdhury, and Rafiqun Nabi, and another show that celebrated M F Husain's birth centenary.
While talking about his father Devdas Chakraborty, Goutam said that his father always gave him ultimate freedom and support. "He was a very positive person, and from him I learned not to worry about things that are beyond my control."
Goutam Chakraborty's future plans include sharpening the ongoing projects and getting involved in research and publication. Simply publishing something would not be sufficient, so he is looking for proper distribution networks so that the works can reach people.
17 years ago, during Galleri Kaya's launching exhibition, a lot of people had asked Goutam whether he would be able to run the gallery. He tells them now, "Look how far we have come!"
As we concluded the interview, he expressed his heartfelt gratitude for all the support he has received from media and sponsors in the last 17 years.