The Alkazi Foundation for the Arts
Committed to the preservation and study of the cultural history of India, The Alkazi Foundation for the Arts is a charitable trust based in New Delhi, India. It was established in 2006 by theatre director and patron of art, Ebrahim Alkazi. The foundation comprises archives of photography as well as theatre in India and provides grants for photo books and theatre photography.
While a young student in London, Alkazi was introduced to the vast wealth of visual material consolidated in India Office Library (now housed at The British Library) that was brought back by colonial administrators, merchants and visitors. Alkazi’s own collection was acquired from a range of sources; from roadside sellers at Portobello Road, London to auction houses such as Christie’s, Sotheby’s and Bonhams and in the 1980s Alkazi began collecting these images with vigour. Housed primarily at his apartment in London, and then in the gallery Sepia International, New York during the 1990s, the archive was brought together to India in 2006, following the anxieties of post-9/11 hostilities in Europe and America. This relocation was accompanied by Alkazi’s conviction to establish a foundation for a repository of images from the South Asian region, which was largely absent.
The Foundation maintains the Alkazi Collection of Photography (ACP) and The Alkazi Theatre Archives (ATA). ACP contains over 90,000 photographs as negatives, loose images, painted photographs, photo-postcards and albums from the nineteenth and twentieth century. While most photographs are of India, the collection also has photographs from other parts of South Asia and Africa. These images document and reflect the sociopolitical life in the subcontinent, bringing together history, architecture, anthropology, archaeology and topography. As documents of the colonial period, there is almost no region under British colonial rule that is left untouched. Beginning from the 1840s and leading up to Independence in 1947, the collection also extensively records the world of prominent Indian photographers and commercial studios of the time such as John Murray, Felice Beato, Samuel Bourne, Raja Deen Dayal and more. ATA comprises photographs and print material such as original scripts, director’s notes, brochures, reviews, papers belonging to individuals and theatre groups, theatre magazines and audiovisual material that includes interviews, rehearsals and performances. It frames stage productions through lenses both biographical and thematic — drawing links between theatre practices and Indian sociopolitical contexts.
Recognising the importance of photography as a medium of documentation, communication, representation and historicisation, the foundation has allowed students, researchers, writers and scholars to gain access to its archives. In addition to facilitating research, the foundation also acts as a centre for research, study, and publication and organises scholarly publications, exhibitions, seminars, conferences, workshops and visits to the archive. Some of their recent publications include Allegory & Illusion: Early Portrait Photography from South Asia (2013), Raja Deen Dayal: Artist-Photographer in 19th Century India (2013), The Uprising of 1857 (2017), Unveiling India: The Early Lensmen 1850–1910 (2015), The Uprising of 1857, and Paper Jewels: Postcards from the Raj (2018).
The Foundation collaborates with scholars and institutions from within and outside India such as Rencontres d'Arles, France; Brunei Gallery, SOAS, London; Fotomuseum Winterthur, Switzerland; EuroIndia Centre, France; and the University of Delhi. Additionally, it has ventured forth to digitise their photography collection to make it more accessible and to ensure its preservation.
The Foundation is situated in Greater Kailash, New Delhi and can be visited through prior appointment.
Allana, Rahaab. “Ebrahim Alkazi: In His Mind’s Eye.” The Wire, August 10, 2020. https://thewire.in/the-arts/ebrahim-alkazi-photography-collection
Chowdhry, Jennifer. “The Alkazi Collection of Photography: Archiving and Exhibiting Visual Histories”. Art etc, May 2011. http://www.artnewsnviews.com/view-article.php?article=the-alkazi-collection-of-photography-archiving-and-exhibiting-visual-histories&iid=20&articleid=504
Kapparath, Madhu. “Inside Ebrahim Alkazi’s photography collection”. Forbes India, September 12, 2020. https://www.forbesindia.com/article/forbes-lifes/inside-ebrahim-alkazis-photography-collection/62531/1