Cover Amar Singh, Photo: Courtesy Amar Singh

Amar Singh is passionate about minority voices gaining visibility in the art world. He tells Tatler how he fuses his passions for art and activism while championing female artists and LGBTQ+ causes

“It’s still not diverse enough,” says art dealer and activist Amar Singh of the art world. But he is part of a movement calling for better representation and the decolonisation of art history. “We’re just at the beginning.”

For a long time, the programming at museums and galleries has championed straight, white, male artists and reflected the dominant trend throughout art history. In recent years, however, an increased demand for works by female artists, LGBTQ+ artists, and artists of colour has resulted in a significant inflation in both their monetary and cultural value. Art institutions have been forced to seriously reconsider the diversity of their collections and artist rosters. While this socio-cultural reckoning has gained immense traction (fuelled further by the #MeToo and Black Lives Matter cultural movements), Singh hopes that curators and gallerists who are beginning to promote these underrepresented groups of artists are motivated beyond fleeting market trends.

“It takes an elongated approach to build the careers of artists; significant time investment has been put into the Rothkos and Lichtensteins of the world,” says Singh. “It has not been put into the Kerry James Marshalls or Joan Mitchells of the world,” he adds, referring to the creator of the highest-selling artwork by a living black artist and one of the top-selling female artists, respectively.

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Until recently, when museums starting acquiring works by female artists, and the value of those works increased in the market, women were overlooked for their contributions to art history simply because they were women. Singh wants to do his part in changing that.

The London-born and bred gallerist started dealing art in 2010 at the age of 21, and has been committed to supporting historically underrepresented artists. In 2017, he opened his eponymous gallery showcasing works by female abstract expressionists such as Elaine de Kooning, Lee Krasner and his all-time favourite Helen Frankenthaler, all of whom happened to be spouses of renowned painters: Willem de Kooning, Jackson Pollock and Robert Motherwell respectively.

“I’m choosing them [female artists] first because of the great art,” says Singh. “But women really are at the top in terms of the group of artists who were just completely cast aside.”

He attributes his desire to support women to his lineage of prominent female activists. He is a distant relative of Rajkumari Amrit Kaur, who was India’s first health minister and set up a fund for women’s education. She additionally served as secretary to Mahatma Gandhi for 16 years. His grandmother Veena Singh was a headmistress and educator in Punjab; India’s first Prime Minister, Jawaharlal Nehru, often visited the region and met with her as a part of efforts to widen women’s and general education initiatives.

Singh has also channelled his inherited activism into raising awareness of LGBTQ+ rights in India, the impact of which goes far beyond the art world. He was part of a campaign which sought to legalise same-sex relationships in India, resulting in the historic verdict from the Indian Supreme Court in 2018 that ruled that section 377, which among other things prohibited consensual sexual acts between adults of the same sex was unconstitutional. Singh worked alongside Prince Manvendra Singh Gohil, India’s first openly gay prince and a victim of conversion therapy. Currently, with the support of Singh and other activists, the prince is now fighting to ban LGBTQ+ conversion therapy in India; only seven countries in the world have legislation against the practice, and it’s Singh’s “mission to fund supreme court cases banning conversion therapy globally”.

Singh uses his company, which he owns completely, to fund and support causes. Most recently, he has been bitten by the NFT bug, creating a sales platform which gives anything between five and 100 per cent of proceeds to charity.

Last year he partnered with VeVe, a specialised collectibles platform, luxury brand Givenchy and anonymous female digital art group Rewind Collective on an NFT release. Rewind Collective’s goals are similar to Singh’s, seeking to level gender and minority imbalances within the art world. The digital art they make is created in response to existing works, often by significant female artists throughout art history.

Last year’s sale sold out, with each edition priced at an affordable US$100—raising a total of US$128,000, all of which went to Le MAG Jeunes, a group supporting LGBTQ+ youth. This year, Singh has again teamed up with the same collaborators and has a drop, Pride II, this month.

Singh has pledged that every NFT project he is involved in will have an element of impact. He underlines the importance of being successful in his business so that he can continue to make an impact both in the art world and as an activist. “It has to be a company of power to lead the way and encourage others to give back while being profitable,” he says.

Singh is in good company: many collectors, artists and foundations are now part of a larger movements that incorporate activism and awareness into their businesses and collections. Sunpride Foundation, founded by collector Patrick Sun, creates important exhibitions and collects artworks by LGBTQ+ artists. Ibrahim Mahama is among many African artists opening up institutions in their home countries where cultural infrastructure is lacking. Celebrated British artist Tracy Emin founded a residency programme in her hometown, Margate, with 30 studios that artists can rent at a very low rate. “Artists right now are giving back—and that’s quite powerful,” says Singh. “It’s artists of colour and women who realise that we need to help our own and communities that look like us.”

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