Document everything

27-Bahaar-Dhawan-Rohatgi Bahaar Dhawan Rohatgi

My story began at the bustling offices of Delhi’s prestigious law firm Amarchand Mangaldas. Lawyer by day and artist by night, I led a double life for five years. When I got married and had to juggle family, work and art, I took a sabbatical from my legal job in 2015. I tested the waters with my first exhibition in 2015; the show was sold out and I started creating every day.

My legal background helps me create art with a purpose; it invokes thought and is often a comment on society. My mixed media work predominantly evokes emotions, from longing to aspirations or even nostalgia.

As someone straddling both the worlds, I realise there are innumerable legal issues loaded against artists. They are at the receiving end of the mess as they shy away from pursuing their legal rights.

Apart from consignment notes, which galleries readily provide, they do not sign proper agreements, setting out legal remedies in the event of loss or damages to the artwork, unless you are represented by the gallery. They also hold on to the artist’s work indefinitely.

Aggravated expenses and the fear of breakdown of relations with gallery owners dissuade artists from standing up for their rights. There should be proper sharing of information regarding insurance details of the work—even if it is being held on commission basis.

Galleries also do not disclose the buyer of your works, which serves no purpose. Every artist should be aware of who bought the work. Today’s artists are tomorrow’s masters, and documentation of their art and its owners will discourage the emergence of fakes later and help with verifying the provenance. This would also help track subsequent sales and lay the foundation for artists’ royalties. At the beginning of my art journey, I learnt an important lesson—document everything.

Unfortunately, artists receive no royalty on resale of artworks. Many of us do not even insist on such clauses in the agreements for sale.

Issues can arise at any stage of the transaction. Recently, there were issues pertaining to a shipment of my installations to the US. Many hidden costs were shared with me after the works were in transit, and I had to clear them all or risk forfeiting my works.

I was once bullied by a gallery to create artworks, which were initially approved and appreciated, but [later] I was told that they were unsuitable for display as those colours do not sell well. They also made no effort to promote the show despite charging a huge commission from the sale of my artworks. As a lawyer, I could have rescinded the contract with immediate effect. However, as an artist, I kept my calm. I realised it is important to have terms and conditions in writing before you proceed with any professional relationship in the art world.

In another episode, one of my works was completely damaged while being transported from Rajasthan to Delhi. It was lent to an organisation, and they failed to compensate me because the gallerist blamed the transport company and the transporters blamed the laborers. I could have pursued it, but eventually the labourers would have suffered.

A few years ago, I had loaned huge panels of artwork to a renowned alcohol brand as part of a travelling bar. After it was showcased across the country for two years, the sculptural panels disappeared without a trace.

I have learnt my lessons—business cannot be done based on assurances, no matter how much people try to tell me this is how things work in the art world.

Rohatgi is a lawyer-turned-artist, with more than 40 shows in India and abroad, and more than 300 sales worldwide.

As told to Soni Mishra