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  1. Impact Philanthropy
November 15, 2018updated 07 Mar 2019 6:30am

Anita Choudhrie talks philanthropy, art and cars

By Arun Kakar

Anita Choudrie, the matriarch of one of India’s wealthiest families opens up about her various endeavours, writes Arun Kakar

Anita Choudhrie is the matriarch of one of India’s most eminent and wealthy UK-based families. Husband Sudhir has an estimated net worth of over $2 billion, and presides over a global business empire spanning hotels, healthcare and aviation.

The Belgravia-based couple have two sons, Bhanu and Dhairya, and have reportedly been major donors of the Liberal Democrats.

Today Choudhrie mostly channels her energies into philanthropy, and set up Path to Success in 2005, a charity focused on ‘turning inability to ability’ for disabled women in sport. She also collects classic cars and art with a passion, and set up the Stellar International Art Foundation to institutionalise the latter in 2008. The foundation was based on the private collection of the Choudhrie Family and comprises more than 800 works dating from the late 19th Century to the present day. She says: ‘Philanthopy… Or Collectting….’

In this exclusive interview, she talks to Spear’s about these three main preoccupations.

What did the collection start with?

The Stellar International Art Foundation’s Collection began in the 1970s when our family began to purchase works of art out of private enthusiasm and this soon led to friendships with important international contemporary artists. At the point the Foundation was created, the collection focused further on American and European contemporary art as well as modern and impressionist works.

What are some of your favourite pieces in the collection?

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I’d say probably our collection of MF Husain’s works. We have one of the largest artworks outside the estate, making it the most significant home for the artist’s oeuvre. With over 250 works spanning from the early 1950s through to his final years, the collection supersedes all the world’s museum, gallery and private collections.

The foundation also has one of the most noteworthy compilations of work by one of Delhi’s most accomplished contemporary artists Paresh Maity. This includes the full breadth of his media spectrum – from sculpture to oil, watercolour to mixed media – also spanning the artists’ career.

Our foundation owns two of his important, large scale series: Kerala – a group of 51 works over various media commissioned by the Keralan government – and Tagore – a mix of painting, drawing and calligraphy inspired by the seminal, master poet.

This year, the [foundation’s] theme is feminism and female artists. As such we have recently acquired new art by Tracey Emin, The More of You the More I Love You.

What your approach to finding new artists?

Typically, our art adviser would come up with a portfolio to find qualifies of interest in artists. At the moment our focus is on feminism, so we have been targeting female artists, feminist works and art exploring gender inequality or body image.

Ten years after founding the foundation, what are you are proudest about?

The real meaning of the foundation lies not in its material possessions but in the opportunities it provides for artists. By collecting European, Russian, American and Indian art and distinguishing our selection less on regional concerns and more artistic talent, we have been able to champion overlooked artists and give them a well-deserved voice. Seeing these artists thrive through our help has been one of the most rewarding things I have ever done.

Diversity is a key theme of the collection. How can – and is – Britain’s cultural gaze being widened in 2018?

I have long believed in the value of artistic practice as an active force for challenge and change. Art offers unique access to other parts of the world and their cultures and can open up our minds to what there is beyond our own reality. In doing so, it can encourage reflection, challenge assumptions and drive change.

Championing female empowerment through art can likewise help to bring us a step closer to embracing gender equality across the board. Within the current political landscape, women must realise their potential and identities within their work and beyond. We’ve seen the recent revelations of the #MeToo campaign, bringing to light feminist issues that have been underlying for far too long and now we must unite and break down these barriers of inequality in every aspect of life. These themes need to be addressed in all industries, but art can and should lead the way.

How did you get involved with collecting cars and racing?

My husband and I love old cars, but our interest goes back much further to the pre-war years. We both adore vintage cars – defined as any car built before December 1939 – and we have been lucky enough to acquire a substantial collection since the first one in 1980. As for the best thing about these cars, I think it’s the simplicity of the engineering combined with the quality.

Another attraction for my husband in particular is the challenge of restoring these cars to their original condition. For him, it’s a real labour of love that can easily take five-to-six years, and sometimes more than ten. Mainly this is because it is far harder to find the original parts for a vintage car compared to a classic car.

What’s your approach to buying?

Cars that will increase in value and popularity with time: our first vintage Rolls Royce cost $3,000-$4,000 and is now worth around $250,000.

This is not the reason we collect vintage cars, though. For us, the pre-war period was the real heyday of the motor car and by collecting them we can help ensure it is never forgotten. Vintage cars have provided us with so much pleasure over the years and we intend to put my collection in a trust so that they can be enjoyed by generations to come. The cars are not on public display but one day they will be: we plan to build a car museum that will sit alongside an art gallery exhibiting our collection of Indian art, along with a hotel and convention centre.

What can you tell us about your current philanthropic projects?

I founded my own charity, Path to Success, in 2005. On International Women’s Day of this year we launched our Path to Tokyo 2020 campaign, which provides support for 12 disabled female athletes who dream of competing in the Paralympics but do not qualify for central sports funding. The campaign has had wonderful feedback so far, and we’re really excited about how it will develop over the coming months and years.

How do you choose where to focus your philanthropy?

Education, disability and supporting women are the consistent threads that have run through my philanthropic work. I find that opportunities and causes present themselves to you the deeper you become involved in philanthropy.

You have several philanthropic strands – what unites them?

A desire to empower women is very much at the heart of what I do. Art and sport are two great passions of mine, but women are still grossly under-represented in both. What unites my work in both sectors is a desire to change this and ensure women have the exposure, support and funding that they deserve.

Arun Kakar writes for Spear’s

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