Anita Choudhrie is at the forefront of building opportunities for women in both the worlds of art and sports. Here, the founder of Path to Success and Stellar International Art Foundation speaks to Samantha Welsh about where her passion for philanthropy in these particular fields came from.
LUX: What drew you to advocate for the rights and needs of the disabled?
Anita Choudhrie: My mother had a terminal eye problem, so much so, that by the time she was fifty she was completely blind. However, growing up I always admired how she continued to live her life with such endeavour, confidence and purpose. She was rarely dependent on other people and managed to live each day to the full despite this challenge.
Having witnessed her strength and determination, I wanted to empower other individuals, facing unique challenges, with the same resolve. Whilst studying at Delhi University, I became increasingly aware of the hardships that those outside of our vision and environment face, and I decided that I wanted to make a difference. As a result, I became deeply passionate about my own charitable work, and this led me to the path I am on today.
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LUX: You have been leading change in disability services for over 25 years. How did this all start?
Anita Choudhrie: Inspired by my grandfather’s philanthropic work and my own passion for charitable endeavours, in 1985 I became involved with a school for disabled children in India. From being on the board, to championing fundraising efforts and working with the children in the school, this experience was my first real role in championing disability services.
I decided I wanted to take the work we were doing with the children to the next level – both to enhance the support they were receiving and to boost fundraising efforts. As a result, I organised for sixteen children with multiple disabilities to travel to the UK to raise awareness. It took almost eight months to arrange everything, including a performance at the House of Commons, and the trip was a great success. All the funds raised went to the school and enabled them to build an entirely new block, purchase a specially adapted school bus and also to acquire land for a new school altogether.
LUX: What pivoted your attention towards women’s disabled sport?
Anita Choudhrie: Female athletes are just as able to achieve great sporting accolades as their male counterparts, however, women’s sport typically receives far less funding – and this disparity is even more pronounced when it comes to para sports.
Therefore, I wanted to focus my charitable efforts on supporting female para-athletes in sports which receive little to no government funding, to work towards levelling the playing field and creating equal opportunities in society.
LUX: What is Path to Success and is there a connection between how you are personally invested in giving and the support offered by PTS?
Anita Choudhrie: Founded in 2005, Path to Success is the UK’s leading disability charity that focuses on turning inability into ability for disabled women in sport.
Currently we support 9 female Paralympic athletes as part of our appeal of ‘Empowering Female Athletes in Disability Sport’. These athletes compete across four disciplines; wheelchair basketball, wheelchair tennis, para powerlifting and para badminton. We have also supported the London Titans Wheelchair Basketball Club since 2015 – one of the largest basketball clubs in the UK who have produced over 50 Paralympians.
Our mission is to address the barriers para-athletes face, secure the legacy of disability sport in the UK and inspire a new generation of British female Paralympic stars.
LUX: How successful was Tokyo 2020 for the Paralympians?
Anita Choudhrie: Women’s sport is slowly gaining more recognition, but women’s disability sport still doesn’t attract anywhere near the attention it both needs and deserves. The Paralympics is always a brilliant platform to raise awareness of these individuals and the tremendous capabilities of para-athletes on a whole.
It was therefore brilliant to see the athletes we support achieve the great successes they truly deserve and have worked so hard for in Tokyo.
In total, five of our athletes took part in the Tokyo Paralympics, brining home two silver and three bronze medals.
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LUX: What can we look forward to in women’s parasport this year?
Anita Choudhrie: The key event to look forward to this year is the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham at the end of July.
Due to the way the sporting calendar is set out, there is usually a two-year gap between the Paralympic and Commonwealth Games. However, as a result of the delays to the Tokyo Games, this marks the first occasion that they will follow directly on from each other. The hope therefore is that much of the momentum and excitement will carry over, making for a spectacular event. To add to this, this year’s event is set to mark the biggest participation from para-athletes ever, which can only be good for the development of women’s parasport.
In addition, this year British Wheelchair Basketball has also launched the first-ever women’s premier league. The inaugural season which will run until the end of May 2022 is the first of its kind for women’s wheelchair basketball in the world and the very first professional para-sport league in the UK. The introduction of this league marks a monumental step forward for women’s parasport and the hope is that it will not only help to make the UK a hub for the world’s best wheelchair basketball players, but that other parasports will soon follow suit creating new opportunities for aspiring female para-athletes.
LUX: Is there a philosophy shared with PTS behind why you founded STELLAR?
Anita Choudhrie: My underlying philosophy has always been that we are stronger together. For example, every year the Stellar International Art Foundation celebrates International Women’s Day by supporting a female artist who has faced socio, economic or physical challenges.
A desire to empower women, and under-represent diaspora in society, is very much at the heart of what I do through all my philanthropic endeavours. Art and sport are two great passions of mine, yet women are still grossly underrepresented 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 – to showcase their talent and build their profile.
LUX: Your personal passion is the visual arts and you have collected more than significant 800 artworks since the 1970s. Are there underlying principles that guide you and what is your approach?
Anita Choudhrie: My husband and I have always shared a passion for art, and we have been collecting pieces since we got married. Founded in 2008, Stellar International Art Foundation began when we decided to comprehensively organise our collection.
What started as a family endeavour to collect pieces of art for the pure love of it, has grown into something much more. Now we view our collection as a way to advocate for artists who we believe have an amazing appreciation for culture and can enrich society through their work. To this end, one of our underlying principles is to acquire entire collections, rather than just individual works of art, to help secure the artists legacy.
Moreover, by collecting European, Russian, American and Indian art and distinguishing our selection less on regional concerns and more on artistic talent, we have been able to champion overlooked artists and give them a well-deserved voice.
LUX: What artists are personal signifiers and are part of your family legacy?
Anita Choudhrie: 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 works. 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. A great patron of the artist, we were chosen as the guardians of not only a large volume of work in general, but especially his most famous and, arguably, most important series: Maria. With the same ethos in mind, the Foundation has sought to keep his most significant series intact for future generations.
LUX: How have you shown the collection to date and is there a vision for it?
Anita Choudhrie: Stellar International Art Foundation has staged a number of exhibitions, has produced a seminal publication on a master artist within the Collection and has even been revered by some of the worlds’ most respected curators and critics.
We also hold an annual speaking event in celebration of International Women’s Day, to help champion overlooked artists and give them a well-deserved voice. Ultimately, the real meaning of our foundation lies not in its material possessions, but in the opportunities it provides for artists.
This year we are delighted to be supporting emerging London-based South Asian artist Vasundhara Sellamuthu. Through an exciting range of media, Vasundhara’s work explores a range of binaries such as East/West, architecture/vernacular and foreign/home, playfully engaging with her urban environment and its unnoticed makers. I have long believed in the value of artistic practice as an active force for challenge and change, and I hope that by showcasing Vasundhara’s work, preconceived binaries will be challenged and together we will be able to drive change.
The dream one day is to have a permanent museum to showcase the entire collection. Hopefully this is an aspiration that will become a reality in the not-too-distant future.
LUX: What advice would you offer a young person embarking upon their philanthropy journey?
Anita Choudhrie: I would implore anyone embarking upon their philanthropic journey to first really consider what they are truly passionate about. Throughout my career I have found it is those individuals who have a unique, personal perspective that are able to drive the greatest change.
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.
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