Steel elephant, graffiti mural loom over India's art fair

The reflection of an Indian woman visitor is seen through an art work, "the poem" by a Indian artist Nalini Malani during the India Art Fair in New Delhi

NEW DELHI - With a giant stainless steel elephant, a graffiti mural and a dying tree branch, the Indian Art Fair opened Friday hoping to tap into the country's growing demand for contemporary art.

Growing wealth has fuelled an interest in art collecting among India's super rich, but the New Delhi fair's organisers said a rapidly rising middle class has also played a role in recent years.

"Delhi is the most promising and largest art centre in India and something that is growing exponentially," Neha Kirpal, fair founder and director, told AFP.

"The rising middle class in Delhi and love for art is something that is enabling strong commercial interests," she said.

Spread across pavilions over 20,000 square metres (215,000 square feet), the fair features more than 3,500 works from 1,200 artists from India and overseas.

The event has been phenomenally successful since its first edition in 2008 and now draws hundreds of thousands of members of the public over three days.

Coming on the heels of Christie's second auction in the country in December that raised $12 million, art dealers said demand for a range of Indian works was high.

"A few years ago, you know, there was concern in the market, but now steadily things have been rising," Parul Vadehra, director of the Vadehra Art Gallery, said of the market's slump after the 2008 global economic crisis.

"With prices rising in the market, obviously that creates a lot of confidence among the collectors and the galleries as well as the artists," Vadehra said.

This year, themes at the fair range from environmental degradation to the responsibility of power.

A stainless steel elephant with lotus-shaped cut outs by Indian sculptor Sonal Ambani portrays the "responsibility of power", while a large dry tree branch with plastic bags as leaves depicts global "environmental degradation".

A large mural by a graffiti artist known as Daku shows life on a busy Delhi street, including pedestrians, rickshaw pullers and a pot-bellied police man.

French artist Julian Segard, who spent months with Delhi's homeless, portrays the city's underbelly with pictures made from scrap paper and cardboard collected on the streets.