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Updated: April 26, 2011 12:38 IST

Showcasing the rich art forms of India

Kausalya Santhanam
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This book celebrates the presence of the divine even amidst the mundane and the material in our country. It showcases popular, devotional art in India and also metal icons, masks, sculptures, puppets, and ritual objects of divinities from this country as well as from Thailand, Nepal, Tibet, and Indonesia, as displayed in the Museum of Sacred Art, Radhadesh, Belgium.

Refreshing

It is an effort to show “how contemporary artists continue to create visual representations of Hindu divinities in new and refreshing ways.” Radhadesh being “a spiritual community belonging to the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON),” it is only natural that a majority of the paintings in the book should be on Lord Krishna.

A separate section is devoted to the art of the Hare Krishna movement which was also influenced by Italian art and Russian artists. The clarity of photographs, especially that of the beautiful old castle where the museum is housed, is such as to transport the reader to the museum. Also included are brief biographies of the artists.

J. Bhagawati, Ambassador of India to Belgium, Luxembourg, and the EU, in his preface, mentions how the collection “reflects the rich multiple art forms of India.” In her foreword, Chistiane De Lauwer, Curator (South Asia), MAS/ Ethnographic Museum, Antwerp, says she was struck by the lack of knowledge in Belgium about one of the world's most ancient and rich cultures. So, she went on to study Indian art, language, and religion. The museum and catalogue grew out of the need to spread awareness on Indian spiritual art.

Unlike in the West, the genre of spiritual art is still vibrant in India, says Martin Gurvich, Director, Museum of Sacred Art, in his introduction. The museum's focus is on living art forms rather than historical pieces, and so most of the pieces are from the 20th and 21st centuries.

In her essay on the “Living Traditions in Indian Art: The Divine Image,” Tryna Lyons describes how spiritual art is found everywhere in the country and goes on to speak of the art and artists in various regions. Among the beautiful photographs featured from the museum collection are the ones of Lord Krishna with Radha, with gentle-eyed cows, with the gopis on the river bank. Gold-leaf worked paintings in the Tanjore style and Mysore style; the pichhavais (cloth hangings) from Nathadwara in Rajasthan; paintings on cotton and paper by artists such as B.G. Sharma and Indra Sharma; inlay work on wood from Karnataka; beautifully proportioned bronzes of Tamil Nadu; eye- catching Madhubani paintings from Bihar; and rod puppets from Indonesia also find a place. In all, a catalogue that compresses the essence of the museum exhibits and communicates the spirit of popular and contemporary Indian spiritual art to the West.

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