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Small wonders

The display at the Shrishti Art Gallery is a revelation of the rare art of miniature painting

WHILE INDIAN contemporary art struggles to find a place in the international circuits, Indian miniature paintings are revered specimens. Once patronized by royalty, miniature paintings are an antiquated legacy that we see and read only in books and journals today. The ongoing exhibition `Copies of Indian Miniature Paintings' at Shrishti Art Gallery, Jubilee Hills, is an eye-opener to the exceptional and rare art of miniature paintings. Compiled by art historian and collector, Jagdish Mittal, the display is a spectacular showcase of various styles: Bundi, Mughal, Ahmednagar, Bikaner, Jaipur, Bijapur, Kishangarh, Basohli, Kota, Mewar, Hyderabad, Delhi, Thanjavur and Jodhpur.

While each painting enthrals the eye and spirit of the onlooker, the tradition of miniature art is as grand and extensive, leading us back to early and medieval Indian history. Mittal's elaborate catalogue of the exhibition expounds the origin and its extinction briefly.

Rooted in history, miniature painting, originally an accompaniment of the written text, is a coveted art. Coveted because there are no original practitioners today and those who learn it in art schools do so as part of their curriculum. When we view a miniature it is a very logical and a known visual and ` an equally exotic image.

While tradition sits easily in all circumstances, the contemporary factor struggles to find a place. And due to this, some contemporary artists utilize this format to make their creative statements not just legible but appealing as well. The best example is that of the Kaur sisters: Amrit and Rabindra K.D. Kaur who execute their contemporary dialogue in miniature syntax.

In the evolution of contemporary Indian art, the early Bengal School and later the Shantiniketan School, keenly studied miniatures not just to subjugate the manipulations of English commercial art but to put up a political defence in the artistic vocabulary. In fact there are instances of Abanindranath Tagore displaying the spirit of the Mughal and the Kangra Schools whereas Nandalal Bose displayed a strong leaning towards the Rajasthani School. Later, modernists such as Hebbar, Husain, Ganesh Pyne and Manjeet Bawa displayed the influence of miniature in their works. In fact, the renowned abstractionist, Gaitonde, at some point of time copied miniatures to instil Indianess in his contemporary compositions.

While the miniature format is a global phenomenon, Indian schools of miniatures contribute amply as far as stylistic variations are concerned. At Shrishti one gets an insight into this art form even though these might be copies of originals that may be in private collections or international museums. While it is difficult to acquire a style guide unless we are constantly looking at or reading about miniatures, this exhibition offers a range of categorizations to view the multiple, rich and faithful copies on display.

Excepting works such as the one by Mahavir Swami of the Mughal School all the rest were rendered by anonymous artists who worked under the banners of particular schools. Reasonably priced, these copies are constantly sort after by collectors who desire originals but are equally happy with the quality of the copies painted by contemporary miniature artists. These practitioners use various mediasuch as indigenous colours, real gold and handmade paper and brushes as used by the old masters.

According to the catalogue " the last four decades, the tradition of miniature paintings has been revived by talented painters in Delhi, Rajasthan, Himachal Pradesh and Hyderabad, who in view of the rarity of original works, produce exquisite faithful copies of some of the famous old paintings." The exhibition will be on view till November 20 between 11.00 a.m. and 7.00 p.m.


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