Tarot, miniature art create new visual imagery

October 22nd, 2011 - 5:35 pm ICT by IANS  

New Delhi, Oct 22 (IANS) Centuries-old Indian miniature art and ancient tarot healing have come together in a novel collaboration. Tarot healer and writer Roopa Patel from Mumbai and Liverpool-based artist siblings, the Singh Twins, known for their improvisations of Indian miniatures, have created a new visual interpretation of the tarot deck of cards.

“The Art of Tarot: New Works” by Amrit and Rabindra K.D. Kaur or the Singh Twins - as they are known - opened at the Queen’s Gallery at the British Council here Wednesday and will be on till Nov 4. The exposition coincided with the unveiling of a book, “Experiencing Tarot” (Harper-Collins) by Roopa Patel.

The deck of 22 delicately-painted cards by the twins in an improvised Indian miniature style is the book’s pictorial lifeline. They explain the science of tarot with symbols, colours and figures.

Some of the key base or the arcana cards in tarot include the fool, the magician, high priestess, empress, emperor, hierophant, the lovers, the chariot, justice, strength, hanged man, hermit and temperance. Death - or liberation - is a skeleton knight in an armour.

Each card has a mythological legacy.

The twins’ cards are painted mostly in double or triple shades of bright rainbow colours. Each shade manifests itself on the high quality museum conservation mount board in monochromatic layers - from deep impasto pigments to the lightest of the tonal imprints.

The colours fill up detailed line drawings in black ink.

The artists said “each colour represented a trait of the mind, along with the symbols”.

The Singh Twins, who have been working on Indian miniature art since the 1980s, call themselves “past-modern”. The twins are identical - in attire, body language, height and style of work.

They fuse traditional Indian miniature art - Rajput, Islamic and Pahadi miniature styles - with fresco, religious paintings and Art Nouveau traditions of western and Persian genres.

The sisters, who are known in Britain for their “unique creative expression”, said the tarot project germinated one-and-a-half years ago when Patel came to them with the idea.

“We started painting six months ago. We used the Rider Waite deck of tarot cards - the most popular tarot cards in the English-speaking world - to improvise our tarot art,” Amrit told IANS.

“We have combined the European traditional core iconography with that of Indian miniature style, Persian and Art Nouveau traditions to give it a global look,” Amrit said.

The hermit in the twin’s tarot deck becomes an “Indian sadhu” while the emperor is portrayed as a “Mughal ruler”. The symbolic western angels are Persian “farishta” (angels).

“This is the first time we have painted a tarot deck. Usually we paint socio-political issues in the Indian miniature style,” the artist said.

A burst of Indian nationalistic fervour drove the twins to Indian miniature.

“We came to India as teenagers in 1980 and saw miniature paintings for the first time. When we went back to the University of England where we were studying western art, we tried to paint miniatures. But our teachers did not like it. They said miniatures were obsolete and non-European in style,” Amrit said.

It annoyed them. “We wanted to challenge the prejudice - and began to improvise on Indian miniatures to promote it in Europe,” she said.

Patel said: “The book required something different. A section of historians says tarot cards originated in India as the ganjifa cards, which were taken out by the gypsies at least 1,000 years ago to Europe.”

“I wanted the Indian connect in the cards that I wanted to use in my book,” she said.

Patel said she was an admirer of the Singh Twins’ work.

“We had sponsored one of their solo shows in 2003 at the British Council. The twins did not stray from the spirit of the symbols,” she said.

The tarot cards soothe emotional bruises with their symbols, Patel said.

“The symbols leave an imprint on the mind and are able to draw out the pain. A seeker of tarot healing has to be open to the energy, accept it and follow it,” she said.

The symbols on the cards deck vary depending on their origin and astro-mythology.

(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at madhu.c@ians.in)

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