Re-introducing miniature art in India

March 21st, 2008 - 10:37 am ICT by admin  

A file-photo of David Beckham
(Feature)
By Azera Rahman
New Delhi, March 21 (IANS) Miniature art is a centuries old form that was patronised by the Mughals, the Rajputs of Rajasthan and the royal families of northern India. But somewhere along the way, it lost its glory. Chhotulal and Yugal Sharma of Rajasthan are two of the few artists who remain loyal to this art and are striving to revive it.

“Miniature art form is intrinsically Indian, with a great following in Iran and Pakistan. But after the advent of Western art forms, it lost its splendour. It is a pity that this art form needs to be re-introduced in India,” Sharma told IANS in an art gallery in the capital.

Sharma and Chhotulal are from the Udaipur school of miniature art. Unlike the Pahari or other schools of miniature art, in this form the colours used are pure and bright and the figures are sturdy.

In Rajasthan itself, there are five different schools of miniature art. “There are various schools of miniature art, which have their own trademark features. For instance, in the Kishangarh school of art they have long almond-shaped eyes while in the Basoli school, the eyes are bigger,” Sharma said.

“Then in the Mewar school, the colours used will be pure and bright while the Mughal school will have a softer colour palette,” said Sharma, who is also an art professor in a college.

The Jammu school among the Pahari school of miniatures is unique in its peculiar caricature of figures and a balanced portrayal of royals and courtiers.

In Kangra miniatures, the multi-framing technique sets them apart, said porcelain artist Rita Gharekhan.

“The Kangra school of miniatures has a lyrical quality in them. And then there is multi-framing, a technique of painting a frame within another, which gives it the illusion of depth. This sets these paintings apart,” Gharekhan said.

David Malone, the Canadian high commissioner in New Delhi, for one, is an ardent fan of Kangra miniature paintings.

“On one of my trips to Himachal Pradesh, I came across these miniatures and was touched by their beauty. I am an art collector, but I have never seen anything like this before,” Malone said.

“I have collected nearly 20 such paintings till now, which are greatly appreciated abroad,” Malone said.

The history of Indian miniature paintings can be traced to the sixth or seventh century A.D. when Kashmiri paintings evolved over centuries carrying the influence of other cultures.

Under the Mughals, Muslim kings of the Deccan, Malwa and Hindu emperors of Rajasthan, miniature art received a great impetus in the 16th century. However, the downfall of miniature art started with the loss of royal patronage.

As far as the effort to revive its glory goes, veterans such as artist Anjolie Ela Menon say this art form needs to come of age.

“People who are trying to revive miniatures need to realise that none of the work done today is original. Every piece is a fantastic copy of what was done years back,” Menon told IANS.

“Therefore to really breathe life into it, one must paint about contemporary subjects that appeal to all. For instance, there is a sister-duo in London who do amazing miniatures on football star David Beckham, on the pub culture and the likes of him,” she said.

Chhotulal and Sharma are striving to do just that. “To suit modern sensibilities we paint subjects relevant to today’s times. For instance, environmental pollution is one theme I have worked on extensively,” Chottulal said.

But contemporary themes aren’t the only solution for revival.

“No college here, no matter how big it is, like the J.J. School of Art in Mumbai, has a dedicated department to teach miniature art. In Santiniketan in West Bengal, they used to teach something similar to miniature art, but now even that is not there,” Sharma said.

“Even we were not taught this art form in our college. After reading the history of this art, we decided to learn it from an artist. Therefore anyone who wants to learn has to do it on his own,” he added.

Sharma said unlike India, the National College of Arts in Lahore, Pakistan, has a department dedicated to miniature art form. “The National College of Arts in Lahore has a Traditional Miniature Paintings department which teaches students the nuances of miniature art. In India, such a thing is not even there in the syllabus of art students.”

The future of miniature art, however, does not look too bleak with higher demand and shooting prices at various auctions, including Christie’s and Sotheby’s, besides in India.

The price range of miniatures varies from Rs.35,000 to Rs.100,000, with the price becoming higher as the size of the painting becomes smaller.

“Traditionally, a miniature should be of a size that can be held by hand. That’s why the price increases as the size of the work decreases,” Sharma said.

The duo will exhibit their art works in the capital at the Nitanjali Art Gallery, April 7-11.

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