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Rich Indian art and cultural traditions occupy global stage
Increasingly, the world-famous museums and galleries are looking to highlight rich Indian art traditions. The leading institutions in several European and the Western countries are now giving a place of pride to India’s amazing artistic heritage, reflecting its vibrancy and diversity.

A series of international exhibitions already held this year testify the trend. For example, an outstanding collection, entitled ‘The Indian Portrait’, explored the various wondrous ways in which artists of the different eras approached the depiction of the human form and the changing role of portraiture in Indian history. Bringing together 60 stunning works from international collections, the event in the UK celebrated the beauty, power and humanity of these works. It narrated the nostalgic tale of the Indian portrait over 300 years (1560-1860), comprising some of the earliest realistic painted images from the Mughal Court.

Apart from these truly magnificent samples of court portraiture made for the erstwhile emperors, also on display were studies of Mughal courtiers, holy men and servants. The distinctive regional styles from Rajasthan and the Punjab Hills were put up alongside the European–influenced works done by Indian artists under British rule. A curatorial essay termed them ‘a record of a complex and rich history’, embracing influences from Europe and Iran as well as local traditions – both Hindu and Muslim - showing that the Indian portrait could proudly stand shoulder to shoulder with outstanding portraiture styles from across the globe.

Another show, entitled ‘Contemporary Connections: The Singh Twins’ (Amrit and Rabindra), was held alongside the main display. Their usage of color, symbolism, decorative patterns, and flattened perspective alluded to Indian miniature paintings, albeit cut through with modern social, cultural and political themes. It offered a contemporary response to ‘The Indian Portrait’ show and the London based National Portrait Gallery’s permanent Collection.

Simultaneously, a significant event at the magnificent musée du quai Branly in Paris unveiled the captivating creations of indigenous populations and folk communities for the very first time. ‘Other Masters of India: Contemporary Creations of the Adivasis’ allowed the art-loving public in France to discover an important but still highly unrecognized facet of the contemporary Indian art scene. This was probably the most representative material, day-to-day, artistic and religious productions of India’s indigenous populations showcased in a multidisciplinary and thematic approach. Elaborating on its core purpose and philosophy, curators Jyotindra Jain and Jean-Pierre Mohen mentioned in an essay: “For a long time, the representations of the tribal people have been full of prejudices - far removed from reality. They have maintained their living artistic traditions like music, dance and theatre while being in constant contact with the dominant Indian population. Notably, they produce astounding visual art that is as utilitarian as it is sacred in nature and quite novel in approach. It clearly stands out from the mainstream Indian art scene, but is hardly known.”

Presenting ‘the other unknown side of amazing artistic productions from India’, the event culminated with the monographs of two contemporary tribal artists, elevated to the highest rungs of the world art market - Jivya Soma Mashe and Jangarh Singh Shyam - whose works chose to widen the field of their expression in order to portray their cultural milieu.

France also witnessed an unprecedented presentation of the royal creations from the 'Deepak & Daksha Hutheesing Collection'. Held jointly by Pierre Berge - Yves Saint Laurent Foundation and Hutheesing Heritage Foundation, ‘Last Maharajas (1911-1947)’ featured the costumes of the Grand Durbar from 1911 to 1914, a time when textiles were the soul of royalty. This was the first time this timeless collection, providing a social and historical context to art history and the aesthetics of textiles and its intangible romance, was unveiled on the global stage. Jerome Neutres stated in a curatorial note: “For the last kings of India, who had given up their throne for independence, splendor and appearance mattered. Clothing was at the heart of the social bond during this courtly period from the Delhi Durbar of 1911.”

While discussing India’s art and culture traditions in global context, one name that must be mentioned is the world-renowned Peabody Essex Museum. The institution based in Massachusetts regularly features Indian art - from the 1800s to the present. A series of exhibitions, performances, films and hands-on demonstrations at PEM highlight the country’s captivating traditions. For example, its latest show ‘Of Gods and Mortals: Traditional Art from India’ brings to the fore how myriad forms like paintings, sculpture, textiles etc are part of the fabric of daily life in the country.

The eclectic events look to underline dazzling diversity and vibrancy of India’s amazing artistic heritage, now occupying its deserved place on the world map. Such concerted efforts to retrieve and restore the country’s cultural glory, albeit laudable, only bring out the irony that this very precious piece of heritage is gradually fading back home under the garb of modernization and globalization. There’s a lesson to be learnt in it for us!