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A mélange of classic and contemporary, modern and traditional forms
Magnificent miniatures, which blend the visual and the aural, are set to be showcased in a first of its kind exhibition in the UK to focus exclusively on this genre. ‘Ragamala paintings from India - Poetry, passion, song…’ brings out the subtle beauty of the varied visual modes of Indian music. A ragamala or gorgeous ‘garland of ragas’ is a serene set of majestic miniature paintings that depict an array of mesmerizing patterns of the glorious Indian music tradition. Each richly painted piece carries a brief, albeit captivating caption or poem to aptly sum up the mood of the work, more often than not, an expression of pure love and devotion – in its various shades.

An insightful introductory note to this eclectic showcase at Dulwich Picture Gallery in South East London states: “It was in the late 1400s that the painting tradition flourished throughout India’s royal courts before it gradually dwindled in the 1800s, especially with the fall decline of aristocratic patronage. The exhibit unveils a rare series of exquisite miniatures from the Claudio Moscatelli Collection, in a journey all across the Indian subcontinent.” A symposium chaired by Ainsley Cameron from the British Museum will discuss these visual representations of musical modes. A renowned scholar on India’s visual arts, Robert Skelton and Sandy Mallet, a contemporary artist inspired by music, are among the other invitees.

Providing a further peep into India’s artistic past, a captivating collection courtesy Howard Hodgkin will offer vivacious ‘Visions of Mughal India’. This exciting exhibition is on view at the Ashmolean Museum, Oxford. It displays a comprehensive collection of this renowned artist-collector for the first time in its entirety, giving an enticing overview of Indian court painting, which prospered during the Mughal era (c. 1550–1850), comprising the refined naturalistic creations of the imperial Mughal court; the subtly colored and poetic paintings of the Deccani Sultanates; and the vibrantly hued and boldly drawn styles of the Rajput kingdoms.

The pieces form part of a painstakingly compiled personal collection by Hodgkin who has always emphasized on sheer artistic quality. He never acquired works on the basis of their topography, their theme, their school of art, period or style. He quips: “I just wanted great art." Unveiling the intrinsic beauty of his collection, considered one of the best in the world, an accompanying essay states, “All his Indian pictures are of an unusual or exceptional quality. They include illustrations of epics and myths, royal portraits and many scenes of court life or hunting scenes. Some of the works vividly evoke the urban or daily life of India, a country which has inspired Howard Hodgkin on his frequent visits made over some 50 years. There is also great diversity in these pictures, some containing exciting passages or juxtapositions of color, as can also be found in his own work. But many others are lightly colored brush drawings which show an expressive mastery of line.”

On the other hand, a collaborative exhibition series courtesy the London-based Victoria and Albert Museum and Mumbai’s Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya has just been concluded. V&A boasts a vast collection of Kalighat paintings, including contemporary works by rural artists, specially acquired for the project. A group of artists from Kolkata’s traditional patua and other artisan communities evolved this form during the mid 19th century. By making use of brush and ink from the lampblack, they painted fascinating figures of deities, ordinary people, and the newly rich on mill-made paper. They also portrayed the changing gender roles and romantic depictions of women with vigorously flowing lines.

The patuas, collectively working on a painting, mostly remained anonymous. There were no signatures on the paintings to reveal their identities. The V&A collection though, includes works from the 1890s and 1900s that can be traced to Nibaran Chandra and Kali Charan Ghosh. The project charts the development of this exquisite form from early watercolor paintings of simple figures on a plain background, through to more complex designs that demonstrate the European influence on the city.

Even as the country’s traditional art forms remain in spotlight, modern and contemporary Indian art continues to draw attention as well. A show of abstract works, entitled ‘Between Fragments’, takes place at Indigo Blue Art, Singapore. Shoba Broota, S.H Raza, Ram Kumar, G.R Santosh, Ganesh Haloi, Prafulla Mohanty, S. Harshavardhana, Paramjit Singh, Akkitham Narayanan, Manisha Parekh, Nitish Bhattacharjee, Samit Das, Anwar, and Partha Shaw are among the artists, who employ abstraction to convey the profound depths of life, art, spirituality and emotion. Each of them has traversed a journey within, to arrive at their own unique form and to reveal an understanding of art rooted in deep spiritual perceptions.

‘The Matter Within: New Contemporary Art of India’, just hosted at San Francisco-based Yerba Buena Center for the Arts (YBCA), had sculpture, photography and video works by some of the top names. It revolved around three broad themes resonating from modern society - embodiment, the politics of communicative bodies and the imaginary. The collection focused on practices, incorporating these concepts or operating within a gap between these thematic categories – largely inspired by material culture, spirituality, literature, and socio-political aspects.