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Celebrating India’s glorious art traditions
Two new galleries at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston celebrate rare sculptural gems from India as well as other countries from South and Southeast Asia, starting with a collection, entitled ‘Gems of Rajput Painting’. This exquisite stream of Indian painting, commissioned during the 16th to 19th centuries by rulers (Rajputs or ‘sons of kings’) in Rajasthan who shared a culture centered on Sanskrit poetry, Hindu worship and the fierce pride of warrior clans, was discovered only in the past 100 years by Ananda Coomaraswamy (1877–1947), the MFA’s first curator of Indian art. The paintings and manuscript illustrations on view represent the peak of the artistic traditions developed at workshops associated with the many Rajput courts.

Usually painted on paper in watercolor (gouache), often brightly hued with gold accents, they often illustrate poetic texts and are small in size. A 21st-century take on the Rajput vision of elite court life reflects in ‘Horse with Gold Head’ Dress (Udaipur, 2007) by contemporary artist Raja Ram Sharma, who has used traditional Rajput techniques to create it. Thematic groupings in this exhibit are designed to let viewers easily follow the material, illuminating the conventions these artists followed and played with in their wonderful work. “Rajput painting is one of the great traditions of Indian art, and yet for some, the exaggerated bodies, incredibly bold colors, and use of multiple perspectives can be dizzying,” the curator Laura Weinstein explains.

Over 100 works in the all-new South Asian & Southeast Asian Sculpture Gallery highlight the rich artistic traditions of countries like India. Many of the art objects on view have only recently been conserved. These exquisite pieces are celebrated not only for their unique cultural identity, but also as distinct reflections of 2,000 years of major exchange of ideas and aesthetics. The world-renowned museum strives to present South and Southeast Asian art from a new angle. Through apt juxtapositions plus the occasional wall text, the curator invites visitors to ferret out the finer elements that cultures share and also those, which make each one distinct. A series of special programs will complement the exhibition so that the people can explore Indian art and culture through the lens of epic stories, religious rituals, sacred space, contemporary literature and film.

Meanwhile, in what can be termed as a first-of-its-kind move, which will allow India’s museum professionals to equip themselves with best practices and tools in the domain, an international training program has just been launched. The five-month long Leadership Training Program is aimed at training both senior and mid-level museum officials from all across the country. The project is being executed with support and active involvement of the British Museum experts. An experts’ team is led by Neil MacGregor, the world-renowned institution's director.

The comprehensive program is part of the reform agenda of Union Ministry of Culture in the domain of archeology and conservation. Its idea is to put a core group of museum professionals in close touch and meaningful interaction with the very best in the world in order to help groom a solid base of professionals, who will then pass on the inputs by others in the field. The initial training session as part of this international training program for India’s museum professionals took place in the third week of January in New Delhi, involving up to 20 professionals drawn from a dozen or so museums. It's to be followed by a session in March in London and the concluding session in May in Mumbai.

Simultaneously, Mumbai’s historic Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya (previously The Prince of Wales Museum) has launched an ambitious project to restore the precious Panchatantra translations and illustrations. The Bank of America is funding the Rs 5 million restoration project - a fact it highlighted in its recent full-page advertisements in all leading Indian news publications. Senior curator Vandana Prapanna and the museum’s art conservation, research & training head, Anupam Shah are spearheading the year-long ambitious project. It will be completed in two phases that include the reintegration of illustrations and Persian texts, and then the restoration of documents in collaboration with technical experts to rid them of discolored pigments and physical damages caused with passage of time over the past few centuries. First retrieved from a major fire in the 17th century during a fight between the British and the Marathas, a London-based collector of Indian miniature paintings acquired them and later donated to CSMVS this historic collection, giving it a new lease of life.

In another significant development, the Louvre Paris (a renowned international museum) president Henri Loyrette recently visited India, to take stock of its thriving art scene. Keeping in mind the vitality and dynamism of their work, the institution is eager to associate with top names like Subodh Gupta. Louvre currently possesses only Mughal miniatures that form part of its Islamic arts department. They constitute just a drop in the vast ocean of the thriving Indian art scene.

Keen to engage with talented contemporary Indian artists, the powerful art aficionado wants to know more about the country’s dynamic contemporary art scenario. Loyrette has already emphasized that India, just like China, cannot be ignored, stating: “We've been inspired by the exhibits of Indian art in Paris and a growing number of Indians are now visiting the Louvre. I don't know much about artists from India. I'm hoping to do so in near future. This visit should help me in that regard.” In fact, he reportedly explored the different possibilities of collaboration with established gallerists, leading museums such as the NGMA, the government officials, intellectuals, top collectors including Kiran Nadar, the Ambanis, the Poddars etc, and of course, the artists themselves. Indian art and artists are clearly catching the world’s attention.