August 30, 2011

Bani Thani: Dressing up Mona Lisa in Rajasthani miniature art

I first discovered Rajasthan miniature artist, Gopal Swami Khetanchi's painting, Bani Thani [All Dressed Up]** few years ago and could not help but be drawn towards it. However, it eventually slipped from my mind and it was not until a few weeks ago that I recalled the painting once again when I spotted a girl carrying a tote emblazoned with the painting at Delhi Airport (talk about a fantastic example of marrying fashion to art).

While I must confess that I do not worship Mona Lisa as such, what intrigued me about this particular painting was that Mona Lisa had been depicted in a traditional Kishengarh miniature painting style. What with Rajasthani miniature paintings having been influenced by Mughal miniature paintings as a result of cultural cross-pollination between the two cultures in the 16th and 17th centuries, each particular region in Rajasthan has nonetheless developed its own individual school of painting over the centuries; the paintings of Kishengarh school are particularly renowned.

Here is a quintessential Kishengarh painting below:

Upon researching more about Kishengarh paintings, I learnt that the painting above is called Bani Thani and known as India's Mona Lisa. Khetanchi's Bani Thani therefore literally transposed Mona Lisa into the Kishengarh painting context, merging the worlds of 16th century Rajasthan and Florence in his re-interpretation of Mona Lisa.

This painting below is another representative of Rajasthan miniature painting:

Apart from the miniature artists' superlative ability to so effectively create and convey a microcosm through the minute, painstaking nature of their art, I have also thought much about the two-dimensional figures that populate these paintings. The ubiquitous presence of Krishna-Radha, kings and queens, courtiers, and their attendants: yet, who are they? What are they thinking? Why is it that they happen to be where they are in the paintings? At times, it seems that the lovingly detailed leaves conjure up a greater air of vitality than the figures themselves. The figures in turn are shrouded in mystery, performing within the painting and yet, their faces are impassive, refusing to reveal what lies beneath their perfectly manicured features.

Mona Lisa's legendary enigmatic smile can compel even a casual viewer to become a detective in their quest to decode Mona Lisa's thoughts - and the layers of interpretations about this smile that have accumulated over the centuries are testimony to this greatest art mystery. In that context, having migrated from 16th century Florence to the world of a Rajasthan miniature painting, the transition is not as jarring as one might think. Apart from the momentary and immediate visual interest the painting generates for the viewer upon seeing Mona Lisa having donned Rajasthani regalia and costume, there is also the matter of Mona Lisa easily adopting a similar manner of carriage to that of the women in the miniature paintings. She thus perfectly fits into this sisterhood of elegant inscrutability, easily embracing this incredibly beautiful yet mysterious world. As she continues to radiate a simultaneous sense of mystery and serenity, one can quite almost forget her earlier Italian incarnation...

*For further reading, here's an article I wrote about contemporary Rajasthani miniature artists

August 24, 2011

Fleeting...and yet so indelible: Delhi Typerventions project

Sometime ago, I had written about the Hand Painted Type project: every day, we encounter varying visual presentations of multiple type-faces and yet, as we have become so accustomed to their presence, we don't see them anymore, let alone acknowledge the diversity of the types.

I recently chanced upon the Delhi Typerventions project at Indian graphic designer, Kriti Monga's blog here and learnt in more detail about it on its Facebook page. Quoting from the Facebook group page, the project invites "people who love combining relevant words with the spirit of urban typography to create beauty and meaning in the city's public spaces." I found the process of conceiving, creating, and eventually implementing the installation fascinating. I initially happened to read about the journey behind the Hauz Khaz Typervention (which happens to be the third one); apart from Kriti's blog, you can also read about it over here.

I thought it is such an extraordinarily unique way of both interacting with and participating within the city that one inhabits: indeed, celebrating it. It is an example of a public art display which derives inspiration from the city and in turn, draws the city and its inhabitants into its fold. Apart from the visual drama of the different typefaces used, typervention also significantly makes use of local material to abstract the words which makes the process further organic and home-grown, so to speak. For example, in the second Typervention, the participants used flame of the forest (gulmohar in Hindi), bougainvillea, and laburnum blossoms to spell out 'Flame of the Forest' in one of Delhi's famous garden spaces, Lodhi Gardens in a bid to celebrate the bursts of color that summer blossoms provide during Delhi summers.

As a Muscat resident, it made me wonder as to where and how I would perform such a typervention in the city? What materials would I use? What would be an iconic location? I could only come up with sea-worn pebbles and shells spelling out Shatti al Qurum at the Shatti al Qurum beach. The more I think about it, the more I am compelled to consider the city location, the nature of its environment, and all that constituting that particular environment into question (ie what could be the source material for the typervention?). The mere process of visualising the intervention leads me to engage with the city that I have inhabited for so long in a fashion quite unlike any other, marking a departure from surface contemplation and admiration, even, of it.

How would you 'write' your city?

Pictures courtesy Kriti Monga and Kassia Karr

August 19, 2011

Spirituality in Structure: Aadab Hyderabad

Sometime back, while participating in a group discussion about art's role in driving communities forward, the topic arose of art and spirituality. Personally speaking, for me, spirituality and the definition and significance it holds in my life is something that I find difficult to deconstruct for myself, let alone describing it to others. For a long time, I always used to consider spirituality and religion as being similar, if not virtually synonymous with one another. Yet, as time has passed by, I have begun to perceive spirituality as an awareness of the sense of the higher powers surrounding us, a mysterious, unseen Universe which contributes to the way we locate and understand our place in the world. Nonetheless, for me, I have always perceived writing as an almost spiritual process in itself: a form of meditation, a single-minded focus, leading into an alternate universe of thoughts and ideas.

However, as mentioned in a previous post, old buildings hold great appeal for me and being in presence of historical spaces, especially those in a state of ruin, often invites intense, deep reflection and introspection. There is a heightened feeling of awareness of the stories reverberating within those spaces; the architecture, the design, the shape,and the overall look of the building all contribute towards the effort to imagine what it must have been once upon a time. Beauty, romanticism, and history intermingle with one another to produce a profoundly, what I may say, spiritual experience for me.

While browsing through the vivid, beautiful images at Madhumita Gopalan's blog, Aadab Hyderabad, glimpsing the structures that she has photographed in Hyderabad, I found myself sensing the pathos of the buildings and spaces just from the deeply evocative images themselves; it was as if you had literally been transplanted into the history-laden atmosphere. Given the varied scope of Hyderabad's history, there are various historical mansions, public buildings, and tombs to be found in the city and which Madhumita so carefully records for posterity through the medium of her photography and blog. I had visited Hyderabad years ago but I look forward to discovering these places on a future visit.

Incidentally, I was charmed to learn about Madhumita's The Arch Project, where she takes special interest in photographing Islamic arches; it reminded me of my own Wall Project and the way I gravitate towards walls.

Here are some pictures from her blog:

Mishk Mahal

Shaikpet Sarai

The rust-speckled surface speaks so much: Qutub Shahi tomb

Gorgeous arches: Paigah tomb

Photographs included here with the kind permission of Madhumita Gopalan and her blog, Aadab Hyderabad, which is truly a love-letter to the city, revealing its rich historical and cultural facets.

August 18, 2011

The Bewitched Hour: Dusk

My unequivocally favorite time of the day is dusk. Wherever I am, whatever the season, I invariably find myself wandering outside as the day draws to a close and glimpsing the twilight hour. I reckon that I am not even particularly interested in seeing the sunsets, as spectacular as they may be; I am more drawn towards the palpable atmosphere that dusk conjures up, the partition it heralds and cements between the day and night. Dusk is that time which appears to be a sea of possibilities, where time itself becomes suspended and dreams are free to be fleshed into existence.

Here are some pictures of dusk in old Jodhpur on an August evening, the latter pictures having been taken in a Krishna temple. I love the color of the dusk light - and how different surfaces and textures respond to it.

Even the pigeons have come home to roost...

Darshan at Krishna temple

And, finally, this is my current laptop wallpaper - there is something rather calming and serene that I find in the image.

You can read about my dusk experience involving a falling kite over here

August 1, 2011

Zubeidaa: Of Rajput and Vintage Glamor

Some posts are just meant to be written.

To do away with the enigma, ever since I have begun to blog, everything that I lately experience and witness deems itself to be blog-worthy! (Yes, call it a blogger-newbie excitement:) This holiday has been an interesting bagful of assorted experiences so far: accidentally stumbling upon an abandoned, moss-dressed house and watching a wonderful Kathak performance accompanied by Carnatic and North Indian classical instruments at NCPA in Bombay, talking to passengers of the Indo-Pak train service, Thar Express and witnessing a contemporary/ballet-traditional Rajasthani folk dance performance at Arna Jharna Desert Museum in Jodhpur, and discovering a sleek, uber-chic haveli-turned hotel in heart of old Jodhpur - all of which I hoped to blog about in greater detail only once I returned to Oman.

In the meantime, I have been indulging in shopping to my heart's content and decided to get a traditional Rajasthani poshak stitched this time round in lieu of purchasing a customary churidar-kameez/anarkali suit as an elegant - and Rajasthani! - alternative to special occasion (or what I call, Diwali-best) wear. I was trying to describe it to a friend and the most immediate visual reference that popped in my mind was Karisma Kapoor wearing the poshak in Zubeidaa, where she plays a Rajput princess. You can see only a bit of the poshak in this picture as Karisma is overloaded with so much jewelry; it is basically the traditional costume of women of the Rajput community in Rajasthan, consisting of a kanchli (inner-wear with sleeves), kurta (a sleeveless blouse), and flowing, pleated ghagra, or skirt.

Zubeidaa (2000, dir: Shyam Benegal) happens to be a great favorite of mine, perfectly mixing my interests: period cinema, vintage fashion, and Indian royalty in equal measures. The story of a high-spirited Muslim girl, Zubeidaa, living in pre-Independent India's Bombay and who dares to indulge in the otherwise then taboo dream of becoming an actress, she eventually marries a Rajput prince, Maharaja Vijayendra Singh of Fatehpur(Manoj Bajpai), known as Victor; Victor is purportedly based on the Maharaja of Jodhpur, Hanwant Singh although the film obviously does not allude to real-life monikers/parallels - incidentally, the film was banned in Jodhpur upon release. However, Zubeidaa struggles to be allowed to retain her independence of thought and action in the strict, rule-bound Rajput royal household, which she shares along with her husband's first wife, Mandira Devi (Rekha) and eventually dies in a mysterious plane-accident alongside her husband. Her story is narrated through the perspective of her son from her first marriage, Riyaz (Rajat Kapoor), a journalist, attempting to make sense years afterwards of the enigma that was his mother. For trivia buffs, ex-Filmfare editor and director of films such as Fiza, Zubeidaa's writer, Khalid Mohammed literally wrote himself into Zubeidaa, Zubeidaa being his mother.

Apart from thoroughly inhabiting the role of Zubeidaa, Karisma Kapoor looks beautiful in her various style avatars throughout the film: a fresh-faced, starry-eyed school-girl, channeling 40s Bombay high-society glamor with meticulously styled hair and make-up and sophisticated saris, and lastly, a Rajput princess in traditional Rajput clothing.

Thinking to blog about Zubeidaa at some later stage, I then happened to chance upon today this image of Sonam Kapoor looking especially lovely in a divine sky-blue Manish Malhotra sari (a pleasant surprise as I am not particularly a MM fan)and Amrapali jewels at the India International Jewellery Week 2011:

It instantly reminded me of Karisma's Zubeidaa look in this picture:

Coincidence, much? And I found myself blogging about Zubeidaa, after all...! Needless to say, I love the way Sonam has been styled (word is that her sister, Rhea is the stylist) - the look just spells out vintage and I would love to experiment with the three-quarter sleeved blouse myself. what would be the perfect sari that will go along with it? And so another shopping quest begins!