The 700-year-old glass art of Ferozabad in Uttar Pradesh came to the centre-stage of global contemporary art Sunday with the unveiling of a 4.2 metre high futuristic glass installation 'The Precious Stonewall' conceived by French glass artist Jean-Michel Othoniel.
The five-ton solid installation, crafted with 4,200 recycled glass bricks, decked with 150 glass bead necklaces and spread across 7.5 square metres of ground area was thrown open for people view at the Lalit Kala Akademi by Culture Secretary Jawahar Sircar and French Ambassador Jerome Bonnafont as part of an Indo-French artistic exchange.
The sculpture is the result of a one-and-a-half year experimentation with glass as an artistic medium between the traditional glass blowers of Ferozabad, known for its colourful glass bangles and necklaces since the reign of Ferozshah Tughlaq, and Othoniel, who has been working with glass solid art since 1998.
The artist has been working on designer glass bricks with Ferozabad craftsmen since January 2009.
Inspired by religion, the sculpture that rises like a bejeweled golden edifice from the ground is a brick-by-brick interpretation of the artist's vision of development and the evolving spiritual self that represents India, sources at the French embassy said, elaborating on the ethos driving "the monumental form loped in swirls of coloured glass bead necklaces".
"The sculpture is a result of my experimentation with glass in India. I discovered the primal force of this material of deep hues while working in Ferozabad in the heat of the furnaces and the dust of pigments. The thousands of bricks that this work is composed of were blown and polished to a gleam that are similar to burnished ingots," sculptor Othoniel said.
The work was a tribute to a pile of glass bricks "that often line the Indian roads."
Unveiling the sculpture, Sircar said Othoniel's installation was a shot in the arm for the glass blowers of Ferozabad.
"The glass craft of Ferozabad has a rich historical lineage. Ferozabad, barely 40 km from the erstwhile Mughal capital of Agra, evolved as a glass hub spurred by the demand for glass by the Muslim princesses of the Agra fort," he said.
"It flourished as a centre of bangle craft in the 15th century and remained so for the next 300 years. After the arrival of the British, the glass blowers began to craft glass necklaces, but the fashion did not catch on. For many years, the government has been trying to bring the glass blowers out of the confines of the bangles," the culture secretary said.
The town is marked by the convoy of carts that sell colourful glass bangles on the streets.
Earlier named Chandwar Nagar, the town was built by Ferozshah Tughlaq between 1351 and 1388. Bangle crafting and glass works have been its economic lifeline for the last 700 years.
It was named Ferozabad during the reign of Emperor Akbar by Faraz Shah Mansab Dar in 1566. According to historians, Raja Todarmal, one of the nine gems of Akbar's court, was looted in the town on his way to Gaya. At his request, Akbar sent Faraz Shah to maintain law and order in the town.
"The sculpture is a symbol of the cooperation and partnership between the Ferozabad glass workers and artist Othoniel, whose glass installations grace the metro station in the heart of Paris and all the renowned museums of modern and contemporary art across the world," the French ambassador said.
"'The Precious Stonewall' will be displayed in an exhibition of Indian and French contemporary art at the Musee National d'art Moderne or the Museum of Modern Art at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris next year," Bonnafant told IANS.
Othoniel's signature glass ball necklaces have found their way to Rome's Villa Medici Gardens and in American Peggy Guggenheim's collection of trees.
Bonnafont said the government of France was sponsoring 300 visits to his country from India in 2010 to facilitate exchange of ideas in art and culture.