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Delhi weekend: 10 miniature artists interpret the margin

The margin or the border was an important part of traditional miniature paintings. Ten contemporary miniature artists come together to interpret the margin afresh

art and culture Updated: Apr 14, 2018 08:50 IST
Manik Sharma
Manik Sharma
Hindustan Times
This or that--regarding a golden deer by V Ramesh literally shifts the frame to make the border the centre, and shows Ramayana in a new light
This or that--regarding a golden deer by V Ramesh literally shifts the frame to make the border the centre, and shows Ramayana in a new light(Credit@ Anant Art Gallery)

Think of the word ‘margin’ and you automatically think of people on the periphery of socio-political situations or disappearing cultures. But in the tradition of Mughal and Pahadi miniature paintings, the margin has played a unique role. Apart from the symmetry that it brings to a work, it has either served a decorative purpose, or further contributed to the central piece. But the margin, or the border if you like, has not been addressed in its entirety or on its own. A new exhibition titled ‘Hashiya - The Margin’ explores the possibilities that abound in miniature paintings when the margin becomes the centre.Hashiya, which in Persian means the margin, brings together the miniature works of ten artists. “I have been working with contemporary miniatures all along. The genesis for this show happened after I had worked around the theme of seasons,” says Mamta Singhania, curator of the exhibition. “I wanted to talk about the margin in art, which we know as the hashiya.” The works on display at the exhibition are contemporary re-workings of the miniaturist technique. Only the process is traditional, not necessarily the outcome.

The project began more than a year ago. Singhania got ten artists to respond to the idea of the hashiya, and what each of them came up with was as diverse as their individual techniques and cultural backgrounds. Pakistan-born Saira Wasim’s work, for example, speaks about an ongoing socio-political issue in the United States (where she lives) – gun culture.

“Being a migrant Muslim woman artist in USA, being a mom of three school-going kids, every mom’s biggest concern is to keep our kids safe from gun violence. For me, hashiya is [the] space from where I belong, a marginalised person who views the mainstream in her own way,” Wasim says. Her work, fine in its detail, sees the margin as a place for people.

Desert Meets River by Manisha Gera Baswani uses the margin as a place of union, between hues and elements (Credit@ Anant Art Gallery)

More literal is the work of Desmond Lazaro, the Pondicherry-based miniaturist, whose works attempts to create the idea of an undivided, borderless world. British-born Lazaro, who was schooled in Rajasthan for over two decades, says that the process is almost everything. “Without making the colour, the paper or the brush, there is perhaps nothing else to the miniature. It is not a case of it might be important, it is at the heart of concept,” says Lazaro. “The process, the method and the material is everything. Personally, I am more interested in the journey, in the way you can alter the state of matter and turn it into something else.” His works are rendered on Sanganeer, a rare form of handmade paper made in Rajasthan, the makers of which, according to Lazaro, are fast disappearing.

The sheer variety of voices and ideas that form the exhibition is delightful. From Delhi artist Manisha Gera Beswani’s vision of earthly elements (sky, water, land) to the ecstatically busy, pop-culture-invoking works of US-based Alexander Gorlizki, the concept of the border or the margin takes many shapes. That said, what about the state of the miniature as a form in general? “When you look at the Mughal and Pahadi miniatures, they are not craft, they are art. But the best of our miniatures are not even in India,” says Singhania. “They are either at the Smithsonian or in Munich. As for the work still being done by artists in Rajasthan, it is more of a copyist style. But if you see Pakistan, they have done a better job of preserving the form.”

A Forgotten Place by Alexander Gorlizki reminds us of shrinking natural habitats. (Credit@ Anant Art Gallery)

Part of the problem, Wasim believes, is that people do not know about their own heritage. “Most of the time audiences are not familiar with the rich visual vocabulary or traditional symbolism of miniature painting. When we exhibit or talk about our art works we [have] to briefly explain this heritage,” she says.

The fineness of a miniature painting is often so breathtaking, it takes a special set of eyes to be able to fully appreciate it. Which is why, one is better rewarded if one uses the lenses, available at the gallery.

Is it hard work? “Oh absolutely. It took me almost 15 years to learn the craft, and I think I have only just gotten the confidence to be able to pull off a work,” says Lazaro. “But it is still a slow process. Sometimes I leave a work for months, even years, if I have nothing to offer to the piece. But I love the etiquette, the process of it.” Hashiya is a fresh, perhaps timely re-take on the miniaturist technique. In the hands of artists who have given it a contemporary twist, it seems full of possibilities.

WHAT: Exhibition Hashiya - The Margin.

WHEN: 11am to 7pm, till 24 April (Sundays closed).

WHERE: Bikaner House, Pandara Road, India Gate

NEAREST METRO STATION: Central Secretariat