This Mumbai exhibition gives a contemporary spin to traditional Pichvai painting
An exhibition at Famous Studios in Mumbai traces the evolution of Pichvai textiles, which were originally hung behind the idol in Vaishnav shrines, and explores how the craft can be reinvented as wall art.Updated: Apr 03, 2018 12:03 IST
If you’ve ever visited Nathdwara in Rajasthan, the seat of Vaishnavite sub-sect of the Pushtimargis, you would have noticed the Pichvai or the hand-painted textile traditionally hung behind the idol of Shrinathji, an incarnation of the Hindu god Krishna. The tradition of Pichvai painting dates back to the 17th century, when meticulously-detailed textiles were crafted to depict the many moods (rasas) of Shrinathji as well as mythological tales and incidents from the life of Krishna (Krishna Leelas).
“The Pichvai is considered one of the many outward manifestations of the path of grace, which adorns palaces, temples and homes to give peace to the space. Over the last century, traditionally trained artists have reproduced many celebrated artworks of the genre. These strictly adhere to the codified and complex system of representation that the temple prescribed,” says Pooja Singhal, a Delhi-based art enthusiast and designer.
A mix of old and new
In a unique experiment, Singhal collaborated with around 50 artists from Nathdwara (traditional masters and newer artists) to reinterpret the traditional art and design versatile modern Pichvais. The works on display combine traditional techniques with newer scales (large-scale and miniature), colour palettes, and themes. The aim, says Singhal, is to preserve the art form and make it relevant for today’s generation.
Around 400 of the textiles that were designed will now feature in the exhibition, Pichvai Tradition & Beyond, from April 5 in Mumbai. It follows the first exhibit in New Delhi in 2015 and a special presentation at Kochi Muziris Biennale 2016-2017.
Shrine art to wall art
With the passage of time, the use of Pichvai has further evolved from a backdrop at the shrine to wall art, and the textiles are much sought after by collectors for their aesthetic design. “While innovations have occurred in the craft, they were either based on individual commission — dictated by the aesthetics of patrons — or custom-made to fit personal shrines. Some variations were spawned in other parts of India, in combination with local idioms, creating artworks that intrigue art historians even today, and are an arena of study and debate,” says Singhal.
Singhal, who has done her MBA from Katz Business School, Pittsburgh, USA, belongs to a third-generation Industrialist family with roots in Udaipur. “I had grown up with Pichvai art in my hometown. My mother was a patron of the arts and I grew up seeing artists in and out of my home,” she says.
Her interest in the non-profit sector led her to work with various NGOs, and she started a brand, Ruh, that specialises in handloom fabrics 14 years ago. “There’s a clear market for traditional art in India and people do appreciate the reinvention of traditional art forms,” says Singhal.
The exhibition presented quite a few challenges for the designer. “The venue, too, (being a studio) has no infrastructure to show art. We have had to plan every detail. It has been an exciting and, at times, a trying journey,” she says.
Pichvai Tradition & Beyond will be exhibited from April 7 to 15, at Famous Studios, Dr E Moses Road, Mahalaxmi.
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