Reviving a wondrous past

Rajasthan-based miniature painting atelier brings the once vibrant artistic style to Kathmandu

Rajasthan-based miniature painting atelier Studio Kishangarh is exhibiting miniatures inspired by historical Mughal artwork to the contemporary reimagining of the tales of Krishna.

The miniature painting tradition can be traced back to ancient China, but the genre gained prominence during the Mughal period in India before being banned by Aurangzeb in the early 18th century.

The artists dedicated to creating these lavish paintings would sit in the royal court gaining access to the influential and powerful from foreign dignitaries to royalty — their art became microcosms of the rich cultural exchanges that characterised the Mughal court.

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Once a centrepiece of the Moghul Empire, miniature painting is now a dying art form. Younger artists are into more financially viable pursuits, abandoning artisanal practices like miniature painting skills that are passed down from generation to generation.

Unlike modern studios, Studio Kishanagarh is an atelier, a rarity in the modern art world, dedicated to restoring passion for the endangered practice of miniatures. 

Miniature art1

It is a collaborative space where artists are permanent employees, given a steady, consistent income and work in tandem to create pieces.

Some of these are in the Domains of Wonder exhibition at the Siddhartha Art Gallery, and were created by at least three artists each with different specialties. One worked on the borders, another carefully created trees. 

The Kathmandu exhibit was opened on 8 October by Indian Ambassador Naveen Srivastava (pictured left with Studio Kishanagarh founder Princess Vaishnavi Kumari). Vaishnavi returned to Rajasthan after completing studies in London to preserve the culture of her ancestral home.

The masters of miniature paintings are ageing. Vaishnavi hopes the Studio’s artists can reignite interest in the practice, allowing a new generation to take up the mantle and prevent the practice from going extinct.

Miniature art2

The Kathmandu show is the first time these pieces are being exhibited in public, and it is an acknowledgement that many members of India’s princely states and their descendants are married to Nepal’s aristocracy. The Studio’s next exhibition shall be at the historic Bikaner House in Delhi in December.

Vaishnavi eventually wants to open a training centre in Rajasthan where young people can hone the craft of miniature painting, securing the future for this sacred artisanal practice.

From extravagant pieces that look like they belong to the royal courts of Shah Jahan to paintings that are reminiscent of Andy Warhol, Studio Kishangarh’s Domains of Wonders is proof that the ancient practice has a future after all.  

Domains of Wonder

Siddhartha Art Gallery, Baber Mahal

Until 16 November