Dayanita Singh – The Adventures of a Photographer

Medha Kapur of Saffronart shares a note on Dayanita Singh, one of India’s most influential photographers

Mumbai: An artist best known for her photographs, Dayanita Singh lives and works in New Delhi and now also is partly based in Goa. Born in 1961, Singh attended the National Institute of Design in Ahmedabad and the International Center of Photography in New York. Most of her works are in black-and-white, though of late she has also delved deeper into colour photography. Singh is best known for her portraits and interior views of Indian domestic life, especially urban middle and upper class families. Her works have been exhibited extensively, including galleries in Rome, New York, Berlin, London, Milan, Delhi, Kolkata, Mumbai, and Boston.

Singh has a deep understanding, creating unimaginable images and continuously reinventing her photographs, in the way that language reinvents words. Her works include a photographic series documenting the tabla maestro Zakir Hussain, and Ladies of Saligao, a series in which she photographed women from the village in Goa where she lived. Another significant series is Singh’s documentation of her close friend, Mona Ahmed. Singh photographically mapped Mona’s intimate life, her adopted daughter, her banishment from the community of eunuchs she belonged to as a result of her alcoholism, and her eventual illegal activities in a cemetery, for a period of 13 years.  Singh has documented several other subjects as well, tracking their complex and difficult lives, and developing symbiotic relationship with them, as well as with the medium of photography.

Zakir Hussain (1986)

Zakir Hussain (1986)
Image courtesy


Image Courtesy

Singh has published nine books of her photographs: Zakir Hussain (1986), Myself, Mona Ahmed (2001), Privacy (2003), Chairs (2005), Go Away Closer(2007), Sent a Letter (2008), Blue Book (2008), Dream Villa (2010), Dayanita Singh (2010), and House of Love (2011) . The Adventures of a Photographer, an exhibition of her work currently on view at the Bildmuseet in Sweden (till 13 January, 2013) comprises works from the last twelve years of her career: dreamlike landscapes, cityscapes and industrial nightscapes saturated with intense colour, along with carefully executed black and white images of people and interiors such as her renowned portraits of Indian upper-middle-class families and her latest project File Room.

The exhibition Dayanita Singh / The Adventures of a Photographer is curated by Katarina Pierre, Director Bildmuseet, assisted by Polly Yassin.

Poetry and Painting: Krishna in the Mewar School of Indian Miniature Paintings

Amy Lin of Saffronart explores the significance of Krishna in the Mewar miniature painting tradition

Lot 18: A Page from a Rasikapriya Series
Saffronart Indian Antiques Auction

New York:  One of the most fascinating types of ancient painting is the Mewar school of Indian miniatures that continues to baffle viewers today with its brash display of love and sexuality. Unlike princely portraits from the Mughal courts, paintings from the Rajasthani courts depict heroes and heroines in various stages of vigorous romance and passionate love. The most celebrated couple is undeniably the Hindu god Krishna and his beloved Radha. For centuries, poets and artists across India have recreated their passion in both painting and literature. Just like poetry that’s laden with symbolic meaning, paintings also include symbolic objects such as lotus flowers and swirling clouds.

Collectibles Antiques India’s Auction of Indian Antiquities, powered by Saffronart, features a set of beautiful Mewar paintings of Krishna and Radha from the poems of the Raskpriya series. These stunning paintings depict the heavenly lovers in various engagements of courtly love. A distinct simplistic and robust style contrasts with elaborate details in the fashionable dresses and vegetation. The figures with their bright eyes and bold colors command attention from the viewer to closely decipher the scenes.

Lot 19: A Page from a Rasikapriya Series
Saffronart Indian Antiques Auction

The Krishna and Radha stories were made popular by the poet Kesava Das of Orchha in his Raskpriya of 1591. Krishna is believed to be the eighth incarnation of Lord Vishnu. He is the protector of love and divine joy, usually depicted as a mischievous boy, a flute playing shepherd or a princely youth. His divine love is his childhood friend Radha, who is the incarnate of the goddess Lakshmi. Together, they represent the essence of love, devotion and aesthetics. The fables of Krishna appear across different Hindu philosophies but it is the playful anecdotes of Raskpriya that became inspirations for generations of artists to come.

Artistic creativity in the Mewar Kingdom (present day Rajasthan) flourished during the 17th and 18th centuries. It came at a time when the Mughal invasion was sweeping across Northern India and the Mewar Kingdom was striving for its sovereignty. Under the patronage of Maharana Jagat Singh I, a new style of bold colors, simplified outlines and primitive renderings of the backgrounds developed. This vigorous and expressive style harks back to the native land of Mewar, devoid of Mughal influence.

Jagat Singh I was a devotee of Krishna and the themes of passion and devotion lend themselves well at court which can easily translate to loyalty for the Rajput land. Krishna in the eyes of the artists became a Mewar noble, pursuing his Radha and freely engaging in passionate lovemaking. He is every bit a Rajput prince with his fashionable Mewar clothing and a robust figure that appear in stark contrast to his delicate depictions in Mughal miniatures. Through prose, poetry and painting, the Mewars bestowed their hopes and aspirations in Krishna, the symbol of divine joy and devotion.

Lot 20: A Page from a Rasikapriya Series
Saffronart Indian Antiques Auction

The Jina Parsvanatha Sculpture: A Study in Symbolism

Josheen Oberoi briefly explores the signs and meanings embedded in ancient Indian Jina sculptures

New York: Jainism, one of the oldest faiths in India, is defined by its commitment to non-violence and a self-directed effort to attain enlightenment. The ‘Supreme Beings’ who achieve this state of liberation and assist others in the process are called Jinas (victors) or Tirthankaras. There are said to have been twenty four Jinas in Jainism, the last of whom, Vardhamana Mahavira, is possibly the most widely known among non practitioners of Jainism.

However, when it comes to the arts and representation in Jainism there is a rich history of sculptures of many of the Jinas, replete with symbolism relating to their positions, accompanying objects, and their meaning.

Jina Parsvanatha
Object: Sculpture
Place of origin: Garsoppa, India (probably, made)
Date: 12th century (made)
Materials and Techniques: Black shale
Museum number: 931(IS)
Image courtesy: Victoria and Albert Museum

Two similar sculptures from different time periods are wonderful examples of Jina Parsvanathas and their symbolism. This beautiful 12th century sculpture (on the left) from the Victoria and Albert Museum collection in London represents the twenty third Jina Parsvanatha, who is revered as a great teacher and is one of four Jinas most often portrayed in Jain art. A similar sculpture in the ongoing Indian Antiquities auction conducted by Collectibles Antiques India and powered by Saffronart is from the 11th century, created during the rule of the Hoysala Dynasty. It is a distinctive work from a time period rarely seen in private hands; most works from this Dynasty are in museums or preserved at heritage sites.

Parsvanatha lived in the 8th century BC. He was the son of King Ashvasena and Queen Vamanadevi of Varanasi who renounced the world at the age of thirty to become an ascetic. He attained absolute knowledge and became the twenty-third Tirthankara or Jina in Jainism and is associated with the color blue and a seven hooded serpent.

The Jina fact file on the Victoria & Albert Museum website allows us as viewers to read the sculpture as well. Jinas are always shown in either a padmasana (seated) or kayotsarga (standing) position. The two Jina Parsvanathas in discussion here are standing; the immobility and discipline required is considered a form of severe penance and asceticism.

Jina Parsvanatha
Greenish Schist
11th Century
Hoysala Dynasty
Height: 51 in (129.5 cm)
Image courtesy: Saffronart Indian Antiquities Auction (Nov 28-29, 2012), Lot 3

The three tiered umbrella at the top of the sculpture is a symbol of the Jina’s spiritual sovereignty, while the seven headed snake, Dharanendra, protects the Jina with his coils and a canopy over his head. Jinas, like those in these two sculptures, are the only Jain figures shown unclothed as a sign of their absolute enlightenment and rejection of all materialism. They are often flanked by guardian spirits called yakshas and yakshis, positioned in these sculptures by the feet of the Jina.

The strength of the physical body and the powerful features in the sculpture above is distinctive of the Hoysala Dynasty, which oversaw great developments in architecture and classically modeled sculptures during its rule.

You can hear some interesting ideas about the importance of the seven hooded serpent and the significance of the standing position in context of the Jina Parsvanatha in the collection of the V&A Museum here.

Tarun Tahiliani on Shawls and Textiles

In conjunction with Saffronart’s Auction of Carpets, Rugs & Textiles and the collection Woven in Kashmir on The Story by SaffronartYamini Telkar of Saffronart speaks with designer Tarun Tahiliani about his collection and design aesthetics

Tarun Tahiliani

New Delhi:  Renowned fashion designer Tarun Tahiliani has always been popular for the way his traditional outfits are draped. Noted for his use of historic Indian textiles and motifs, he goes over Saffronart’s auction catalogue of Carpets, Rugs and Textiles, talking about his love for shawls and their popularity in contemporary designs.

Q. Can you tell us a little about your collection of shawls? What drew you to them, and do you have any particular favourite pieces?

My first beautiful shawl is something I inherited from my mother. It was an agonizing decision for her because it was a men’s size and being a naval wife, she had limited resources, so a huge kanni jamewar was something extraordinary – however I do not think except for very old families, the taste for these wonderful Indian heirlooms was overtly developed yet.

Subsequently while living in Delhi one got more exposed to the world of these shawls and seeing the Calico Museum’s collection really sealed this passion – for colours, motifs and finesse I have not seen much in this caliber and I particularly love the matte feeling of the wools being as they are in wool. For complex pattern and colours some of the shawls are literally greater works of art than much that is merely conceptual today.  So I started to collect them – often finding amazing pieces in the New York and French flea markets.  Before treating, they must have been necessary accessories but now can sometimes, however beautiful, feel a little cumbersome to manage.  Oh to find something that looked like a jamewar but felt like a shahtoosh!

Q. You incorporate the rich history of Indian textiles in your contemporary creations in several ways. What motivated you to do this?

I have always loved the rich Indian textile history and eye of colour, and of course motif.  However since most of our fashions were woven to be draped, we had issues with more sculpted fashion which embroidery allowed us to do.  I have done jamewar saris on chiffon and used it as a basis for my digital prints as well. Next season, we are doing jamewar inspired embroideries with dull sequined borders.  The permutations and combinations are endless.

Kanni Badam Palla Shawl – Kashmir
Circa 1930’s
Image courtesy Saffronart

Q. To own and wear a shawl from Kashmir was a ‘fashion statement’ in 18th century Europe, and Empress Josephine is believed to have had an extensive collection. As a designer today, do you think traditional Indian textiles and techniques can be fashion forward?

Of course heritage can be fashion forward if worn in a contemporary way.  It is as much how you wear something as what you wear.  Attitude is so important.  We once cut up and draped a shawl from Punjab on Isabella Blow to make an asymmetrical draped shawl dress which looked amazing.  It’s how you pair things as well.  We find our own fashion forward.

Q. What are some of your favourite motifs from traditional Indian textiles?

Paisleys, florals and jaalis.  All incredible when layered.

Q. Which is your favourite Shawl from the November Carpets, Rugs and Textiles Auction?

I love the Kanni Jamewar – lot 66.  It is really beautiful with almost a tribal feel to the colours and the long central medallion motif.

Jamewar Kanni Shawl

Lot 66 – A JAMAVAR KANNI SHAWL, Early 20th Century, Approx. 10ft 6in x 4ft 4in (325.1 x 134.6 cms), Pashmina wool
Image courtesy Saffronart

The TAPI Collection of Indian Textiles: An Interview with Shilpa Shah

In conjunction with Saffronart’s Auction of Carpets, Rugs & Textiles and the collection Woven in Kashmir on The Story by SaffronartNishad Avari of Saffronart speaks with textile collector Shilpa Shah about the TAPI collection of Indian textiles, one of the finest in the world

Mumbai: India has always been a regarded as one of the most important centres of textile art and production in the world. Treasured by royalty in India and exported to countries ranging from Western Europe to South East Asia, India’s textile traditions date back almost 3000 years.

The TAPI Collection of Indian textiles, put together by collectors Shilpa and Praful Shah, was initially envisioned as a resource for design and a celebration of the rich heritage of textile traditions in India. Since the 1980s, when it was started, it has grown into one of the finest and most comprehensive collections of historic Indian textiles in the world.

Praful & Shilpa Shah

Textile collectors Praful & Shilpa Shah

TAPI is an acronym that stands for ‘Textiles & Art of the People of India’, but also pays homage to the Tapi River, which serves as the ‘life force’ of the textile town of Surat in Gujarat, where the collection is based. The TAPI collection includes textiles from Mughal and provincial royal courts, textiles from the 15th to 19th centuries that were specifically produced for export markets, folk textiles, historic regional embroidery, and important religious textiles. Exhibitions of select pieces from the collection have been held at the National Museum in Delhi, the Birla Academy of Fine Art in Kolkata, and the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya  in Mumbai (formerly the Prince of Wales Museum), among other institutions. The collection has also collaborated on several seminal publications on Indian textile art.

I recently got the opportunity to speak with Shilpa Shah about the TAPI Collection, and specifically about its holdings of Kashmiri shawls, on which the collection’s most recent publication is based.

NA: Could you tell us a little about the origins of the TAPI Collection? What drew you and Praful to begin this journey, and what are some of the most initial pieces you acquired?

SS: Praful hails from a textile making family, so it was not very surprising that we were drawn to the distinctive and vastly diverse textile traditions of our country, whether woven or dyed, printed, painted, tie-dyed or ikat. Every region of India had – and still has – its own unique textile tradition. When Praful returned from Stanford University to join the family textile factory in the late 1960s, his first step was to set up the textile design studio and printery. I was a history buff so when we got married, our interest naturally developed into a curiosity about our textile past. This may seem ironical because we were otherwise involved in making modern, machine-made, non-traditional textiles for the contemporary, urban consumer. But these designs helped as inspiration to the textile artists.

Our first acquisitions in fact were Kashmir shawls. We began collecting shawls in the 1970s. Kashmir’s ‘kani’ shawl weaving had virtually come to an end by the 1870s, so by the 1970s, the shawls already represented over a hundred-year old antiquity.

One of the first few Kashmir shawls acquired by Praful & Shilpa in the 1970’s (TAPI COLLECTION)

One of the first few Kashmir shawls acquired by Praful & Shilpa in the 1970’s (TAPI COLLECTION)

Kashmir Shawl butas are an unending source of inspiration for textile designers (TAPI COLLECTION)
Kashmir Shawl butas are an unending source of inspiration for textile designers (TAPI COLLECTION)

NA: The core of the collection comprises Indian textiles produced specifically for various export markets. What are some of the interesting cultural and economic exchanges that these textiles reveal?

SS: From earliest times, Indian textiles have been an essential medium of exchange in east-west trade. The earliest textiles in our collection were made in Gujarat for export to South-East Asia for trade with the spice islands of Indonesia. Several of these remarkable cloths date to the 14th and 15th century, with a few as early as the 13th century. This means that they were imported into maritime South-East Asia well before the arrival of the European travellers and merchant companies in the Indian Ocean world. As such early textiles have not survived in India, these cloths represent a particular strength of the TAPI collection. Cloths made in India for export were made with native skills catering to foreign taste. This resulted in textiles and patterns that were quite different from those made for the domestic markets in India. Among these we have examples of 16th century embroidered quilts from Bengal made for the Portuguese market, 17th century embroideries from Cambay for the English market and chintzes from the Coromandel Coast made for the Dutch, English and French markets.

The elephant patolu from Gujarat was among the most prized textiles exported to South-East Asia. (TAPI COLLECTION)

The elephant patolu from Gujarat was among the most prized textiles exported to South-East Asia. (TAPI COLLECTION)

NA: The latest publication that you have collaborated on focuses on Kashimiri shawls, another strength of the collection. What is the significance of these shawls in India’s textile history? Were they also exported?

SS: From Mughal emperors to the aristocracy of northern India, Bengal and the Deccan, the Kashmir shawl remained a coveted article of male winter fashion till the 19th century. By the 20th century, many of these shawls were cut up to make fashionable ladies’ shawls. The love of shawls runs in the veins of all northerners, an aspect which escapes most of us warm-weather west-coasters. Kashmir shawls have been recognised the world over as the single most prized textile from the Indian subcontinent. The exquisite delicacy of design and lightness, warmth and softness of the pashmina wool has given the Kashmir shawl the cachet it has.

Qatraaz or striped shawls were in high demand in Persia, (TAPI COLLECTION)

Qatraaz or striped shawls were in high demand in Persia, (TAPI COLLECTION)

From the second half of the 18th century, Kashmir shawls became fashionable as shoulder mantles in Western Europe. Queen Victoria owned a fair number for her personal use and for presenting as gifts. Empress Josephine, records tell us, is said to have possessed about sixty Kashmir shawls. Emperor Napoleon I  gave 17 shawls to his bride Marie-Louise. Attempts to imitate the Kashmir shawl’s patterns and textures began both in England and France. Within fifty years, the jacquard loom shawl rode the market and threatened the export of Kashmir shawl to Europe altogether. What survived of this trade is the immortal, unforgotten motif called the ‘paisley’, the buta’s international avatar, indispensably sought-after by silk-designers the world over.

‘Madame Panckoucke’ by Ingres, 1811, draped with a striped Kashmir shawl. (Photo courtesy: Musée du Louvre, Paris)

‘Madame Panckoucke’ by Ingres, 1811, draped with a striped Kashmir shawl. (Photo courtesy: Musée du Louvre, Paris)

NA: What are some of the other strengths of the TAPI Collection? Can you share some of your personal favourites from the collection?

SS: That is a difficult question for a collector. One cannot be honest about it. Each object has its own place in the collection. When a particular piece is acquired, it attaches itself strongly upon the collector – till the next great piece comes along. Each specimen has its moment as a favourite.

Palledar Shawl, c. 1720 (detail) (TAPI COLLECTION)

Palledar Shawl, c. 1720 (detail) (TAPI COLLECTION)

NA: The TAPI Collection was initially founded as a resource for design. Can you tell us about how the collection has influenced current textile art in India? Are there any specific projects that highlight such exchanges between the traditional and the contemporary?

SS: The marriage of the two – the past and the new – takes place on a day to day basis. Motifs like a particular paisley from the past serves only as an inspiration. The form the paisley buta takes may be enlarged many times over, or elongated or twisted with the addition of other floral element into it to make it modern and contemporary. It is not how radically the motif has morphed but how it has remained as a source of inspiration to the textile design. When we see a textile of the past, don’t forget that it too was considered modern at that time. Conversely, motifs from Mohenjo-Daro appear modern to us today.

Reversible ‘Dorukha’ shawls were coveted by the elite of India. (TAPI COLLECTION)

Reversible ‘Dorukha’ shawls were coveted by the elite of India. (TAPI COLLECTION)

The book, Kashmir Shawls – The TAPI Collection, authored by internationally reputed textile scholars Steven Cohen, Rosemary Crill, Monique Lévi-Strauss and Jeffrey B. Spurr, will be released by fashion designer and author Wendell Rodricks at Saffronart on December 7, 2012.

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