Poetry in Stone: Carved Screens from Sultanate and Mughal India

Elisabetta Marabotto of Saffronart on ‘Red Stone’, a two-gallery exhibition of ancient Indian carvings in London

London: The Francesca Galloway and Sam Fogg galleries in London recently concluded a joint exhibition of exquisite Mughal perforated stone screens or ‘jalis’ titled ‘Red Stone: Indian stone carving from Sultante and Mughal India’.

Jalis were a very popular feature in Mughal buildings between the 16th and 18th centuries, mainly used to glorify imperial architecture, and were mostly produced in the Agra and Delhi areas of Northern India.  Jalis had the purpose of separating spaces within buildings to provide privacy, especially for the women of the court, as well as allowing the wind to circulate and dividing ‘divine spaces’ from ‘worldly’ ones.

A note accompanying the exhibition, which coincided with the celebration ‘Asian Art in London’, states, “According to Mughal political thought, a ruler was best represented by his buildings which became memorials to his fame. During the high period of Mughal art the imaginative designs of sandstone and marble jalis achieved a degree of sophistication and refinement not seen elsewhere. Jalis have a contemporary aesthetic which appeals to younger collectors, and have been used in museum installations at The Metropolitan Museum of Art New York, The National Gallery of Australia, and the new Islamic Arts wing of the Louvre.”

The perforated stone screens on display in this joint exhibition most probably came from buildings in Agra and Delhi and were earlier part of a private English collection, housed in a country estate in Somerset. The collection includes jalis bearing highly detailed geometric, floral and vase patterns, as well as few frieze fragments from the late 12th and early 13th centuries inscribed with surahs and emblematic sentences from the Koran. All the pieces are carved in the distinctive red sandstone of Northern India.

More information on the exhibition can be found on a New York Times article and the Francesca Galloway and Sam Fogg websites.

Below you can enjoy a selection of the jalis from the exhibition.

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Art and Activism at Broad Art Museum

Amit Kumar Jain reflects on The Artist as Activist, a joint exhibition by Bangladeshi artists Tayeba Begum Lipi and Mahbubur Rahman

The Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum opened a landmark exhibition on two leading Bangladeshi artists, Mahbubur Rahman and Tayeba Begum Lipi, earlier this month. Considered as the forerunners of contemporary art practice in Bangladesh, Rahman and Lipi are also well-known for having co-founded, and currently running, the Britto Arts Trust, a non-profit organisation supporting young artists, since 2002. Their first major museum exhibition, The Artist as Activist brings together an extensive body of the duo’s collective work under one roof, which has “emerged from their shared journey as a husband and wife, and reflect their continual interchange of ideas and pursuit of like-minded themes,” according to curator Caitlin Doherty.

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The Eli and Edythe Broad Museum, Michigan, USA. Image courtesy: Amit Kumar Jain

Doherty transforms the museum space effectively, by dedicating a gallery to each artist and showcasing works from various periods of their career. Lipi’s section is designed as a quiet, intimate and personal space, making the viewer look inwards to the role of the women in the Bangladeshi society. Her works look at the domestic, and how the woman negotiates the constant tussle of her personal ambitions and societal demands. As one moves through the gallery, one moves through her body, culminating in a womb-like, protective environment, where she secludes her innermost desires and emotions from the taxing outer world. This is the space where My Daughter’s Cot, an empty cradle made of stainless steel razors, signifies the vast contradiction between the personal and the societal, and gives a sense of longing in what is supposed to be a beautiful, but threatening symbol of motherhood.

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My Daughter’s Cot, Tayeba Begum Lipi, 2012. Image courtesy: Amit Kumar Jain

Contrary to Lipi’s gallery, Rahman’s artworks speak for the abject, dissatisfied man, beginning with a self-portrait series of charcoal drawings that depict the artist screaming in frustration, in response to his own helplessness and inability to fight the political and social failure of his country. He approaches activism through social commentary, highlighting the plight of the indigo farmer through an ongoing performance piece titled Transformations. In Sounds from Nowhere-8, Rahman symbolically captures the pain and the loss that followed the collapse of the eight-storied Rana Plaza building in Dhaka, which caused death and injury to thousands of garment factory workers. He navigates his own identity in the contemporary political history of Bangladesh, a nation still recovering from two wars. Rahman’s gallery becomes more vocal and versatile as he adapts to multiple mediums in highlighting the struggles he shares with his fellow citizens in a postcolonial, developing country.

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Charcoal drawings by Mahbubur Rahman. Image courtesy: Amit Kumar Jain

The last gallery brings together the works of Lipi and Mahbub under a common endeavour. Through their non-profit organisation, they initiated a project to work with the transgender community in Dhaka. Reversal Reality, a solo project by Lipi, compares the living realities of the artist and co-collaborator Anonnya, a transgender woman, while focussing on the struggles of the latter. While Lipi’s project takes on the individual, Rahman’s video project Time in a Limbo looks at the transgender community through their rituals, dialogues and practices. The museum has proposed to use this gallery with the LGBT community of East Lansing, and hopes to bring Anonnya to the United States to share her experience.

The Artist as Activist is the first major exhibition from South Asia at the Broad Art Museum, and will continue till 7 August 2016. Previously, the museum had showcased a project by Mithu Sen and an exhibition of works by Imran Qureshi and Naiza Khan.

—Amit Kumar Jain, Curatorial Consultant for The Artist as Activist

 

Exhibition details:
The Artist as Activist
Featuring: Tayeba Begum Lipi and Mahbubur Rahman

Dates:
5 March – 7 August 2016

Venue:
Eli and Edythe Broad Art Museum
Michigan State University
547 East Circle Drive
East Lansing, MI 48824
USA

 

 

 

 

From Princely Families to Shop Dealers: Seeking Out Vintage Indian Collectibles

Rashmi Rajgopal in a conversation with two collectors on sourcing and preserving an impressive collection of original Indian film memorabilia

In a culture where posters of Amitabh Bachchan juxtaposed with goddesses and politicians abound on shop-shutters and chipped walls, the garish colours and larger-than-life poses barely make a difference. The noise is overwhelming and too deeply permeated to make you pause and look. Online, googling any of the old ’50s-’80s (and more recent, but those are easier to come by) films churns up eye-catching jpegs. It’s the same story; they’re downloaded and regurgitated back on walls. Occasionally accompanying these images is a tale of abandoned originals, lying forgotten in design studios. When they are finally discovered, everyone takes notice. Stumbling upon originals is pure luck, but putting together a collection of carefully sourced posters, LP records, stills, film synopses and lobby cards requires immense patience and determination. Two collectors, now auctioning their repository of original film posters, among other film memorabilia, share their story.

A lithographic poster of Don (1978)

A lithographic poster of Don (1978)

Amitabh Bachchan in Muqaddar ka Sikandar

A lobby card of Muqaddar ka Sikandar (1978)

Could you tell us how you sourced and put your collection together?

In 1998, we once visited a Nawab family in Saharanpur. They had a library which we were keen to buy. In one of their cupboards, there was a pile of B&W stills of films from the ’50s and ’60s. We started going through them out of curiosity and found them visually striking. The family had owned a theatre in town for a while and the collection was from that era. That was our first purchase. Then we chanced upon a collection of posters from the same period in Lucknow. These were of Raj Kapoor, Dilip Kumar and Dev Anand films. We were quite taken in by their artwork and very contemporary layouts. The Satyajit Ray collection was bought from a film distributor from Calcutta. In the beginning, we bought a bit hesitantly, being unsure how to go about it, but we soon gained confidence. We learned to recognise originals from reprints. We selected material on the basis of their visual appeal. At times, lesser known movies had some excellent publicity material. For the period from 40s to the 70s we bought everything, rejecting only what was damaged. Preserving them and keeping them safe is a big challenge since paper is fragile and tends to break easily.

A show card of Chinatown (1962)

A show card of China Town (1962)

A Mother India (1957) show card

A Mother India (1957) show card

How difficult was it to obtain so many originals?

We have sourced from various cities like Lucknow, Calcutta, Rampur, Banaras, Mumbai etc. Our sources were mainly old shops, dealers, antique stores, distributors and old families with their private collections. We initially bought what was available. After a few years, we asked people to source specific stars or films. We also managed to train dealers to pick originals with good artwork.

Are there any interesting stories behind some of the lots?

One of our favourite dealers remains an old operator of film machines in theatres. He is a true fan of Bollywood—there wouldn’t be a single film he couldn’t hum a song from, and he would enthral us with stories about old films which we hadn’t seen.

Once when we were in Calcutta, we visited a Thakur family. They had a few paintings we wanted to see. We caught sight of hundreds of LPs and film synopses while at their store. But their grandfather was reluctant to part with his collection, which was now gathering dust. It took us three visits to finally be able to complete the purchase.

Similarly the Raj Kapoor collection (Mera Naam Joker, Sangam, Awara etc.) was with a family who were film financiers and had unfortunately not been able to sustain in the film business, which they said was very risky.

A lobby card of Raaz (1967)

A lobby card of Raaz (1967)

A lobby card of Ashok Kumar's Bhai Bhai (1956)

A lobby card of Ashok Kumar’s Bhai Bhai (1956)

Any particular era in Indian cinema that strikes you in its visual appeal?

The period from the 1940s to the 1980s is the golden period of Indian cinema—movies were made with a lot of attention to minute details. This attention to detail is reflected in the designing of the publicity material. The B&W stills stand out for their light and shadow effect (chiaroscuro). Each photograph was developed with care and precision, making them beautiful and breathtaking. Before the onset of colour printing, these photographs were hand-coloured in lovely hues, displaying the finesse and dexterity of the artist. Soon, mixed media became the norm. There were big collages with hand-coloured photographs, bold headlines and hand-coloured designs making them very contemporary. With the advent of offset printing, lobby cards came to be designed sometimes in sepia or bold and rich colours.

The printing of posters has always been in coloured medium with lithographic technique. However, the quality is special with emphasis on composition and layout, the quality of printing being excellent. These were at times designed by well-known artists like Husain.

A Poster from Satyajit Ray's Kapurush-O-Mahapurush (1965)

A poster from Satyajit Ray’s Kapurush-O-Mahapurush (1965)

An offset lobby card of Razia Sultan (1983)

An offset lobby card of Razia Sultan (1983)

Why the decision to put this collection on auction?

Bollywood film memorabilia has immense potential. Some of them are as valuable as paintings and are very contemporary. We would like to create an appreciation for this art form which is one of its kind.

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