Subjects & Spaces, Women in Indian Photography

Ambika Rajgopal of Saffronart announces Tasveer Gallery’s exhibition ‘Subjects & Spaces, Women in Indian Photography’.

London: Tasveer Gallery in collaboration with Saffronart presents a photographic homage to the depiction of Indian women from the 1850s to the 1970s. Tasveer Gallery, since it’s opening in 2006, has been committed to promoting and exhibiting contemporary photography.

Portrait of the Actress Saira Banu, 1965. Image Credit:

Portrait of the Actress Saira Banu, 1965. Image Credit:

Carefully selected from the archives of the Tasveer Foundation, the exhibition features 65 photographs including studio portraits, film stills, post cards, cabinet cards and lobby cards. The anonymity of some women juxtaposed with the fame of some, forms a realistic depiction of womanhood in India. There are stills of dancing ‘nautch’ girls from the 19th century, private studio portraits of women with their families and splendid portraits of yesteryear 40s and 50s stars like Saira Banu and Nargis.

Thus begins a visual journey that transports us back to the evocative black and white era. Ted Grant once famously quoted: ‘when you photograph people in color, you photograph their clothes. But when you photograph people in Black and white, you photograph their souls.’ This dictum couldn’t hold more weight in relation to the photographs exhibited. The women sometimes boldly meet the gaze of the camera, and sometimes avert their look into one of wistful contemplation. In doing so, they offer a slice of social and cultural context of their own personal history.

With the advent of the film and photographic medium, the representation of Indian femininity underwent a radical transformation in the public sphere. The female representation, previously kept within the confines of homes and behind veils, now took a step forward and embraced colonial modernity. The female image fashioned itself within elaborate studio setups as well as within the print medium.

The curatorial strategy of the exhibition abandons chronology in favour of spatial placement of these women. Nathaniel Gaskell, curator of the exhibition notes: ‘Often such spaces — domestic, outdoor, shared or even abstract spaces — are very telling of how women were perceived.’ The exhibition also features an ethnographic account of the lives of women from different parts of India in different periods in time. From a visual depiction of women from the pre-colonial and colonial era, a diverse and vivid ethnographic map of society can be derived.

Member of the Moamuria or Muttuck Hill tribe from Assam, 1860. Image Credit:

Member of the Moamuria or Muttuck Hill tribe from Assam, 1860. Image Credit:

From the dichotomy of the domestic or performative spaces they were photographed in, to the diversity of their individual stances, each photograph was an exercise in feminine self-representation and told its own story. The exhibition manages to create a dialogic interaction between the viewer and the photographed subject.

This exhibition is also in partnership with Vacheron Constantin and Cinnamon.

The exhibition commences at the Saffronart Gallery in Prabhadevi, Mumbai on the 27th of September and goes on till the 5th of October 2013.

A limited edition boxed folio of prints from this exhibition is available online at StoryLTD.

For more information on the exhibition, visit the website.

Looking Back, Looking Forward: A Reflection on 2012

Amy Lin of Saffronart looks back on some of the highlights for Saffronart and the art world in 2012


New York: As 2012 winds down, we reflect upon the good, the bad and the peculiarities of the year. 2012 has been an exciting year for all of us here at Saffronart. We pursued uncharted territories and ventured in many new and different directions, Marco Polo style.

In February, we held our first Impressionist and Modern Art Auction, which also happened to be the first Western art auction in India. At the previews and talks in Mumbai and Delhi, collectors and enthusiasts got a chance to see and learn about original artworks by Van Gogh, Pissaro, Matisse, Picasso, Dufy, Cezanne, Dali, Miro and Warhol. Later, we shone a spotlight on India’s tribal communities and curated the world’s first Indian Folk and Tribal Auction. In November, we shared Pakistan’s rich artistic heritage with some beautifully detailed pieces dealing with gender and political issues among others. In jewelry and collectibles, our first Art Deco Sale was a big hit in Mumbai, and helped rediscover the city’s forgotten Art Deco past.

Our most recent project is The Story, a new website offering curated collections of unique objects for sale every day. These would make fine holiday presents for your girlfriend, grandmother and practically anyone else. Also, this very blog was launched in April, and what an incredible journey it has been. Thank you all for your support and appreciation! Last but not least, our new gallery in New York is finally open to the public after months of hard work and dedication. We welcome all of you to visit us here!

Our friends in the art world had a busy year as well. Here are some of my favorite stories, events and oddities from this year:

The Ecce Homo IncidentDoc1-page-001

This one needs no introduction. We all heard of the sweet but misguided little old Spanish lady who took it upon her herself to “restore” the Ecce Homo fresco at her church this August. Instead of being saluted as a fine work of art, Cecelia Gilmenz was accused of vandalism and creating a “Beast Jesus”, and sparked off an internet sensation across the world. Today, she is selling her art on Ebay!

Ai Weiwei and Anish Kapoor’s Gangnam Style

Our favorite contemporary artists come together to promote free speech. After Weiwei posted his parody of Psy’s Gangnam Style, Kapoor and other artists responded with a video of their own to advocate for freedom of expression around the world.

Kochi Biennale

Kochi is home to India’s first international biennale, which was kicked off this month with contributions from big names such as Ai Weiwei, Atul Dodiya, Subodh Gupta and others. Internationally renowned singer M.I.A. rocked the opening when she performed in the country for the very first time.

Vandalism for Art’s Sake

Vladimir Umanets vandalized Mark Rotho’s 1959 Black on Maroon painting at the Tate Modern in London in the name of Yellowism, a movement that deems all artistic expressions to be equal. He scribbled, “Vladimir Umanets ’12 / A Potential Piece of Yellowism” on the painting, worth several millions of dollars, and calmly walked out of the museum. Days later, he was arrested and sentenced to two years in prison. Apparently, the judges did not see his act of vandalism as part of an art movement.

New York, New York

Finally, I have to tip my hat to this amazing city. Despite Hurricane Sandy, where close to half of the galleries in Chelsea sustained serious damaged, the city pulled together and remained strong and uncompromising as the art capital of the world. Artists and creative minds are still flocking to New York to discover all it has to offer. We wish them and all of you the best of luck in 2013 for the challenges ahead!

Antique Writing Boxes

In conjunction with the uniquely crafted Indian and Chinese boxes featured in The Story by Saffronart, Medha Kapur shares a note on Antique Writing Boxes or Lap Desks 

An Organizer Table
The Story by Saffronart

Mumbai: Writing boxes or lap desks have existed for many centuries and in many cultures. More of a personal possession than the writing desk or table, these were mainly used by men and were also a symbol of social status. Essentially, writing boxes were small enough to be carried anywhere and often traveled with the owner. Antique lap desks had hinged writing surfaces, often covered in leather or felt, that flipped up to reveal storage space for papers. Individual compartments were designed to hold inkwells, pens, sealing wax, and other writing implements. Some desks also had concealed storage compartments.

From the late 1700s, writing boxes were frequently used in military expeditions and travels, besides libraries and drawing rooms. Several famous pieces of literature, contracts, letters and postcards have been penned on them. These boxes were hugely popular among army officers, who used them to write letters to their loved ones, as well as for business.

In the middle of the 18th century, with industrialization, land reforms, new mechanical inventions and expanding overseas trade coming into play, there was a need for goods to be transported. This led to a boom in personal travel as well. Portable writing boxes became obligatory for more people as they transacted, traveled or wrote letters from home. Education was revived on many levels of society to cope with the new needs. These boxes were an item that connected with intellectuals; however, the style, quality, ornament and form of the desk also played an important role.

Thomas Jefferson's Desk-1776

Thomas Jefferson’s Desk-1776

Thomas Jefferson conceptualized a design for a small lap desk that could be taken anywhere. This desk, one of numerous inventions Jefferson devised for his own convenience, was designed in May 1776 and built by Benjamin Randolph, a Philadelphia cabinetmaker and prominent patriot. Randolph built the desk for Jefferson based on his plans, using solid mahogany with inlays at both ends. Though small, the desk must have proved a very difficult project, with lots of fine, delicate details to be taken into account. The desk, being small and portable, provided the perfect companion to Jefferson during his travels, allowing him the comfort of reading and writing wherever he roamed. Many of Jefferson’s letters, memos and papers were composed on the desk, and it was also used in the drafting of the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson carried the desk with him until the year he died – at which point it was passed on to his grandson-in-law, Joseph Coolidge.

Another interesting writing box from the permanent collection of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York is a late 16th or early 17th century example from India, probably Gujarat or Sindh. This box consists of sections made from diverse materials including tin, wood, ivory and bone.

Writing box from the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Writing box from the Metropolitan Museum of Art

Similar to these pieces is the unique Munim Chest or money lender’s box, part of the collections Boxed on The Story by Saffronart.

Munim Chest

Munim Chest
The Story by Saffronart

Munim Chest

Munim Chest
The Story by Saffronart

Mapping India: The Changing Perspectives of India in the Eyes of 16th century Europeans

Amy Lin of Saffronart offers a brief account of the history of India through European cartography

Sebastian Münster, Tabula Asiæ X’. Basel: Henricus Petri, 1545. Third Münster edition. Woodcut

New York: Until the modern ages, Europeans viewed India with a mix of enchantment and exoticism. This fascination is evident in the maps drafted by European explorers and scholars, among other documents. From antiquity to the Renaissance, the main source for Indian geographic information came from the Hellenistic cartographer Ptolemy’s Geographia. During the 15th century, the dawn of exploration coincided with the invention of printmaking, and revolutionized methods in cartography.

Laurentius Frisius,‘Tabula Asiæ X’. Strassburg: Joannes Gruninger, 1525. Woodcut

The magnificent maps of India included in the collection Imagining India on The Story by Saffronart date from 1525-1619. These documents chart changing European perspectives on the subcontinent – from a strange, misshapen land to a valuable center of trade for the West. Originally, there were 1,000 copies of most of these maps, but the majority did not survive over the centuries. Half science and half myth, these beautiful artifacts are both art objects and historical resources. For half a millennium, they represented India as a realm of the exotic, ever since Alexander the Great’s campaign first reached the peninsula in the 2ndA.D.

The earliest accounts of Indian geography were crude and rudimentary at best. Ptolemy poured over manuscripts at the Library of Alexanderia and complied the eight volume Geographia without setting foot in India. Well into the 16th century, scholars and mapmakers still relied on Ptolemy’s drafts for printing atlases. The German cartographer Sebastian Munster (1488-1552), featured in the collection on The Story, published editions of the Geographia where India’s southern peninsula was nonexistent. This reflected the fact that Alexander’s armies did not venture beyond Northern India, and the South remained unfamiliar to them.

Vasco de Gama leaves for India in 1497
Image Credit:

The Age of Discovery brought Vasco de Gama to India in 1497. Soon, the European concept of ‘India within the Ganges’ began to broaden and a realistic image of the Indian landmass began to circulate among scholars. Jacobo Gastaldi (1500-1566), a Venetian cartographer featured in the collection on The Story, was among the first to bring a modern image of India to Europe. His engravings show for the first time the considerable length of India’s peninsula. Gastaldi also pioneered other pinnacle developments such as pocket size atlases and the use of copper engravings in mapmaking instead of traditional woodcuts to bring out greater detail and finesse.

The maps in the collection on The Story are more telling than one presumes. By simply surviving through the centuries, they give a chronological account on how Indian geography changes in the eyes of Europeans though discovery, science and innovation. Nevertheless, what remains at the core are beautifully executed engravings that showcase the skill of a craftsman and the imagination of an artist.

Giacomo Gastaldi, ‘Calecut Nuova Tavola’. Venice: Vicenzo Valgrisi, 1562. First Latin edition of Gastaldi

Cartier: A Chic Way to Wake Up

Manjari Sihare of Saffronart explores Cartier’s timekeeping history

New York: This week The Story by Saffronart offers a unique selection of watches and clocks in its collection, The Art of Keeping Time. An exquisite highlight of the collection is a Cartier Art Deco Alarm Clock from the 1990s.

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Of all luxury brands, perhaps one which most people are familiar with is Cartier. The firm established in Paris in 1847 by Louis-François Cartier, an apprentice to Parisian jeweler Adolphe Picard, who took over the business at the death of his master. In less than 6 years, by 1853, young Louis-François became a favorite of Napoleon III’s cousin Princess Mathilde, who was single handedly instrumental in his entry into Parisian society. For most part of the 19th century, Cartier was strictly a jeweler. It was not until the reigns of the company passed on to his sons, Louis, Pierre, and Jacques that the Paris jeweler’s name became synonymous with wristwatches.

In 1904, Brazilian aviation pioneer, Alberto-Santos Dumont complained to his friend Louis Cartier about the non–reliability of pocket watches which prompted Louis to craft a more reliable alternative. This was the birth of the Santos wristwatch which is considered to be the first men’s wristwatch to be created. A flat wristwatch with a square bezel, the legacy this pioneering design can still be seen in modern Cartier watches. In 1907, Edmond Jaeger and Cartier signed a contract under which all Jaeger’s movement designs for a period of 15 years would be exclusive to Cartier.

The next watches to be introduced in the range were the Baignoire and Tortue in 1912 followed by the Tank model in 1917. All three models are still in production today. This is the essence of Cartier, what makes the firm unique in so many ways. It is one of the few brands that still include versions of its most initial models in its current lineup. The pieces are literally timeless, as new models usually carry the DNA of vintage Cartier watches, constantly improved, slightly adjusted and re-released. Earlier this year (14 December 2011 to 12 February 2012), the ArtScience Museum at Marina Bay Sands in Singapore hosted the exhibition “Cartier Time Art” , the largest collection of historical Cartier timepieces ever displayed in public. Conceived by award-winning designer Tokujin Yoshioka, the exhibition aimed to take visitors on a journey to the heart of Cartier watch-making, and included 158 historical timepieces from objects dating to the origins of the firm to the present day. Bernard Fornas, CEO of Cartier International speaks about the show in this short preview.

This exhibition was special also because it showcased a large selection of alarm clocks by Cartier for the first time. Much has been written and seen regarding Cartier wristwatches but less is known about its alarm clocks. Fine Cartier clocks have been in production since the late 1800’s, longer than the wristwatches. It is important to know that almost every well known watch model by Cartier, from the Tank to the Pasha are all available as alarm clocks, and sometimes even as table clocks. The wristwatch cousins of both the Tank and Pasha alarm clocks were featured in our recently concluded Autumn Auction of Fine Jewels & Watches, 2012.

Cartier expert George Cramer encapsulates the chronological history of Cartier clocks from the early 1900s until now in a post on Revo-Online, the digital version of leading international watch magazine. Cramer is an authority on Cartier watches and operates, non-commercial online library on men’s Cartier watches.

The Art Deco Clock features prominently in Cramer’s selection. He indicates that buying a second hand vintage clock is advisable provided it is the right model. Vintage Cartier clocks from the 1980s used a battery that is no longer available for replacement. Batteries of clocks from the 1990s such as the Art Deco one are more widely available making them a more favorable acquisition. Starting your day with the supple chime of a Cartier alarm clock is one of life’s modest luxuries!