A curatorial platform, Pichvai Tradition and Beyond has been brought to life to sustain, preserve and revive the 400-year-old style of intricate painting on cloth that originated in the holy town of Nathdwara near Udaipur, Rajasthan in the 17th Century.
Over the past years, Pichvai Tradition and Beyond has reimagined and reworked the layered historical styles and influences in newer scales, formats and themes for a wider audience through a remarkable amalgamation of two different groups of artists and their styles - the existing Nathdwara artists and the remaining few master miniaturists with a fresh group of artists.
As a part of its revival series, Pichvai Tradition and Beyond has exhibited the re-interpreted works of the art form at several prestigious venues including The Gujral Foundation (2015), Kochi-Muziris Biennale (2016), India Art Fair-New Delhi (2016 and 2018), Famous Studios-Mumbai (2018), Bikaner House–New Delhi (2019), GallerySKE-Bangalore (2019) and a permanent exhibition at The Museum of Legacies, Jaipur. The show at Famous Studios featured the largest collection from the atelier to be shown in a single exhibition.
Meticulously detailed and visually fascinating, Pichvais are hand-painted illustrations on textiles that depict tales from Lord Krishna’s life and render a portrayal of love, happiness and celebration. Originally, Pichvai paintings were hung behind the idol of Shrinathji, an incarnation of the Hindu God Krishna, and were changed according to the time of the day, different seasons and festivals that held significance in the deity’s life. The temple town of Nathdwara in Udaipur – Rajasthan, home to the main shrine and worshipped by the Vaishnavite sub-sect of the Pushtimargis, has been revered and visited by devotees for centuries.
Over the last hundred years, the pictorial illustrations on cloth created for ritualistic purposes at the shrine have taken on a novel recognition as an art form and have found a renewed pursuit amongst collectors and cognoscenti for their alluring aesthetics. The rediscovery and growing appreciation for the Pichvais in contemporary times has made it imperative for the traditional Indian art form and practices to be re-interpreted and contextualised for the here and now. The creation of the atelier by Pichvai Tradition and Beyond, unencumbered by the weight of tradition, facilitates supremely skilled painters to merge traditional techniques with contemporary application and ingenuity.
Founder, Pichvai Tradition & Beyond and RUH
As a cultural and heritage activist, Pooja Singhal has been deepening and furthering the conversations around revival and sustainability of traditional forms of arts and crafts since the past decade. Undeniably, her brilliance lies in building platforms that serve as essential eco-systems between commerce and sustainability. From the creation of RUH in 2004, a brand established to support handloom weavers across the country, to Pichvai Tradition and Beyond, a revival initiative to restore the intricate traditional form of Indian art, her journey as an art revivalist, curatorial interventionist and cultural entrepreneur has been unique in its contribution.
As a third generation entrepreneur from Udaipur, the tradition of Pichvai has always been an integral part of her initial years as her family’s patronage of the art and the artists allowed an inside view. Steeped in the allegorical symbolism and richly depicted form of the works with the deity presiding, Pooja has had an umbilical connection to the paintings and accompanying rituality. A more active interest, a study of the historical materials, colours and fabrics and, the discovery of diminishing quality of the delicate art form in contemporary works led her to bring together a group of master artists as well as artists with lesser experience to work collaboratively. And this birthed an atelier of sorts, marking an organic process of curatorial interventions.
At the atelier, Pooja materialised the instigating interplays and never-seen-before avatars, and brought them alive in the contemporary context of art and design. While the story had begun a long time ago, but the incipient discovery of how all her previous learning and skills synergised in this passion-led project were only just making a beginning.
Pooja holds a Master’s Degree in Business Administration from KATZ, University of Pittsburgh USA and Bachelor Degree in Economics from Shriram College, Delhi University. She has also been an involved member with Delhi Crafts Council and the Sahachari Foundation (Mumbai based NGO), Patron at FICA and the Collectors Programme at India Art Fair.
In 2018, Pooja set up the Tradition & Beyond Foundation to formalise her efforts towards revival of forgotten art forms and traditions.
Pooja’s first show in Jor Bagh in 2015 showcased this painstaking rebuilding of the traditional Pichvai in form, detailing and overall aesthetic, with 80 works on display. However, there were certain interventions already in play, especially in terms of scale and decoration, presentation and viewer engagement. The miniaturization of certain works had begun; and secondly, the use of Mughal miniature motifs in the larger, deconstructed works added a meaningful layering, depth and intersectionality. Set in an old Lutyens’ bungalow which Pooja re-plastered and re-painted so that viewers could easily imagine the works on their own walls, the contemporary manifestation of an ancient art was warmly received.
Traditional art has lingered long at the fringes of the art movement in India. Pooja understood that she had to ease Pichvai art into the mainstream, change its perception into that of a serious art form, to help it command better value and rise above the hard-to-shake epithet of ‘craft’. She had to revolutionise the way Pichvai art was seen, critiqued and understood. So when she was invited to the India Art Fair in 2016, she leapt at the chance to exhibit the show alongside with contemporary artists and galleries from around the world.
The next exhibit was a collateral at the Kochi Muziris Biennale in 2016-2017, further cementing the entry of Pichvai into the global art scene. Here, in an old Chettinad mansion, Pooja’s works glittered – as by this time she had created the stunning Deccan Pichvai miniatures.
In 2018, another pathbreaking intervention led to a large selection of artists’ preliminary sketches being elevated to a distinct, very palatable art form, as well as detailed greyscale drawings, including a remarkable map of the temple at Nathdwara. Even more interesting was the use of Famous Studios, an industrial space in Mumbai, as the venue for this show. And in her newest undertaking, Pooja will mount a multidimensional show in the stunning Bikaner House in Delhi, curated, commissioned and designed by her. This show ramps up the interventions to a new level. The secular, non-iconic works, featuring cows, lotuses and other symbols arranged in the neutral gallery space appeal to a new type of buyer, and the Deccan miniatures will have their own following in the grand ballroom. Lastly, the black and white foyer space will be infused with the monochromatic interventions like greyscale and sketches.
This curious trajectory reveals Pooja’s intentional attempt to stage the artwork in diverse spaces to provoke the imagination. The drama inherent in the play of the art and the space and manner in which it is shown adds an intriguing dimension to how the work is perceived and thought about. From a colonial bungalow, to contemporary art spaces, from a heritage home to a warehouse: the Pichvai: Tradition and Beyond works stand tall and claim their birthright with pride.