If you have heard of Pichvai artform recently, then you have Pooja Singhal of the Atelier Tradition & Beyond to thank. Set up in 2009, over the past decade Singhal has been focusing on the revival, elevation, and the contemporising of Pichvais. With newer interventions, colours, and details, her work with artists is giving a new spin to the traditional art. This is for all to see at ‘Greyscale Pichvais’ her ongoing show at GALLERYSKE, a first-of-its kind exhibition in Bengaluru that focuses on the revival and new direction of her Pichvais.
“This show is about breaking boundaries. One was to do away with colour, an integral part of Pichvai and the other was to remove Srinathji from the paintings to make them more secular,” she explains. The exhibition mesmerises with attention to detail, the intricate shading, and finesse. On till November 16, 2019, there are around 40-50 works on display.
Traditionally, Pichvai was a meticulously detailed, hand-printed textile hung behind the idol of Shrinathji, an incarnation of Krishna. It was an integral part of the ‘Raag-Bhog-Shringar’ (music, food, and ornamentation) offered to the deity. Worshipped by the Vaishnavite sub-sect of the Pushtimargis, the temple town of Nathdwara in Udaipur, Rajasthan, is home to the main shrine, revered and visited by devotees. However, over the years, as with several traditional artforms of India, the quality of work that went into Pichvais – be it in the paints, finishes, or finer detailing – began to deteriorate. The primary reasons: Lack of demand and shortage of good artisans.
Having always loved the artform, it was these pitfalls that Singhal wanted to fix. Born and raised in Udaipur, hailing from an industrialist family, she was introduced to Pichvais by her mother who collected them and personally knew several artisans. Over time, Singhal learnt to tell a good piece from a bad one. “Traders would bring pieces of Pichvai in suitcases to sell and I began to notice a drop in colour, quality, balance, and even composition. A lot of gimmickry began to creep in,” recalls Singhal, who has studied business administration.
Even though she had worked with brands like Rajesh Pratap Singh, raised funds for autism, worked with artisans for the Craft Council, and even launched her clothing brand, ‘Ruh’ (she calls herself a “social entrepreneur”), creating Pichvais was something Singhal felt for the most. So, with access to artists, she began to commission work for herself. “I began referencing quality collections and tweaking elements. I asked for cleaner borders, compositions that were not really pilgrim-oriented,” she says.
The first focus was to get artworks that were of high quality, and so she saw herself sending pieces back to be redone till they were perfect representations of the artform. “Without realising it, I collected a group of artists along the way,” she says. Her first show in Delhi’s Jor Bagh in 2015 showcased this painstaking rebuilding with 80 works on display. In 2016, she was invited to the India Art Fair, and had the chance to exhibit the show alongside contemporary artists, which helped bring the form into the mainstream.
The next exhibit, a collateral at the Kochi Muziris Biennale in 2016-2017, further cemented the entry of Pichvai into the global art scene. Here, in an old Chettinad mansion, Singhal displayed her stunning Deccan Pichvai miniatures, the result of interventions conceptualised by her. Another path-breaking idea led to a large selection of artists’ preliminary sketches being elevated to a distinct art form as well as detailed greyscale drawings, including a remarkable map of the temple at Nathdwara.
“Back in the day, artists would have sketchbooks and when the ‘darshan; began, would quickly sketch the ‘shringar’ and this would be converted into a painting. So I started collecting these sketches and became obsessed with this language. We went a step forward, took paintings and created sketches of them – a sort of reverse process,” she adds.
Singhal’s innovations have once again turned the spotlight on an artform lost in the annals of time. If you want to see what a contemporary Pichvai looks like, head to the show, where you can even pick up a piece that ranges between Rs 24,000 and Rs 3,75,000.
Address: GALLERYSKE, 2 Berlie Street, Langford Town, Bengaluru Karnataka 560025
Tel: 080 4112 0873
All images: Courtesy Atelier Tradition & Beyond