Art exhibition to watch out for: Pooja Singhal’s Pichvai Tradition & Beyond
The revivalist is determined to recalibrate the ancient temple art of pichvai for the current generation
Pooja Singhal first fell in love with pichvai as a little girl, growing up in Udaipur, when she would accompany her mother, an avid collector, to the temples in nearby Nathdwara, the birthplace of the traditional art form. The meticulously detailed, hand-painted textiles, which were hung behind the idol of Srinathji (an incarnation of Krishna), enthralled her. “I was amazed at how so many forms and colours came together with such a beautiful aesthetic balance,” she says. “The history and story behind each artwork left me mesmerised.”
So, setting up Tradition & Beyond — a foundation that supports a pichvai and miniatures atelier, and seeks to spread awareness about the form — in 2004, when she returned from the US with an MBA (from the Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business at the University of Pittsburgh), was almost a given. Now, 14 years later, she’s bringing the intricate wonders of this Rajasthani craft to Mumbai’s Famous Studios in her largest and most ambitious exhibition yet.
Pichvai Tradition & Beyond (on till April 15) will feature more than 400 works spread out over 10,000 square feet. The show is divided into seven themes — Shringar, Darshan, Utsav, Kamal Kunj, Gwal-Gopi, Haveli Of Srinathji and Deccani Pichvais. “There is also a special projects section, which features commissioned collections. One of my favourite pieces on display is Haveli Of Srinathji, a one-of-a-kind temple map measuring 7×8 feet, inventively rendered in grey scale.”
This show is her third public outing with the art form. She exhibited a selection of sketches and Deccan miniatures at the India Art Fair in New Delhi in 2016 — the first time any traditional art form had been invited to show at the fair. She then took her work to the Kochi-Muziris Biennale later that year, where she took up residence at Mattancherry’s beloved old antiques store, Heritage Arts, and displayed approximately 200 pieces. “I want to revive pichvai,” says Singhal, 43, but she’s aware that the road ahead is uphill.
One of the major reasons for pichvai’s decline is the absence of patronage, due in part, to its antiquated image. “My shows are an attempt to change that,” says Singhal. “What people appreciate is the reinvention of traditional forms — our trademark miniaturisation of larger pichvais is a favourite with international collectors.” Indeed, pichvai exists in the collections of some of the biggest museums of the world, including New York’s Museum Of Modern Art (MoMA). And for centuries, in the absence of photography, pichvais have depicted the daily rituals of the Nathdwara temples. “Our culture and heritage are appreciated across the world. They should not die an untimely death here,” she says.