VOLUME 28 NO. 8 | FEBRUARY 14 - 20, 2009

SAM sheds light on India’s mysterious history

Last updated 2-12-09 at 9:52 a.m.
“Jallandharnath and Princess Padmini Fly over King Padam’s Palace,” 1830, opaque watercolor on paper by Amardas Bhatti. Image provided by the Seattle Art Museum.

By Ryan Pangilinan
Northwest Asian Weekly

India’s culture is rich in history and art, yet for much of the Western world, parts of Indian history are still a mystery. However, from Jan. 29 to April 26, Seattle will be hosting a collection of Indian art that has recently been unearthed.

Finding its temporary home at the Seattle Asian Art Museum (SAAM), the exhibit is called, “Garden and Cosmos: The Royal Paintings of Jodhpur” and contains stunning examples of Asian art that reveal the happenings of the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries with elaborate visual storytelling techniques by artists largely unknown.

“These paintings are enormous,” said Debra Diamond. Diamond is the exhibition curator and was on hand when the paintings were found.

“We didn’t know any of these paintings existed three years ago,” said Diamond.
The Seattle Asian Art Museum will house 57 of these paintings, which displays how the culture has evolved over the three centuries. The exhibit begins with the sensual exploits of Maharaja Bakhat Singh and then shifts into the Hindu-driven art of Maharaja Vijai Singh. The exhibit concludes with cosmic and abstruse concepts of Maharaja Man Singh, who married art, faith, and philosophy.

“[Man Singh’s art] was about the nature of the universe and being,” said Diamond.
The art is intended to portray a history marred with just as much deception, war, and time-tested values as any Shakespearian work.

In addition to the 57 paintings, there is also a part of the exhibit that features the photographs of Neil Greentree. Greentree’s pictures show Marwar, the area from which the paintings are from, in a contemporary light, allowing a stark contrast from the art displayed around the museum.

In conjunction with “Garden and Cosmos,” Seattle Art Museum (SAM) is hosting a series of coordinating events. On Feb. 7, VadyaVrinda, an Indian instrumental ensemble, will perform at SAM. Throughout March, SAM will host a series of films relevant to Indian culture. On March 6, an event titled “Garden and Cosmos: Remix with a Twist” will feature an Indian dance night.

The cornerstone event, however, are the two “Garden and Cosmos Symposium” lectures on March 27 and March 28. A seminar on Indian art and history, this event will feature the current Maharaja of Marwar-Jodhpur, Gaj Singh II, as well as Debra Diamond and a host of other scholars from the United States and India.

The importance of this exhibit to Asian culture cannot be stressed enough, particularly since its limited run in Seattle marks its only stop on the West Coast on its international tour.

“The Seattle Asian Art Museum is the only West Coast venue for this show,” said Mimi Gates, the director of SAAM. “From here, it will go to the British Museum in London.”

In a walk throughout the halls of SAAM, anyone can learn the rich history of India through the three-century showcase of art. Though it may not seem like much, the move from the sensual to the non-secular to the esoteric suggests otherwise.

“Given the significant Indian community in our region and their prominence in today’s world, [‘Garden and Cosmos’] provides a window into India,” said Gates. (end)

A full schedule of “Garden and Cosmos” can be found at www.seattleartmuseum.org.

Ryan Pangilinan can be reached at info@nwasianweekly.com.


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