Artist's attempt at reviving the age-old pichvai painting

Pooja Singhal’s upcoming collateral project at Kochi-Muziris Biennale attempts to restore age-old Pichvai tradition.

THIRUVANANTHAPURAM: For THIS Udaipur-based fashion designer-turned-artist, engagement with art began at home. When I meet her, Pooja Singhal tells me that following her mother’s interest in pichvai—a hand painting tradition from Rajasthan with spiritual undertones—was the most natural thing.

With barely 40 days to go for the Biennale, Singhal’s seven-year-old atelier is putting together an installation giving a contemporary avatar to this dying art. Titled Pichvai Tradition & Beyond, her ensemble comprises seasoned artisans who specialise in this artform.

Legend has it that in an attempt to save the idol of Shrinathji—an avatar of the Hindu deity Krishna—from Mughal invaders during the 17th century, five families from Mathura placed the idol in Nathdwara (Rajasthan). “Shrinathji’s abode is more like a house of the lord, where he is represented with different emotions (shringars) during different darshans. Pichvai artists paint each bhav or shringar, collectively—referred to as leela—portraying him as a child or playing with the gopis. In those days, pilgrims used to take these paintings home as souvenirs,” begins Singhal, who’s determined to save the true form of the art from getting lost in the cheap, embossed ones that are flooding the markets now.

An original pichvai painting—which takes over two months to complete—is created with natural colours (with yellows and blues extracted from cow urine and lapis lazuli) and painted with brushes made of squirrel’s tail hair. “I’ve tried to reinvent the art in scale, colour, form and theme.

Unlike the traditional ones, my works are miniature in form (six to 12 inches), stripped of their traditional colours into sketch format to appeal to the modern or contemporary art-loving crowd, along with influences from the Mughal era (think jaali work), in order to create a new form that is more relevant to the modern times,” explains the artist, adding that her installation will be crafted with miniature pichvai sketches covering 365 days and multiple bhavs of the deity at Nathdwara, which took over a year to complete.

Having previously exhibited her works at prestigious platforms including India Art Fair (2016), the 42-year-old hopes to explore the diverse school of arts in Mewar in the future.

From December 12. At Heritage Arts.  Details: 9210031332

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