Author:Varunika Saraf (Jawaharlal Nehru University)
Paper short abstract:
The mass-produced copies of Indian court paintings now exclusively painted for the tourist market, seem as escapees from the realm of Indian art history. This paper examines the ways in which patrons got reconfigured as consumers and artists as producers.
Paper long abstract:
In the bazaars across India, as quintessential visual embodiments of courtly grandeur and as indexes of the craft skills one finds miniature paintings. These mass-produced copies of Indian court paintings now exclusively painted for the tourist market, at a glance, seem as escapees from the realm of Indian art history, that has managed to elude their temporal and contextual specificity. As detailed elucidations of jewellery and costumes, processions and grand durbars, riders and cavalry, illustrations of literary classics, gods and goddesses, mythical animals, they vie with each other to catch the consumer's attention. In a span of few shelves, the viewer becomes a rambler, traversing different epochs, from Mughal India to Company period, in defiance of both time and space.
These paintings are variously perceived as: 'authentic', part of a 'great tradition', passed down from generation to generation, of the land, exemplifying 'grandeur and history'. The ambivalent position of such paintings made today by artists in the traditional mould raise important questions. Are these works residues from history; knowledge once lost and now found? Are they products of post-colonial revival?
This paper examines how tourists have taken over the role of traditional patrons and how various styles of painting that were once enmeshed in the royal courts have found new lease of life as heritage commodities. By treating art-world of the miniature painting as complex sphere, I explore the ways in which patrons got reconfigured as consumers and artists as producers, embedded in a relatively anonymous souvenir market.
Consuming culture: the politics and aesthetics of cultural tourism in different national traditions