Archive for the 'Art' Category

A monk and his photographs

Photographs by my friend Nicky Vreeland.

A photographer by profession, he became a Tibetan Buddhist monk in 1985, and is now the Abbot of the Rato Dratsang Monastery in southern India.




Tradition of the tile


Farida M Said in Herald:

The use of ceramics in architecture began in earnest in Anatolia in the 13th century, at about the same time as in Seljuk Iran where specialisation in the glazed tile mosaic technique in Kashan gave ceramic tiles their Persian name, kashi, a contraction of kashani, meaning of Kashan. Then the indefatigable conqueror Emir Timur, known to the West as Tamerlane or Timur the Lame, forcibly transported master ceramists from their homeland to Samarqand. Thanks to Timur’s patronage, in a matter of three decades the drab ochre buildings of his capital were “bedecked in a dazzling livery of predominantly turquoise ceramic tile.”

The cladding of brick walls with glazed ceramic tiles in shades of azure blue, turquoise, cobalt and white soon became widespread in the Muslim world. In Ottoman Turkey, the Iznik factories evolved tiles that were never to be equalled in range and depth of tone, richness and variety of pattern, making it possible to sheet the interior of whole buildings with this gleaming decoration. In the Maghreb – Morocco, Tunisia, Algeria – floors and walls were lined with beautiful enamelled and painted earthenware tiles known as Zellij. In Iran under Safavid rule, what the Timurids had begun in Samarqand was carried on in Isfahan. Outstandingly beautiful glazed tile work produced in the haft rung or seven colour techniques sheathed the splendid palaces and majestic mosques of the country as Persian architecture reached a rare level of perfection. More:

The magic of the mundane

Sarnath Banerjee from India paints a very different picture of Berlin for his readers back home. He produces comic strips on life in the German capital for publication in an Indian daily.

The Bangladesh Liberation War through Raghu Rai’s lens

Salil Tripathi in The Caravan:

FOR A PHOTOGRAPHER, what sets apart a war zone from other locations is the imminence of danger. Raghu Rai had gone along with the first column of Indian troops entering what was still officially East Pakistan from the Khulna border in early December 1971. Pakistani forces had retreated to defend the capital, Dacca, as it was then known. But after they had travelled about 50 km, Pakistanis attacked with artillery fire. Rai shot photographs of wounded soldiers being taken away. After the situation subsided, Rai was relieved to find a teashop and decided to have a moment’s respite, although the Indian army major told him to be careful. Just as Rai ordered tea and biscuits, a bullet whizzed past him. “The major shouted for me to lie down,” Rai wrote. “I did, and another bullet went past me. I crawled back to the shop and was told by the shopkeeper that the Pakistani army was on the other side of the railtrack, just half a kilometer away.” Photographers are meant to be impartial observers, or witnesses. But to the Pakistani sniper, Rai was a participant, entering enemy territory, accompanied by a foreign army. He was a target, fair game. He may have come to record, but he was intervening.

The photographs Rai took during that two-week war, when the Indian army marched to what is now Dhaka and defeated General AAK Niazi’s Pakistani army, are now published in a glossy volume by Niyogi Books, one which commemorates Bangladeshi bravery, and Indian support and generosity, and documents the Pakistani army’s brutality towards civilians.

Having stored away the images for safekeeping, Rai seemed to have forgotten their whereabouts. Two years ago, he excitedly called his friend Shahidul Alam, the gifted Bangladeshi photographer, to say that the lost negatives had been found. This was a huge discovery; Bangladesh was turning 40 in 2011, and the generation that fought for its freedom was fading. Alam, who has made it the mission of his life to document the Bangladeshi saga in all its manifestations by promoting visual culture through his agency, Drik, was himself compiling the works of photographers from Bangladesh and abroad for the book he published in 2011, The Birth Pangs of A Nation. That book includes some of Rai’s photographs and went on to win an Asia Publishing Award last year. (I wrote the sole essay in that book.) More:

Suffering Moses, Srinagar

Cordelia Jenkins in Mint-Lounge:

We came here, like the chinars, from Persia,” says Mohamed Sadiq Wani, looking out of the window of his office, a wooden cabin in central Srinagar, at 40ft oriental plane trees. “We were one of the families that brought craft to Kashmir. Each was expert in a few designs; like the trees, they were imported but they survived and flourished and got beautiful here.”

Wani sits at his desk, piled with papers and antique oddments, recounting the story of his ancestors, who travelled from modern-day Iran to the Kashmir Valley at the behest of first the 13th century Muslim saint Shah-i-Hamdan and then the 15th century emperor known as Badshah (Sultan Zain-ul-Abidin). “This was a beautiful place but poverty-stricken,” he says. “There was a famine and no work, so Shah-i-Hamdan brought 70 or 80 artisans from Persia—painters, silversmiths, carpenters, carpet makers—to teach and employ the Kashmiris.”

More than 600 years later, Wani’s family is one of Srinagar’s oldest and most respected handicrafts dynasties and still has some craftsmen working for it. The shop, Suffering Moses, started in 1840 by Wani’s great-grandfather, is one of the last surviving businesses run by the practitioners of the old craft, which, Wani says, is gradually being replaced by commercial work of lower quality. More:

Prabuddha Dasgupta

From his book Women, published by Penguin

One of India’s most respected fashion photographers, Prabuddha Dasgupta, 58, passed away Sunday while he was at a photo shoot near Mumbai. A self-taught photographer, Dasgupta was known for his ground-breaking black and white imagery which established a new visual style for India’s emerging fashion scene in the Nineties…Dasgupta divided time between Goa and New Delhi. He was in a relationship with top model Lakshmi Menon, 30, who has done shows for Jean Paul Gaultier and Hermès including campaigns for the likes of Max Mara, Givenchy, H&M and Nordstrom, among others. [The Hollywood Reporter]

In April this year, Geoff Dyer did a profile of Prabuddha in The Paris Review: read here in Asian Window

Celebrating losers at London Olympics

In The Telegraph:

Humorous bill boards featuring the work of artist Sarnath Banerjee have gone up all over East London bringing to bear a typically Bengali way of looking at the Olympics.

“There will be many, many more losers than winners,” Sarnath pointed out.

“Ami Kolkatar chhele (I am a Calcutta boy),” said the 40-year-old artist who was born in Calcutta and was a “chhatra (pupil)” at the Assembly of God Church School.

Sarnath has focused on losers rather than winners because he is attracted by this “element of slight tragi-comedy or comi- tragedy”.

He feels people underestimate the shock suffered by losers and that often the vanquished never recover — something he has tried to reflect in the 12 posters he has done on the Olympics theme.

In his opinion, “the Olympics are a very dehumanising thing”.

How many of his large billboards have gone up in London?

“Besh kota aachhey (quite a few),” he remarked modestly in an interview with The Telegraph conducted in a mixture of Bengali and English. More:

Keeping track of art all over Asia

Joyce Lau from Hong Kong in NYT:

Vivan Sundaram and Geeta Kapur, London, 1969. Photographed by Gulammohammed Sheikh/ Asia Art Archive

When Typhoon Ketsana hit the Philippines in 2009, countless homes were flooded, including that of Roberto Chabet, a figure known as the grandfather of the country’s avant-garde art scene.

The first floor of his riverside house — a repository for thousands of art-related items spanning his 50-year career — was waterlogged. Thankfully, a researcher for Asia Art Archive had already spent more than a year organizing and documenting his material, much of which was kept safe at her home when the storm hit.

Not everything was rescued. “There was still a lot of material not digitized,” the researcher, Ringo Bunoan, said by telephone from Manila. “We tried to save his artwork. But a lot of the books we had to dispose of because of all the mold. The floodwaters were extremely dirty.”

“A huge number are now irretrievably lost,” she wrote on AAA’s Web site. Still, between Mr. Chabet’s own files and about 20 other sources, she amassed more than 8,000 items relating to the 74-year-old artist and educator.

Other AAA researchers have been doing similar painstaking work in homes, studios, libraries and art institutions across the region — remotely feeding digital images into the largest Asian art resource of its kind. More:

The Digitised Personal Archive of Geeta Kapur and Vivan Sundaram: Read here

Click here for Asia Art Archive website

Bringing Tibet Home

Bringing Tibet Home is a documentary film that tells the story of Tibetan artist Tenzing Rigdol, as he sets out on a great mission to bring Tibet closer to Tibetan exiles through an unprecedented art project – a site specific art installation titled “Our Land, Our People”, that involves smuggling 20,000 kilos of native Tibetan soil across the Himalayas. Here’s the link to the website.

 Andrew Buncombe from Dharamsala in The Independent:

Some took a handful and placed it in a shrine kept in their homes, others poured a little into a pouch that they looped around their necks on a string, while the office of the Dalai Lama dispatched a jeep and gathered a sack-full.

Everyone wanted to get their hands on some Tibetan soil.

The recent distribution of 20 tonnes of the pale-coloured earth by a Tibetan artist in Dharamsala marked the conclusion of an intriguing project that was part-art installation and part-smuggling operation. Inspired by the regret expressed by his gravely ill father that he would never again walk on Tibetan soil, the artist Tenzing Rigdol decided to arrange for the earth instead to be taken to those Tibetans living in exile. The result was the installation upon which Mr Rigdol encouraged people to tread. More:

I Saw a Peacock with a Fiery Tail

With art by Ramsingh Urveti from India’s Gond tribe & pioneering book design by young Japanese-Brazilian designer Jonathan Yamakami. Published by Tara Books:


And in HuffPost:

When the Poetry Society of America asked Margaret Atwood to write about her first literary love, she had to coin a phrase to describe her unusual pick. “I Saw A Peacock With A Fiery Tail,” the mysterious 17th century poem a 4-year-old Atwood found in a nursery rhyme book became known after that as a “trick poem,” a writer’s version of trompe l’oeil. More


Good Morning Mumbai!

A student diploma film directed by Rajesh Thakare and Troy Vasanth from the National Institute of Design, Ahmedabad.

Lines of Mahatma – Trailer

A painting exhibition displays, old drawings of Mahatma Gandhi, done in 1960′s by the eminent Chennai based artist K. M. Adimoolam. At the suggestion of the filmmaker, after a gap of almost 3 decades, K. M. Adimoolam once again attempts to do a sketch of Gandhi. The film reflects upon the spirit of Mahatma Gandhi through the drawings of Adimoolam.

The World Before Her

From Tribeca Film Festival website: Young, beautiful, and ambitious, Ankita and Ruhi compete in the Miss India pageant for the chance at a career in the beauty industry, one of the few opportunities for women to find success and empowerment in contemporary India. On the opposite end of the spectrum from Miss India is Durga Vahini, the women’s wing of the Hindu fundamentalist movement. Filming for the first time within a Durga Vahini camp, director Nisha Pahuja offsets the pageant narrative with that of camp leader Prachi, a fiery and compelling figure expressing a very different voice in the debate over women’s issues. Nisha Pahuja’s The World Before Her dramatizes the tension between traditional and modern perspectives toward women in today’s India. Click here for more

A portrait of the ‘Artist’ as an old man

Keerthik Sasidharan in The Caravan:

The air in Edappal, the town of ‘Artist’ Namboodiri, was dense. The heavy humidity of spring encourages lethargy, as was even the case for Namboodiri. Submitting to precisely what the weather demanded, he sat shirtless, with his lungi folded up to the waist, relaxing in a reclining chair. The tiles beneath our feet were cold, a reprieve from the heat, so I decided to sit on the floor, by his side. My companions Majeed and Madhu, the second of whom is Namboodiri’s nephew, sat on chairs facing him. He had agreed to meet us, despite not being in the best of health. His voice trailed when he tried to speak loudly.

Madhu asked him about the recently-released documentary on his life by the award-winning director Shaji N Karun, considered one of India’s greatest filmmakers. “Ah yes. They are doing something… ” he said. Karun’s debut film Piravi won the Caméra d’Or at the 1989 Cannes International Festival. Unprompted, Namboodiri added, “He has a great visual sense.”

I could not help but smile at his observation. The ‘visual sense’ of a filmmaker was clearly what appealed to him. Once, while Namboodiri was on a sabbatical from his drawing and painting career, he worked with iconic director G Aravindan, and in that short career won the Kerala State Award in art direction. He never really pursued that line of work, and soon returned to his first love: drawing and painting.

My cup of tea had gone cold. I decided to take a photo to remember this evening with Namboodiri. On seeing my camera, it seemed like he was suddenly reminded of some unspoken code of sophistication. “Should I wear a shirt?” he asked.

His 86-year-old body is surprisingly well kept: his muscles are still taut, his skin is leathery and has worn well with age, his luxuriant silvery hair was tied up into a ponytail, and his spectacles dangled off his neck.

“Let it be. Unless the mosquitoes …” I had vocalised what he instinctively knew. He smiled and shrugged. He knew these mosquitoes. He was yet to draw them on paper, as far as I could remember from his work, but, he was watching them flit by, just as he watched my friends, me, our conversation, the cup of tea, the changing light in the skies and the children running behind cars on the street. So shirtless it was. I wandered about and took photos while they continued to talk. Noticing my lens focus on him, he sighed, and said, “What an astonishing thing. It might just rain in February!” More:

Prabuddha Dasgupta by Geoff Dyer

In The Paris Review:

In 2009, I published a novel that circles around some of the ideas discussed above. The following year I was engaged in a low-intensity dispute with my British publisher about the cover of the mass-market paperback of that book. Indifferent or hostile to the designers’ proposals, and having been asked to come up with suggestions, I sent a link to pictures by Prabuddha Dasgupta. They liked his photographs, and, after a certain amount of ­to-ing and fro-ing, we agreed on a particular image. Roughly the same thing happened with the American and Australian publishers: they both liked Prabuddha’s work, but each chose to use a different image.

I remember this process of image selection and nationally specific ­choices quite clearly, but I have no recollection of how I first came across Prabuddha’s work, who introduced me to it, or even when or where I first saw it. Logically, I suppose, this means that I can’t remember a time when I did not know Prabuddha’s work! Well, I know I did not know it five years ago, but I can’t remember the circumstances or the moment since then, as it were, when I first encountered it. This, for me (perhaps for most other ­people, too), is highly unusual. It is a little like having a lover but being unable to recall how you met. As we all know, the more you strain to ­remember a lost name or the details of a dream, the smaller the chance of their coming back to you. Then, invariably, you think or talk of something else and the forgotten name and the lost flecks of dream float back unbidden into your head. I’ve tried this—that is, I’ve tried not to try—with the lost origins of my first encounter with Prabuddha’s photographs, but it doesn’t work. I just can’t remember. At the risk of sounding like a drunk refusing to ­accept ­responsibility for his ­actions, who blames the drink rather than his consumption of it, I take this not as a personal failing but as an accurate reflection of—or at least a response to—something inherent in the work. It’s the photographer’s fault, not mine! In some way this work, which seems so much about remembering, is indelibly associated, in my mind, with forgetting, with the inability to remember. Could this be why there is a sadness about it? Why—amid scenes that are a source of celebration, happiness, and joy—even of bliss—is there also a suggestion of elegy and loss?

A bit more here; for the full story you’ll have to subscribe to The Paris Review

A virtual tour of the India Art Fair 2012

Satyadev Dubey: 1936-2011

Girish Karnad in Outlook:

But as a theatre director, he was supreme. He loved the stage, made it his home, and became as much a legend on the Marathi stage as on the Hindi one. He presented Tendulkar’s Marathi and Adya Rangacharya’s Kannada plays in Hindi, Mohan Rakesh’s Hindi and Badal Sircar’s Bengali plays in Marathi. He discovered new plays (Andha Yug, Yayati). He brought Marathi actresses like Sulabha Deshpande and her sisters to Hindi theatre, trained new actors (Amrish Puri, Sunila Pradhan, Sonali Kulkarni, Harish Patel) and new directors (Chetan Datar, Sunil Shanbhag), nagging them, berating them, testing whether their love of theatre was strong enough to bear his insults. When Vinod Doshi gave him the entire ground floor of Walchand Terrace in Tardeo, for four years it turned into the crucible of Marathi/ Hindi theatre in Bombay. In recent years, despite his poor health, he turned Prithvi Theatre into a non-stop workshop for aspiring actors, with the patient approval of Sanjna Kapoor.

Although he ultimately managed to buy himself a flat, he was happier sleeping on the drawing-room carpets of Nira Benegal, Saryu Doshi, Sunila Pradhan and Rani Burra in Bombay, Chetna Jalan in Calcutta, and Sunita Paul in Delhi. He had a soft corner for the wives of his closest friends and was, in turn, pampered by them. I have seen him being thrown out of parties at midnight for becoming too loud or vituperative, but welcomed back again with the same warmth. More:

The art of puppetry

Famous puppeteer Dadi Pudumjee in conversation with The Indian Express journalists:

 Suanshu Khurana: Indians are yet to become connoisseurs of puppetry, despite its long tradition. As a modern ‘kathputliwallah’, what more can be done to attract people?

Dadi Pudumjee: I’m not a historian but it is said that India is possibly the birthplace of puppetry. One problem could be that we have seen so much of the old type of puppetry, we don’t want to see anymore. If someone from Karnataka comes to Delhi and performs, you will watch it as a curiosity. There are puppeteers in Rajasthan who have made new things, who have developed and gone ahead. Some traditional puppeteers are doing well. Many of the young puppeteers from the old families are now working in post offices, banks, etc. Some have gone through college and are now going back or working with their parents, grandparents to try newer things. That could see something of a revival. However, their concept of what they see as modern is still 1920s modern because of the lack of exposure, lack of training. Their technique is very strong but to make something with that is where the gap lies.

Nandini Nair: As someone who has pursued this art form for 20-odd years, why do you think there is a hierarchy that has classical dance at the top, then theatre and puppetry at the bottom?

Dadi Pudumjee: I don’t know, that is something we all need to ask ourselves. I suppose classical dance, music, theatre were the traditional forms. But things are changing—nothing is static, otherwise it goes into a museum—and in that change, a lot of things are getting lost, for better or for worse.

A traditional puppeteer tries to make something new and there’s always someone, godfather or godmother of that group, who says, “No, you are now ruining the tradition”. Why shouldn’t two parallel types exist together? Leave the puppeteer to try and develop different things with his work and I’m sure certain things will work out. More


In The Caravan:

In 2010, the American journalist and cartoonist Joe Sacco, unquestionably the world’s foremost practitioner of what he calls “comics journalism”, came to India with an assignment from a French magazine to produce a long-form feature on rural poverty.

It would be difficult to overstate Sacco’s stature in the two worlds he straddles as a cartoonist and a reporter: over the past 20 years, he has pioneered an entirely new form of graphic storytelling, travelling into conflict zones as a journalist and then recreating them as a visual artist, producing a series of stand-alone reports and a handful of books widely regarded as masterpieces: Palestine, a narrative of his journeys and encounters in the Palestinian territories after the first Gulf War; Safe Area Gorazde, about the end of the Bosnian War; and Footnotes in Gaza, on the legacy of two long-forgotten massacres from the early years of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. View comic here:

Islamic art on a new pedestal

When it finally opens on November 1, after a decade of planning, the dedicated 19,000 square foot space for the Islamic arts at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art will include a Maghrebi-Andalusian-style courtyard, special doors and glass blown mosque lamps based on ancient designs and an inch-by-inch restoration of “The Emperor’s Carpet,” a renowned 16th-century Iranian rug believed to have belonged to Peter the Great.  But who would have thought that by the time the space opens, it would be against such a culturally loaded backdrop? In New York Times, Randy Kennedy looks at the project.

IN one of Washington Irving’s tales from “The Alhambra,” the short-story collection that rooted the great 14th-century Moorish landmark in the American imagination, a poor Spaniard and his daughter discover a hidden chamber deep within the abandoned palace’s crumbling walls and spirit away the treasure inside.

Over the last three years in a suite of galleries concealed from public view on the second floor of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, it is as if Irving’s fable of Islam’s rich past has been unfolding in reverse. Treasures, in this case more than a thousand pieces from the museum’s extensive holdings of Islamic art, have been slowly populating newly constructed rooms, taking their places in gleaming new vitrines with Egyptian marble underfoot and mosque lamps overhead, amid burbling fountains and peaked arches framing views of 13 centuries of art history.

When this 19,000-square-foot hidden chamber is finally opened to the public on Nov. 1 with the unwieldy but academically precise new name of the Galleries for the Art of the Arab Lands, Turkey, Iran, Central Asia and Later South Asia, it will not only represent the culmination of eight years of planning and work. The reinstallation and enlargement of the collection — one of the most important outside the Middle East — also promises to stand as a watershed moment in America’s awareness of the visual culture of the Islamic world, at a time when that world looms as large as ever on the international stage and in the American psyche. more


FOLD by San Francisco-based new media artist Surabhi Saraf.  She obtained her BFA in Painting from MSU Baroda and an MFA in Art and Technology from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 2009.

FOLDed from Surabhi Saraf on Vimeo.



The Second Creature

Malavika Karlekar in The Telegraph:

In the introduction to The Second Creature designed by Satyajit Ray and published in 1949 by Calcutta’s Signet Press (Ray was then a visual designer at the press), the legendary photographer, Sunil Janah, writes that all his images of “smiling handsome women” were taken “during four years of almost continuous wandering throughout India”. Unable to resist, as he says, “a pretty girl”, he “photographed her because she represents the youth, charm and vitality” not quite destroyed in a people “and which appears as irrepressibly as the hunger I have gone to portray”. Janah was, of course, writing about the Bengal Famine of 1943 when more than three million people had died. He had been enlisted for the task of recording the famine-stricken countryside by P.C. Joshi, the general secretary of the Communist Party of India. His searing visuals that accompanied Joshi’s reportage and were published widely in the communist press in India and abroad changed Janah’s world view irrevocably.

Janah had not come to emotive photography as an ingénue; at his parents’ home there were enough books on the subject including one with Ansel Adams’s brilliant black-and-white imagery — and by his late teens, he was taking photographs. Educated at St. Xavier’s School and Presidency College — appropriate for a bhadralok’s son (his father was a Calcutta-based lawyer) — Janah met Joshi while he was studying for an MA in English literature and for a degree in law. As he was by then a member of the Communist Party-led Students Federation, to join Joshi did not pose much of a dilemma. In fact, the thought must have been positively invigorating. Yet, once in the field, he felt deeply moved by the suffering and injustice he was to record. Many years later, in 1998, the 80-year-old, whose range and expanse of work mark him as one of the foremost documentary photographers of his times, said in an interview with V.K. Ramachandran of the Frontline magazine that for an activist at heart, “it was very distressing because I felt like doing things other than taking photographs…. People were starving and dying and I was holding a camera to their faces, intruding into their suffering and grief”. More:

Jehangir Sabavala: 1922-2011

Renowned painter from Mumbai, Jehangir Sabavala, who had been suffering from lung cancer, died on Friday due to respiratory failure. He is survived by his wife Shirin and daughter Aafreed.

Ranjit Hoskote in The Times of India: Jehangir Sabavala invoked, in many of his landscapes, a homeland lost to historical vagaries and recoverable only in dream. It was easy for us, as viewers, to be seduced by the beauty of this imagined homeland: To lose ourselves among its windswept strands, crystalline lakes and cloud-hidden mountains. What called us back to an engagement with the anguish and uncertainty of this deceptively serene world was the figure, which, in Sabavala’s art, was often the exile crossing wastelands in quest of anchorage; the solitary pilgrim following an elusive star; or the sorcerer conjuring up new geographies of forest and stream in defiance of the brutality of circumstance.

Namita Devidayal in The Times of India: Sabavala was to the manner born. His mother Bapsy came from the aristocratic Cowasjee Jehangir family which was responsible for setting up some of the biggest institutions in the city, from the Gothic building that houses Elphinstone College to the University Convocation Hall. Bapsy is still remembered with awe for her flamboyance-an animal-lover who once had a horse climb the stairs of the Taj Mahal hotel to perform in the ballroom and a doll collector who would take her dolls on outings, driven by a poker-faced chauffeur.

Summary bio in Saffron Art

Can the Buddhas be restored?

Image: Tracy Hunter / Wiki Commons

Arnie Cooper in The Wall Street Journal:

A decade ago, just six months before the destruction of the twin towers, a pair of monuments of a different sort—the colossal Buddhas in Afghanistan’s Bamiyan Valley—were blown up by the Taliban.

Hoping to rid the country of any trace of “the shrines of Infidels,” the Afghan Supreme Court had decreed on Feb. 26, 2001 that “all statues must be annihilated so that no one can worship or respect them in the future.” The edict had prompted countless protests from numerous heads of state, the International Council of Monuments and Sites, and Unesco, whose director-general at the time, Koïchiro Matsuura, had written a personal letter to Taliban leader Mullah Omar just two days later. Fatwas condemning the Taliban’s order had also been issued by Muslim religious leaders in Egypt, Iraq and Pakistan, but the appeals had all been in vain. In early March, Taliban militiamen used dynamite, antiaircraft guns and antitank mines to bring the 1,400-year-old masterpieces crashing to the valley floor.

In one of humanity’s most notorious cases of art vandalism, the 125-foot-tall Eastern Buddha (“Shamama,” or Queen Mother, carved between 544 and 595) and the 181-foot Western Buddha (“Salsal,” or light shines through the universe, carved between 591 and 644), were decimated along with sections of the niches that enclosed them. Numerous other religious relics were destroyed throughout Afghanistan at the same time. More:

A portrait of India’s tolerance

The country’s speech restrictions didn’t allow M.F. Husain to paint in peace. Salil Tripathi in the Wall Street Journal:

Maqbool Fida Husain was India’s most celebrated painter, and his death in London last week was front-page news across the subcontinent. However, toward the end of his life, Husain had trouble finding galleries willing to show his work. He lived in Dubai, Doha or London for most of the last two decades because he couldn’t paint in peace in his own country, even becoming a Qatari national last year.

Husain’s story says much about modern India. The troubles started in 1996, when the magazine Vichar Mimansa (“Discussion of Thoughts”) published a decades-old sketch that showed a nude Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of learning. That discovery electrified Hindu activists, who began filing lawsuits against the painter for hurting their sentiments.

These activists were able to persecute Husain by taking advantage of laws intended to prevent the incitement of religious hatred. Though the Indian constitution guarantees freedom of expression, it allows “reasonable restrictions” to safeguard “the interests of the sovereignty and integrity” of the country and “public order, decency or morality.” The penal code makes it a crime “to outrage religious feelings” and also outlaws “promoting enmity” between different groups on the basis of religion, race, place of birth, residence, language—and the all-inclusive “etc.”

Fringe Hindu groups claimed to have been offended by the artist’s work, and pressured the authorities to initiate proceedings. Indian courts often throw such cases out, but there were multiple cases against him. When a few of them reached the Delhi High Court on appeal, it ruled in Husain’s favor. So did the Supreme Court in a similar case. More:

Who brushed out Husain?

In the Hindustan Times, Vir Sanghvi examines the issues that led to the exile of India’s foremost artist, Maqbool Fida Husain who died recently in London.

Now that we are so busy flogging ourselves over our failure to allow M.F. Husain to return to India, this might be a good time to examine the issues that led to Husain’s exile from our shores. Otherwise, we will lose ourselves in paying fulsome tributes without understanding why the artist was hounded out of India. And other artists will continue to suffer the same fate.

As long as I can remember, Husain has used Hindu motifs and figures in his work. Though he was born a Muslim, he was not particularly religious and regarded himself as part of India’s secular tradition, drawing inspiration from all aspects of Indian tradition and life. For instance, his famous Mother Teresa series in which the Catholic missionary was portrayed as an angel of mercy would probably have scandalised the likes of Osama Bin Laden. But for Husain, religion and religious figures were merely an aspect of a nation’s cultural heritage and its everyday life. more

Below, Riz Khan’s Al Jazeera interview with MF Husain

Also read:

Shobhaa De on MFH in The Times of India: ‘All I want is a Mumbai falooda’

“Where is your paintbrush?” I asked Husain Saab when I met him in room number 6 on the fourth floor of the Royal Brompton Hospital, situated in a leafy area of London. This was just two days ago.

He shrugged and smiled wanly. Almost like he had put away his paintbrush forever. Frail in health but robust in spirit, he turned away from the dinner tray brought in by a cheerful nurse and said, “I can’t eat this food. All I want is a falooda from Mumbai.”

And Georgina Maddox in The Indian Express

The princess of arts

The youngest daughter of Maharaja Sir Churachand Singh of Manipur, Binodini Devi, was a feisty beauty who authored the first recognised Manipuri short story, wrote the script for a film that won the Grand Prix at Cannes, and took Manipuri dance to the world. Yet astonishingly little survives of her work on record. Janice Pariat in Open:

Maharaj Kumari Binodini Devi. Photo: Himal Southasian

Like many others, I encountered Maharaj Kumari Binodini Devi only after her death. She succumbed to a brief illness on 17 January 2011. My quest to write a profile on her was made more difficult by the fact that I couldn’t access her writing, whether through the internet or friends, no matter how well read they were or how large their collection of books. Her novel, Boro Saheb Ongbi Sanatombi (The Princess and the Political Agent), couldn’t be found in bookstores, her collection of short stories, Nung’gairakta Chandramukhi (Chrysanthemum Among the Rocks), unavailable on Amazon, and her collection of plays, Asangba Nongjabi (Azure Skies), not archived in any library I had been to. How was it possible, I asked myself, for such a prolific writer to remain practically unrecorded? For such a proficient writer to be so inaccessible? It would be tragic to explain it away with the fact that the bulk of her writing, whether essays, fiction or non-fiction, remains largely untranslated from Manipuri. I called people in Imphal. Aribam Shyam Sharma, Binodini Devi’s long-term collaborator-director, was unwell. And other people who might have known were polite yet firm in shutting me out: “We knew her well, but we’re not the right people to speak to.” It looked like a dead-end.

Until I met two Manipuri poet friends for nimbu-paani on a Sunny afternoon. “My mother went to school with her in Imphal,” Robin Ngangom told me. “They put up plays together.” Ngangom teaches English Literature at the North Eastern Hill University and is an established ‘Shillong’ poet who writes in English. “I grew up in the same neighbourhood where Binodini Devi lived,” Ibohal Kshetrimayum, a civil engineer and writer, added with a laugh. “Her nephews and I used to steal fruit from her garden. She called us hooligans and chased us away. I don’t think she liked us much.”

The two agreed she was exquisitely beautiful. “She was a princess, yet she journeyed out on her own, in rickshaws. It was unheard of for women from the royal family to do that,” said Ibohal. “She always ventured out with a flower in her hair, and we kids would run out to the road to watch her pass. I always admired her beauty and wished to marry a woman like her one day.” More

Maharaj Kumari Binodini Devi (1922-2011): See also obituary in Himal Southasian

Photo: Himal

No country for old artistes

Do artistes and penury have some sort of tragic, karmic connection? In Hindustan Times, Namita Bhandare looks at the plight of 95-year-old veteran actor A K Hangal to see the same story being repeated, again.

Because Subrata Kundu had been fairly regular on the page 3 circuit at a time when I was a fairly regular journalist on page 3, his passing recently caught my eye. You couldn’t miss him, that man with a broad smile and thick mop of hair. Then, suddenly one day, the photographs stopped and newbies with names like Kitty, Monty, Thenny, Ronny took over. I failed to notice that Kundu seemed to have faded away.  

I did not know that Subrata had taken a serious hit when the art market nosedived during the recession. I did not know that he was suffering from liver disease. I did not know that he had tried to kill himself. I found out all of this one sad day in September when I read with shock that this 51-year-old artist had been found unconscious in a temple at Ranaghat, Kolkata where he had been living. He died a few days later.

I remembered Subrata again when I read in the papers of the hard times that have fallen on actor AK Hangal. Bedridden with kidney disease and asthma, this 95-year-old actor who has entertained us in over 125 films, including as Rahim chacha in Sholay, must now depend on the kindness of his few remaining friends; Asha Parekh, for instance. Bills for medicines alone amount to R15,000 a month. And the only family member left to look after him is Hangal’s 74-year-old son, Vijay, a retired photographer. more

In Times of India, which broke the story about Hangal’s plight, Bharati Dubey has some good news as aid comes in from the industry and from outside sources. Read that story here.

Philippe Starck designer apartments in Pune

Gayatri R Shah at CNN Go:

Credited with bringing Manhattan-style loft living to London in the early 1990s, Hitchcox set up yoo about 10 years ago, with venerated designer Philippe Starck and the two iconoclasts decided to call it yoo because, well, it’s all about you.

They have done 33 projects across 27 countries including such well known hot spots as the Mondrian South Beach hotel in Miami and the Gramercy in New York.

Located at Koregaon Park Annexe, yoopune is being built by award-winning landscape architect Bill Bensley. Some 228 apartments in six towers are for sale, and buyers have the option to choose from either of two design palettes, classic and nature. Yoopune will include a Six Senses spa, as well as tennis courts, a tea lounge, swimming pools and a cigar room.

It’s easy to assume yoo came looking for India, when the interesting backstory is actually that Sagar Chordia, strategic director at Panchshil Realty, was in a cab in Israel when he passed yoo Tel Aviv. Chordia says, “I saw two unique buildings … fantastic architecture, so I went in and they told me it was a Hitchcox project.” More

The case of the fake Ravi Varmas

Samanth Subramanian in Mint:

The boy with no name stands to stiff attention. He wears a crimson turban, his left hand holds a sword in its scabbard, and his neck and chest are freighted with jewels. His eyes, clear but dead, betray no emotion as they look directly at his painter. The canvas surface, stretched in a plain wooden frame, is speckled with white; at least in a photograph, the painting appears to have triumphed over the ravages of both time and fungus.In February, this painting arrived at the studio of Rupika Chawla, a noted conservator and art historian, and a particular expert in the canon of Raja Ravi Varma, whose stock has galloped upwards over the last decade and a half. The art dealer who brought in the canvas wanted to confirm whether it was by Ravi Varma, and Chawla agreed to examine it. As per her practice, she promised no written certificate of authenticity; she would only explain the reasons for her conclusion.

In February, this painting arrived at the studio of Rupika Chawla, a noted conservator and art historian, and a particular expert in the canon of Raja Ravi Varma, whose stock has galloped upwards over the last decade and a half. The art dealer who brought in the canvas wanted to confirm whether it was by Ravi Varma, and Chawla agreed to examine it. As per her practice, she promised no written certificate of authenticity; she would only explain the reasons for her conclusion.

Over a few days, as she scrutinized the painting, Chawla decided it wasn’t Ravi Varma’s work. “The surface did not have the same finish and quality as his paint surfaces do,” she says. “He had a way of understanding the skeletal structure of his subjects, which came through in the folds and attire of what they wore.” Mostly, she says, she worked on instinct, which she has been honing ever since she restored her first Ravi Varma in the 1980s. More: