The Mughal Effect
INDIA • WHEN ASIA MEETS WEST
Contemporary artists who are inspired by the Indian-Persian Miniature Paintings
1. ALEXANDER GORLIZKI
Alexander Gorlizki is a British artist living in New York. He is best known for his interest in Asian arts, including his collaboration with Riyaz Uddin, an Indian painter of miniatures from Jaipur.
His collaboration with Riyaz Uddin
Gorlizki's works on paper originate from an obsession with Indian miniature paintings — a tradition that he has subverted and applied to his own particular visual language. In the mid-1990s, he opened a studio in Jaipur with Riyaz Uddin, a master painter with a perfect command of technique that involves using a curved squirrel hair brush, dating back over 600 years. These special squirrel hair brushes are used for creating the exceptional fine lines and shading work that are synonymous with Indian miniature painting. The brushes are made from hair from the squirrel's tail and come to a single hair point at the very tip.
Alexander Gorlizki draws wonderfully odd subjects, patterns and compositions that Uddin then paints with jewel-coloured pigments, stone colours and gold leaf with this special single hair-tipped brush to create works of exquisite intricacy. When not working together in the studio, the drawings are sent back and forth between New York and Jaipur to be modified and adapted, often over a period of years.
2. OLIVIA FRASER
Olivia Fraser is a Scottish artist who lives in India and who has mastered the miniature paintings of the Mughals.
Artist Olivia Fraser, who lives in Delhi with her husband, writer William Dalrymple, explains how she became one of the few Indian miniature painters.
Following the footsteps of her relative James Baillie Fraser, a Scottish travel writer and artist who painted India, its monuments and landscape in the early 1800s, Olivia sets out to continue from where her kinsman left off through her paintings.
‘Fraser Album’ was a great masterpiece of Company School Painting, portraying the different types of people and their jobs, crafts and castes against stark white backgrounds, initiated by James Baillie Fraser. This hybrid form of painting, in which Indian artists created art that mixed techniques and ideas from the East and West, greatly influenced Olivia’s early work during the 1990s.
British contemporary visual artist Marc Quinn says of her artwork:
“Olivia Fraser somehow manages to use the ancient techniques of Indian painting with a modern and cross-cultural twist – very much art for our globalised world.”
3. SHAHZIA SIKANDER
Shahzia Sikander initially trained in Pakistan at the National College of Arts. While there, she firmly rejected the artistic trends of the time and instead decided to master the ancient art of miniature painting, drawing on elements from both Indian and Persian traditions. In 1993, she relocated to the United States to study at the Rhode Island School of Design and settled in New York. She began incorporating both personal and contemporary symbols into her work, features not traditionally found in miniature painting, and simultaneously injecting a new sense of relevance into this centuries-old custom. Sikander’s works vary drastically with regard to their scale and the medium employed. Her work is distinctive and significant due to the fact that it constantly defies convention both in terms of its artistic formal structure and content; by bringing together of handicraft and digitisation, East and West, or Hindu and Muslim.
Sikander is clearly a pioneer in her field, taking classical Indo-Persian miniature painting as its starting point and defying the genre’s strict, rigorous conventions. She does so by playing with scale and art mediums. Her works are influenced and informed by a variety of perspectives - South Asian, American, Feminist and Muslim - allowing Sikander to display the unique and critical approach she has developed to this centuries-old and time-honoured medium. She takes advantage of its unending capacity for reinvention to question the notions of language, trade, empire and migration.
4. HIBA SCHAHNAZ
Hiba Schahbaz was born in Karachi, Pakistan and lives in Brooklyn, New York. She is trained in the centuries-old traditional Indo-Persian painting technique, and aims to challenge the inflexible rules of miniature painting and recontextualise the art form to accept and embrace a female perspective. She works primarily with paper, black tea and water-based pigments. Since moving to the United States, her practice has expanded from miniature painting to human-scale works on paper, though the Indo-Persian miniature style can still be discerned in her artworks, through the use of colours and their setting and framing.
In her artist statement, Schahbaz declares that she is both the artist and the performer. She photographs her body and uses these images as references for her paintings. Through the stories she creates, she aims to contemplate what it means to be a woman. These works address issues of personal freedom, destruction, sexuality and censorship by unveiling the beauty, fragility and strength of the female form.