Importance of miniature painting in history and its influence on contemporary art

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Basharat Bashir

In the Indian subcontinent, miniature painting was considered a very intense art form. The miniature paintings were phenomenal and dealt primarily with unraveling illustrated stories from sacred and secular manuscripts, captured in painstaking and intricate detail. The term miniature is derived from “minimum” and is used for very small or tiny. The history of miniature art dates back to prehistoric times, including paintings, engravings and sculptures. The most popular miniature paintings came from the court art of the Mughal Empire, Persia and the Ottoman Empire. Miniature art flourishes in the 16and at 17and century and the pointing miniature of this period was also the “limning”, which included finely worked portraits executed on vellum, handmade paper, copper or ivory.

Earlier miniature painting involved a range of materials from palm leaves, paper and wood to marble, ivory panels and sheets of cloth. Organic and natural minerals like stone dust, real gold and silver dust were also used to create the exquisite colors. Even the paper used was special; polished with stone to make a smooth, non-porous surface. Then, watercolor and gouache (opaque watercolors) as well as gold and silver colors on vellum or prepared papers are used by miniaturists. Born from the fusion of the distinct traditions of the illuminated manuscript and the medallion, miniature painting flourished from the beginning of the 16th century until the middle of the 19th century. Later, with the introduction of the printing press and the fascination with Western art forms, the miniature lost its appeal to follow the taste of the court. The miniaturists look for other subjects and experiment with different new forms, such as mural painting. Even though miniature painting survived these developments, it could not maintain its dominance in the art world. In the 20th century, the miniature as an art form was revived by artists who returned to the miniature art form and created “the contemporary miniature”, which moved away from its classical definition and is transformed into a dynamic and contemporary art form.

A section of contemporary artists focuses on contemporary approaches to miniature painting that still refer to its roots in the court art of Mughal India, Persia and the Ottoman Empire. It can be seen in a highly anticipated exhibition titled “Miniature 2.0: Miniature in Contemporary Art” curated by Azra Tuzunoglu and Gulce Ozkara at the famous Pera Museum in Istanbul. Forty works by various artists from different countries were exhibited to contemplate their different approaches to the art form, as well as to reveal the commonalities presented in the genre of miniature painting. According to the curators, the aim of the exhibition is not to “treat the miniatures only as a historical work, but to see its future potential”. The main objective of the exhibition is to look at the miniatures with a certain distance in order to see them as a way of thinking the world in order to be able to combine the past, the present and the future. Exhibits take contemporary miniature as a means of resistance to issues such as colonialism, orientalism, economic inequality, gender and identity politics using various media such as sculpture, video, textiles and l ‘installation.

The exhibition features works by Hamra Abbas, Rashad Alakbarov, Halil Altındere, Dana Awartani, Fereydoun Ave, CANAN, Noor Ali Chagani, Cansu Çakar, Hayv Kahraman, Imran Qureshi, Nilima Sheikh, Shahpour Pouyan, Shahzia Sikander and Saira Wasi.

Imran Qurechi

A Pakistani artist Imran Qureshi, one of the leading artists of his generation and a master of the art of miniature. Qureshi was born in Hyderabad and lives and works in Lahore, Pakistan. Qureshi’s work is firmly rooted in traditional Mughal court miniature paintings. He reworks the style of painting to represent flora, fauna, body parts and calligraphic writings. Disturbed by the aftermath of bombings in his hometown of Lahore, he added blood-red paint to his palette, splattered or delicately drawn in works that contrasted violence with beauty. The use of gold leaf and red acrylic paint is a distinctive feature of his work. The luminosity of the gold leaf alludes to the celestial plane, contrasted with the vibrant splashes of ornate red vine patterns that become symbolic of the vulnerability of the human body. For him, “the flowers that come out of the painting represent the hope that – despite everything – people somehow maintain their hope for a better future”. His work is admirable for a practice that combines local situations with a global point of view, artistically, socially and politically. He gained international fame through his series of drawings titled “Moderate Lights”, which he created between 2006 and 2009 to highlight discrimination against religious people around the world in the aftermath of 9/11. The artist chooses to represent people in private moments such as playing sports, walking in the rain, resting under a tree or getting dressed. Marginalization is symbolized in the clothes of the subjects. His works challenge social prejudices and culture in Pakistan, where clashes continue between the contemporary and the traditional. The installation of Qureshi”Seemingly endless memory lane” and video titled “Breathing” form a unique synthesis of the formal language of contemporary motifs, abstract painting, traditional motifs and techniques, displayed together with drawings commissioned for the exhibition. Imran Qureshi has been exhibiting locally and internationally for nearly twenty-five years and he has made a great contribution to expanding the language of miniature painting and preserving history.

Shahzia Sikander

Pakistani-American artist Shahzia Sikander is internationally recognized for bringing the traditions of Indo-Persian manuscript painting into dialogue with the practice of contemporary art. She was born in Lahore, Pakistan and currently lives and works in New York. Sikander is one of the main representatives of contemporary miniature painting. She often incorporates traditional forms of Mughal (Islamic) and Rajput (Hindu) styles and culture, and uses this style as a starting point to level her current historical critique. Sikander also incorporated the techniques and forms of traditional miniature painting, relying on image layering and metaphor to drive his work. As with his miniature paintings, Sikander relies on the layering process to create digital animation. Its shapes and characters exhibit a quality of continuous morphing as transparent images are layered, providing complexity with endless shifts in perception. Sikander is one of his famous works “Parallax” is a three-channel installation made up of hundreds of digital animations. The book opens with a focus on the geostrategic importance of the Strait of Hormuz, through which forty percent of the Middle East’s oil passes, and continues, with the concepts of conflict and control as key themes. of a period ranging from the modern era to the postcolonial era. . The abstract, figurative, and textual flow that follows the animation adds complexity to the narrative. Six different poems were written in Arabic and are read for the work, embracing a variety of topics ranging from regional/historical events to human nature. Sikander argues that ethnic and racial identities are heterogeneous, not homogeneous, and that specifications like Arabic or Persian, differences in cultural, linguistic, and religious practices, and their heterogeneous and complex nature mask this. “The Scroll” 1992, is a semi-autobiographical manuscript painting in which Sikander included formal elements of historical miniature painting. This painting depicts scenes from contemporary Pakistani daily life, including rituals that explore cultural and geographical traditions. Many hues, patterns and incidents appear in “The Parchment”, identifying Sikander’s attention to small details, muted color palettes, and understanding of architectural elements align with the intimacies of domestic culture.

Sheikh Nilima

Nilima Sheikh is a visual artist based in Baroda, India. Sheikh first trained in Western-style oil painting and later moved to the miniature painting style drawing inspiration from Rajput and Mughal court painters. Sheikh has done extensive research on traditional art forms of India, especially traditional tempera paintings like Pichhwai and Thangka paintings. Nilima Sheikh’s works range from small paintings evoking Mughal and Rajput miniatures to vertical scrolls rooted in East Asian customs. Over her 50-year career, she has woven her concerns about femininity, tradition, violence, poetry and national politics into her work. She works in series and uses traditional materials, including tempra and wasli paper. “When Champa grew up” (1984) is his landmark series which describes the tragic life story of a woman murdered for her dowry by her in-laws. “The country without a post office: read Agha Shahid Ali »—a solo exhibition at Galerie Chemould in 2003 that takes its name from an anthology of Ali’s writings—Sheikh presented a visualization of poetics and politics. The artist’s citation of Ali’s poetry, which focused on the contemporary conflict in Kashmir, reflected the inherent conflicts between aesthetics and trauma. As in some of Sheikh’s earlier work, these paintings used the syntax of free verse, with compositional narratives developing not from linear descriptions but from the flexibility of independent, layered readings. Nilima Sheikh presents eight banners painted between 2003 and 2010 for a series “Every night put Kashmir in your dreams” focusing on both magical history and the controversial present of Kashmir. The resulting multi-faceted works, both masterful and spellbinding, recall the complex culture of the Kashmir valley, once described as heaven on earth. His artistic practice spanning over five decades includes works on paper, installations, large scrolls and screens, paintings, illustrations for children’s books and theater sets.


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