It all started with a short trip to India in the summer of 2001 by some students from Jayasinhji Jhala to help out in the professor’s hometown following a major earthquake.
But not only did this turn into a full-fledged study abroad experience, but the effort also led to a unique exhibition of contemporary Indian miniature paintings from Jhalavad, India, “Painting Story of the Floating Desert,” on display at the Center for the Humanities. at the Temple (CAT) until April 30.
The exhibition is the result of a long-standing collaboration between Jhala, Temple anthropology students and private artists that has led to a new type of contemporary painting that marries digital techniques with traditional Indian styles.
“The paintings are the culmination of more than 10 years of sustained and often rigorous collaboration between my students,” said Jhala, associate professor of anthropology. “During this time, the project has of course had its ups and downs and has evolved in several directions, but I am grateful to see many pieces brought together in this exhibition.”
Jayasinhji Jhala, left, associate professor of anthropology, and John Infante, assistant curator of ‘Painting Story of the Floating Desert’, an exhibition of contemporary Indian miniature paintings.
“Delegation of the Nobles at the Halvad Pavilion”
Image of the Hall of Halvad Palace used to create the “Delegation of Nobles to Halvad Hall”. (Courtesy of Rhett Grumbkow)
From the exhibition of contemporary Indian miniatures, “Painting Story of the Floating Desert”.
In the 12 years since the departure of the first group of Temple students for the medieval desert city of Dhrangadhra in Gujarat, more than 120 students have attended Temple’s summer program in India. Each summer, 10-15 students pursue experiential independent study projects under Jhala’s supervision in fields ranging from performance art to jewelry making to public health, with several students returning and continuing each year. an ongoing project by Jhala: revealing the untold story of the Jhala warrior clan through visual representation.
As a visual anthropologist, Jhala’s work focuses on the production, distribution, reception, circulation and transformation of visual forms, both within and between communities and cultures. Indeed, Temple’s Department of Anthropology has long been known nationally and internationally for its specialization in visual communication. The university is home to one of the oldest visual anthropology programs in the country and is the only one to offer an anthropology of visual communication major for undergraduates.
Over the years, the ethnographic study of the Gujarat region conducted by Jhala and his students has included a number of documentary films. One summer, Temple student Rhett Grumbkow (CLA 2006) had an idea: instead of re-enacting battle scenes and other moments of historical significance, Grumbkow wanted to create paintings in a traditional miniature style to provide visual elements to his film, Talking stones and singing stones.
Miniature paintings are among the most complex aesthetic expressions in the history of visual arts worldwide. With a keen attention to detail and a tendency towards whimsy, this style of painting is often used to depict complex visual narratives referencing historical events.
Grumbkow and his research partner Katharine Mangels, a student of Tyler, set out to collect imagery to help authentically reconstruct historical and mythical events in paintings. They fused architectural photography with rich landscape imagery, then digitally populated the scenes with painted figures wearing turbans or colorful badges.
Jhala worked with artists from North India to delicately hand paint the sketches in the traditional Rajput/Mughal style. For contemporary artists, painting in an early miniature style was definitely stepping out of their comfort zone, Jhala said.
David Nalin, MD, one of the top five collectors of Indian art in the United States and a longtime friend of Jhala, introduced the exhibit at an opening reception. “The paintings borrow classic images and themes from local history, events, legends and myths and even the architecture of the region to reflect the history of the Jhala Royal Family from 1100 AD to the present day. “, did he declare. “Although contemporary, the paintings represent the recreation of a tradition that has declined.”
In total, over 60 paintings have been completed, although only about 15 are featured in the CHAT exhibition. Curator Annabelle Rodriguez, a graduate in anthropology at Temple, is working on plans to show the exhibit at other institutions across the country. According to Jhala, plans are also underway to develop a book or catalog of the paintings to document the images and the process.
For Grumbkow, the project was about broadening horizons.
“For me, the project was much more than an academic project,” he said. “It was about immersing myself in the past, learning to be a cultural mediator, dedicating myself to a subject and making lasting friendships.”