Professor Murad Mumtaz teaches the art of miniature painting – The Williams Record

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On March 11, Curator of Academic Programs at Mellon, Elizabeth Gallerani, Art History graduate student Amber Orosco, and artist and adjunct art professor Murad Khan Mumtaz hosted an event titled “Practice & Process in Indian Drawing”, during which participants were able to take a deeper dive into Indian art and, more specifically, Indian miniature painting.

Mumtaz started the workshop with an introduction to Tasvir Khana. (Kevin Weng/The Williams Disc)

The workshop began with a brief introduction to Tasvir Khana, a Persian term referring to the workplace in which Indian miniature paintings are created, and its significance to the past and contemporary artistic sphere in India. When discussing the medium, Mumtaz emphasized the importance of contours and learning to create “careful, controlled and refined lines”. After all, as Mumtaz explained, “if you look at a traditional Indian painting, everything is tied together or contained within a beautiful outline.”

Once the outline is created, the paint is applied. Most of the materials used to create the paintings are organic; for example, the paints used are often natural pigments bound with gum arabic or animal bone glue, often placed in shells as a support, and associated with squirrel tail brushes.

According to Mumtaz, a squirrel tail brush is used for the main detail work because it has a “perfect point at the tip, and yet it is thick on the bottom so it can absorb a lot of pigment and dab.” ‘water… [meaning] you can make it work for a long time while creating an extremely detailed and refined line. However, working with such brushes “can take months and months to get used to”, and Mumtaz recommended a sharpened 4-H or 5-H pencil on paper as a way to learn and practice the techniques.

Mumtaz shows the stages and the progressive construction of a floral study. (Kevin Weng/The Williams Disc)

To give a visual insight into the intricacies of Indian miniature painting, participants were also able to observe two drawings: A large flower with pink flowers and Raja with guide, both from the collection of Indian art at the Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA). After brief introductions to Gallerani’s parts, Orosco also mentioned the use of technological software known as Reflectance transformation imaging, which allows viewers to manipulate the light and shape of a subject’s surface. Orosco demonstrated this application on the previous illustration, which helped “isolate the linear qualities of the paint” and added depth to make the two-dimensional surface appear three-dimensional.

To give a visual insight into the intricacies of Indian miniature painting, participants were also able to observe two drawings: A large flower with pink flowers and Raja with guide, both from the collection of Indian art at the Williams College Museum of Art (WCMA). After brief introductions to Gallerani’s parts, Orosco also mentioned the use of technological software known as Reflectance transformation imaging, which allows viewers to manipulate the light and shape of a subject’s surface. Orosco demonstrated this application on the previous illustration, which helped “isolate the linear qualities of the paint” and added depth to make the two-dimensional surface appear three-dimensional.

Throughout the workshop, Mumtaz gradually introduced and developed the concepts present in miniature painting. “Indian painting uses multiple perspectives…in which you show the most important thing, the most clearly,” Mumtaz explained. “It’s about showing [what] is necessary to the story and not to follow the accidentality of nature because it is only an illusion created by our eyes.

Asked about the potential problem of cultural appropriation, Mumtaz said the art of miniature painting has always been accessible and open. “I would say none because it’s a practice that has always been open to learning from other traditions,” he said. “It is a practice that has never been hermetically sealed, which is why it is still a living, breathing contemporary practice today.”

“This practice has always been about take and give,” he continued. “Everyone should and can experience this [or] use it in their own practices, knowing that it has always been an artistic practice that has turned to global networks.

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