If you haven’t heard, Indian Pichvai or Pichwai paintings are making a comeback! These ancient paintings on fabric are growing in popularity with new contemporary interpretations emerging. To celebrate the revival of the heritage art from India, 7 Stories group have curated a free art exhibition in Singapore. Pichvai Tradition and Beyond showcases the glamour and beauty of Indian paintings on fabric. Proceeds will be donated to charities in Singapore and elsehwere in Asia.
Behind the global movement to give Pichvai life again is cultural and heritage activist Pooja Singhal. We asked Pooja and the 7 Stories team what we can expect from the touring exhibition, which is stopping in Singapore before it heads to London.
What is Pichvai art?
A Pichvai is a luxuriously detailed hand-painted textile, traditionally hung behind the idol of Shrinathji, an incarnation of Lord Krishna. This deceptively simple painting style hides layers of spiritual significance, symbolism and varied visual imagery. These artworks from India depict the many seasons and moods of Lord Krishna.
What are some highlights of the art exhibition in Singapore?
The exhibition traces the journey from 400-year-old art from India to reinterpretations today. Pichvai Tradition and Beyond walks you through various stages of Pichvais, highlighting techniques, materials and practices from the past and the modern day.
Visitors can expect to see the best of the traditional works in all their elaborate glory, as well as contemporary interpretations. The colourful paintings feature multiple events, festivals, adornments and offerings all on one large piece of cloth.
The highlight of the exhibition in Singapore is a 400-year-old architectural map. The painting provides an aerial view of a temple with elements depicted in two- and three-dimensional forms. Atelier Tradition & Beyond has reworked and reinterpreted this composition in various ways. The result gives new meaning to this ancient Indian art.
Other temple maps use cloth and paper mediums to present varying sized Pichvais of Shrinathji’s haveli and visual representations of the town of Nathdwar. The haveli comprises a maze of streets and architecture. This genre is widely popular among devotees as these Indian paintings on fabric recreate the experience of Shrinathji’s darshan. It’s believed among the devotees of the Pushtimarg sect that the viewer can experience parikrama from these haveli Pichvais. Parikrama is a holy circumambulation of a sacred spot by a darshan.
Introduced in the 18th century, painted lotus Pichvais are typically displayed during the summer months to create a gentle and cool atmosphere in the sanctum of the idol. The repetitive use of lotus motifs on these Pichvais creates the illusion of expansive lotus ponds. Linking to the banks of the river Yamuna, where a young Krishna spent much of his time, these Pichvais aim is to evoke emotions connecting devotees to the idol, which is one of the highest spiritual pursuits of the sect.
What makes Pichvai a unique and interesting art style?
The subject of this traditional temple art from India is very specific, depicting stories from the life of Krishna. However, the most distinctive part of a pichvai is the riot of colours and bright elements that create a beautiful artwork.
The Indian artworks are painted on cotton or cotton silk cloth and lined with a starch paste. This provides a base for the artists to use stone colours ground with a mortar and pestle. The artists also generously use gold and silver in each work, usually to adorn lord Krishna.
The beauty of Pichvai comes from the way the stone colours react with the cotton silk cloth. In addition, artists use squirrel-hair brushes to create a final outline, detailing every small story, form and figure. The use of gold in the headgear of the idol along with the tiny dots that the artists use for the elaborate jewels, also gives Pichvai paintings a unique look and feel.
How are Pichvai artworks appealing to contemporary audiences?
Over the past few years, Pooja Singhal has created an initiative reimagining and reworking the layered historical styles of Pichvai. Her Tradition and Beyond studio atelier provides new Pichvai formats and themes suited to a wider audience. This has led to a whole new body of works called Grayscale, reimagining colourful Pichvai paintings in a black and white photograph style. She has also inspired the creation of decorative miniature paintings, where artists have painted large eight-foot Pichvais on small papers. The result brings an intensity and scale more fitting in today’s times, and showcased in this art exhibition in Singapore.
Unencumbered by the weight of tradition, this creates supremely skilled painters that keep Pichvai alive by merging traditional techniques with contemporary application and also ingenuity.
Pichvai Tradition and Beyond in collaboration with 7 Stories will be at the Art Porters Gallery in Singapore from 16 to 19 March 2023. Entry to the exhibition in Singapore is free.
For more details about Pichvai Tradition and Beyond, visit the exhibition website.