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For an average Indian, an understanding of miniatures rarely goes beyond the traditional Mughal and Rajasthani miniature paintings. The Harmony Art Show 2011, a brainchild of art aficionado Tina Ambani, however, interprets miniatures through the works of contemporary artists, stressing the idea that miniatures can mean many different things. It may be a work created with intricate "miniatured" detailing; it may refer to the size of the subject in the painting (the subject would be restricted to a specific, and, relatively, smaller size); and it may, of course, refer to the size of the painting itself.
Under that definition, even a Florentine Renaissance painter like Sandro Botticelli can qualify as a miniaturist. Which is why artist T Venkanna has adapted Botticelli's masterpiece Birth of Venus to the present day by painting the goddess Venus as a dark-skinned woman. It's an attempt, he says, to comment on racism. "I wanted to represent beauty in a contemporary manner," explains the Baroda-based artist, "This work focuses on the inner aspect of beauty, rather than appearance."
Looking at the traditional miniature through contemporary eyes and drawing inspiration from it is what the Harmony Art Show, being held in Mumbai, seeks to do. "The show explores how inspiration is drawn from the past, integrated, internalised and then externalised by the painters of today," says BN Goswamy, a distinguished art historian.
The show opened at Coomaraswamy Hall, Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj Vastu Sangrahalaya, on August 6, and will continue till August 14.
Called "Fabular Bodies: New Narratives in the Art of the Miniature", this year's exhibition focuses on how the art form has moved into the present day through the works of contemporary artists, who have drawn inspiration from traditional miniatures. For instance, there are sculptures that use materials such as staple pins and ball bearings to comment on urban life today.