Arts and Culture
This paper explores some neo-traditionalist paintings from Nathdwara, a pilgrimage town located in Rajasthan, which witnessed considerable artistic development in the period between the 1880s and the independence of India. This study will concentrate on a selection of portraits displaying a significant degree of appropriation and subversion of photographic conventions. This transculturation will be regarded as a local response to colonial black-and-white photography.
These paintings emerged from the encounter of krishnaite vernacular audiences’ taste and traditional Nathdwara artists’ interest in exploring modern visual strategies and technologies. The portraits are characterized by a photo-realistic treatment of the sitter’s face combined with the backgrounds of traditional miniature painting. While the heavy shading for the portrayal of the sitters provided them with a tangible corporeal aura, their location in an idyllic landscape positioned them in a transcendental domain. This visual combination, utilized in a great number of paintings, displays a selective adoption of photographic elements, which is characterized by a resistance against the indexical quality of photography in favor of older pictorial conventions.
This study will challenge some established notions and definitions of Indian painting and photography which have been shaped and canonized by Western art history criteria of evaluation and selection. This inquiry will also reveal that Nathdwara visual arts, even though marginalized by current art history debates, were not isolated from global concerns and nationalist aspirations. Instead, we must consider some of its visual strategies as a vernacular response to shifting cultural and artistic climates.