Here is an opportunity for Bay Area residents to drop everything and head to Rajasthan, the western Indian state, known for its splendor and inimitable valor. The good news is that you won’t need to go too far to experience this land immortalized for centuries through its musical, artistic, and architectural traditions. Beginning Feb. 2, the Asian Art Museum of San Francisco presents, Princes, Palaces, and Passion: The Art of the Mewar Kingdom, a collection of artwork from the kingdom of Mewar, located in northwestern Rajasthan. Even today, the cities of Chittaur and Udaipur (which were the capital cities of the kingdom of Mewar), are popular tourist spots in India. Surrounded by hills, and dotted with exquisite palaces and forts, the nooks and crannies of these cities tell stories of undying love, and of valiant battles fought by Rajput kings Maharana Pratap and Rana Sanga. The 75 pieces of artwork, spanning from early 16th through early 20th century, were carefully selected from private and museum collections and took the curator Joanna Williams eight years to turn into a single collection on display at the Asian Art Museum. The exhibition includes works commissioned by royalty as well as art patronized by the common person. Of the numerous Mewari artists represented, Bhakta (actively painted 1760-1810), and his son Chokha (actively painted 1799-1824) have been highlighted. This father-son duo’s work has previously been fairly unknown, and can be viewed probably for the first time in this collection. Williams, who is faculty in Art History and South and Southeast Asian Studies at UC Berkeley, first visited India in 1961 and went back in the 1980s to further explore the Mewar region. She talks about her instant attraction to the work she saw there. “I had seen paintings from the Thikana of Devgarh, and found them to be smashing, especially the works of Bhakta and Chokha. I felt that the world needed to see them as well.” Through her diligence was born Princes, Palaces, and Passion: The Art of the Mewar Kingdom, which surprisingly has pieces of Mewari art only from collections outside India, primarily from Australia, Great Britain, and the United States. The collection also includes well-known artists like Nasirudin and Sahibdin whose work predates that of Bhakta and Chokha. Nasirudin’s paintings form an important body of work in the Indian miniature painting tradition, namely the Ragamala paintings that are based on ragas, the soul of Indian classical music. These paintings depict the mood evoked by a raga, rather delightfully linking visual art with the musical. Nasirudin’s famous work, Asavari Ragini (painted 1605) can be seen in this collection. Paintings based on the Ramayana and themes related to Radha and Krishna are also an integral part of Rajasthani artistic traditions. Sahibdin’s work represents those themes here.
Most works depict courtly life with royal portraits, hunts, battles, passionate love, and other princely activities in their all-encompassing color, wealth, and richness. Maharana Jagat Singh and companions hunting boar at Khas Odi painted by Bhakta, and “Lovers on a terrace” probably painted by Chokha, are some of the works that embody the themes of royal life. The monarchs are shown larger in scale than the rest of the nobles, exemplifying their superior status. The love scenes are sensual and accurately evoke the mood of love or sringara rasa. The Mewari school of painting was actively supported by the royals who expected the artists to document activities of the kings. Supplementing the royal art are numerous works of village and popular art such as terracotta devotional panels, a miniature shrine, scroll paintings, phads, and picchwais. Phads are colorful cloth paintings depicting heroic tales of gallant Rajputs. These cloth paintings are generally bought by a traveling storyteller known as a Bhopa who performs the stories at various community events. Picchwais are cloth hangings traditionally created for private temples or shrines found in homes. The central image in these paintings is that of Sri Nathji, a special representation of Lord Krishna, a favorite deity of many. In the picchwai featured in this exhibition, Sri Nathji is shown effortlessly balancing Mount Govardhana on a finger, protecting the villagers surrounded by gopis or cow-belles. Other events related to the life of Krishna are painted around this central image. A comprehensive catalog of the collection called “Kingdom of the Sun: Indian Court and Village Art from the Princely State of Mewar,” has been prepared by curator Williams, and will be available for purchase. This is the first major exhibition of its kind focusing on Indian art sponsored by the Asian Art Museum in the last 10 years. And, it is worth several visits given the number of events that have been planned to augment the treasure trove of art on display.—SMITA GARG Feb 2–April 29. “Princes, Palaces, and Passion: The Art of India’s Mewar Kingdom”, Asian Art Museum, 200 Larkin St., San Francisco. 10 a.m.-5 p.m. Tuesday-Sunday, with Thursdays open from 10 a.m.-9 p.m. Closed Mondays, major holidays, and for Civic Center Events (call for details). $12, $8 seniors with I.D., $7 college students and children 13-17, free for members, SFUSD students, children under 12. $5 admission on Thursdays after 5 p.m. Target Tuesdays—free admission on first Tuesdays. Related events: Saturday, Feb. 3, 1-4 p.m. Handmade Houses. Hands-on activity with architect Peter Engel evoking the traditions of the Indian desert’s handmade houses. For children and their families. Thursday, March 15, 12-4 p.m. Demonstration of Indian miniature painting by Anita Chowdhry. March 15–April 1. North Ct., Free with admission. Thursday, April 5, 11 a.m.-2 p.m. Artist Kalyan Joshi, will demonstrate the art of painting the storycloths (phad); 2:30 p.m. Performance storytelling art of Mohan Bhopa and Patasi from Rajasthan. Tuesday–Sunday; April 5-15 except Monday, April 9. Free with admission. Thursday, April 12, 7 p.m. Learn about the performance storytelling from Mewar, Rajasthan in this lecture and demonstration by visiting artists Mohan Bhopa, Patasi Bhopi, and Kalyan Joshi. Talk by scholar Joseph C. Miller about the phad, and their ritual functions as both icon and narrative. Samsung Hall. Free with admission. (415) 581-3500, http://www.asianart.org