A new collection of miniature paintings by Waswo X Waswo and longtime collaborator and vernacular miniaturist, R Vijay opened in the capital this month, at Gallery Espace. The exhibition, titled Like a Leaf in Autumn, is the culmination of a decade long collaboration. Waswo - an American photographer, art curator, and poet, who has travelled the length and breadth of India for almost two decades and collaborated with a variety of local artists to showcase their traditional art forms through a modern lens with aesthetic refinement - first started working with the miniaturist Rakesh Vijay when he was looking for a traditional artist to embellish the borders of his poetry. Together Waswo and Vijay embarked on a collaborative journey wherein Waswo began conceptualising while Vijay wielded the paintbrush, executing beautiful contemporary miniatures. Both the composition and style of these paintings are reminiscent of art traditions like the Pichwai, Mughal miniature paintings and vernacular calendar art. The title Like a Leaf in Autumn is taken from the Turkish writer Orhan Pamuk’s acclaimed novel My Name is Red. To commemorate the exhibition, the gallery has also released a richly illustrated catalogue with an essay by renowned art historian and curator Annapurna Garimella.
Waswo and Vijay‘s celebrated flair is at its best in these lush colourful miniatures. Their vibrant palettes exhibit painstaking precision, some of them even having intricately wrought borders that reveal artistic proficiency par excellence. Not only do these miniatures carry with them a strong sense of colour miniatures, but they also convey dense narratives. They touch upon themes like the legacy of colonialism, loneliness, and the problem of refugees. For example, in The Dreams of an Orientalist, which is a series of ten minutely detailed compositions that deal with a world of dreams and memory. The recurrent motif of otherness and “whiteness” which is typical of the collaborative miniatures of Waswo and Vijay runs throughout. Waswo himself is the protagonist in many of these paintings - a suit, necktie and fedora clad man with his ubiquitous bottle of mineral water, peering out of vibrant backdrops of colourful flora, fauna, verdant forests, forts and temples. The man could be anyone-an observer capturing the nuances of the world surrounding him, a dreamer, a wanderer or a tourist. The bottle of mineral water is the symbol of the white man’s mistrust of most things Indian. In some paintings like Heaven was Always Below, Dreams of an Orientalist 14, 15, In the Garden of Archetypes - 1, It Never Works the Way You Think, Pastorale, The Refugee, The Tenderness of Nature, he is also seen as a red polka-dotted Bermuda shorts clad form.
These displays address several interwoven themes. Particularly noteworthy is the way in which - through powerful, alluring imagery - The Evil Orientalist, The Photowallah and The Observationist in a Stolen Garden come together in this exhibit and continue to speak differently to all who encounter these displays; to some, the motif that runs through these paintings is that of alienation, to others the artworks may bring home the protagonist’s western entitlement. To quote Waswo- “at this stage in my life, I find myself disconnected from the predominant political and philosophical ideologies of our time… I am in a no-man's-land of independent beliefs, struggling to find a path forward in the rapidly morphing reality of our times.”
On view from October 12 till November 11, this not-to-be-missed exhibit reflects a masterful blend of traditional art practice rooted in the human experience.
Text by Prachi Goyal