LACMA Presents a Breathtakingly Amazing Exhibition
(December 12, 2010 - February 27, 2011 in Los Angeles, California) Artistic visions of a past once so rich has now become distant, and the works representing one of the greatest regions and eras once hailed is now overlooked--and perhaps forgotten--by many. More than two centuries after the visual culture of Awadh reached the pinnacle of artistic fortitude--with its myriad of architectural designs, elaborately crafted traditional courtly paintings, meticulously enamored decorative arts, and ornate textiles--the Los Angeles County Museum of Art has brought many of these works to the public eye with its exhibition of "India’s Fabled City: The Art of Courtly Lucknow."
On view from December 12th through February 27th, "India’s Fabled City: The Art of Courtly Lucknow" is the first-ever of its kind. Never has a major international exhibition devoted itself to presenting the vastly rich yet uniquely cosmopolitan culture of Lucknow’s court and the city’s multiethnic residents and artists.
With nearly 200 works on display, "The Art of Courtly Lucknow" includes artworks; European oil paintings, watercolors and prints; Indian opaque textiles; garments; and various decorative art objects ranging from metalwork and glassware to weaponry and jewelry.
“Lucknow was the nexus point for one of the great dramas of history,” LACMA’s curator of South and Southeast Asian Art and department head Stephen Markel said. “Not only were starkly diverse cultures competing with immense riches and political domination at stake, but the dynamic lead characters and brilliant aesthetic achievements all made for a deeply poignant era and vital artistic legacy.”
Many of these aesthetic achievements were vividly on display here at the Art of the Americas wing of LACMA, where "The Art of Courtly Lucknow" examines the height of the Mughal Empire in the northern Indian state of present-day Uttar Pradesh, where Lucknow--and one of India’s most prominent dynasties--called home.
Once the provincial capital of Awadh (a territory within the Mughal Empire), Lucknow is home to many artistic and cultural artifacts defining a region, an era, and a people. The city itself was considered the cultural center of northern India--a title that helped it overshadow the dynastic capital city of Delhi from the mid-eighteenth century until the British established itself as colonial rulers of the India in 1858.
In fact, according to scholarly research, Lucknow was the ultimate destination for Indian artists, poets, and courtiers, as well as European artists, travelers, and political agents. Amongst Lucknow’s most prominent draws included its wealth, opulence, nawabs (leaders), and overall geographic beauty.
“An extraordinarily sophisticated and ethnically diverse community flourished in the Awadhi capitals of Faizalbad and Lucknow during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The region’s cosmopolitan culture and its complex political, social, and cultural histories … prevent any easy or simplistic approach to the presentation of its arts,” the exhibition’s associate curator, Tushara Bindu Gude, said.
“In order to do justices to these complexities, as well as present the visual material in a manner that is at once comprehensible to a general audience of value to a scholarly one, and of interest to both, the exhibition is organized along several intersecting narrative lines that allow for a consideration of stylistic developments in Awadh’s arts.”
It is the hope of both Mr. Markel and Ms. Gude to capture the essence of these arts, all while attempting to shed light on a city which, even today, possesses an ambiguous history in the annals of Indian popular culture and scholarly folklore. Accordingly, the exhibition intends to evoke “nostalgia for a lost past but is also presented as a source of national and cultural pride.”
Much of that lost past will be on view at LACMA for the next few weeks, as The Art of Courtly Lucknow is presented in 12 distinct sections arranged within 10 galleries.
Each of the sections are organized chronologically and thematically. Among the galleries are:
- The Emergence of a Sovereign State
- The Rulers of Awadh: Patrons and Kings
- The Allure of Faizalbad and Lucknow
- Religious Architecture at Lucknow
- Courtly Opulence
- Cosmopolitan Culture of Lucknow
- European Collectors of Indian Painting
- European Memories of Lucknow
- Artistic Production after the Great Uprising
- Courtesans and Courtly Culture
The exhibition also features a few corollary programs, including a lecture about courtesans and a film screening of The Chess Players on December 11th, another lecture and film screening (Chaudhvin Ka Chand) on January 22nd, followed by a Kathak performance on January 30th, an Urdu poetry reading on February 17th, and a concert featuring Pandit Swapan Chaduri on February 24th.
Docent-led public tours are also offered on Mondays at 2:00 p.m. and Thursdays at 3:00 p.m.; the tours begin on December 20th and run at the aforementioned days and times through the end of the exhibition.
A breathtakingly amazing exhibition, "The Art of Courtly Lucknow" “will not only present the unique artistic traditions of Lucknow, but will also provide a framework for understanding the history of this extraordinary region and the nature of India’s colonial history and memory.”