Piramal Museum of Art presents Before The Canvas

An exhibition showcasing painting traditions from in and around India that existed before the canvas.

PRESS PREVIEW | Tuesday, August 06, 2019 | (by invitation only)

EXHIBITION DATES | August 11 — 15 November, 2019

Monday, August 05, 2019: Look around you. Have you ever noticed how art may exist within the confinement of your own home? Images of deities as calendars, beautiful drapery on textile, carvings on antique wooden shelves, are all art. Much before the ‘canvas’ was made popular by colonial hybridisation, these materials are what artists from the Indian sub-continent used as the medium for their creative outlet. Piramal Museum of Art’s newest exhibition, Before The Canvas, is a look at the geographically and stylistically diverse works of art c. 16th to 18th century, tracing the traditional practice of making art on materials including paper, wood, cloth, mica and glass, amongst others.   

Originating in different geographical regions and eras, many of these painting traditions continue to thrive till date. However, the form and context of these paintings is significantly different, altered as they are by the art market, tourism, art college education and availability of raw materials. Before The Canvas attempts to give viewers an introduction to the form and evolution of a few of these key painting traditions.

Curated by Vaishnavi Ramanathan, Curator & Art Historian, Piramal Museum of Art, the exhibition will showcase distinctive traditions of painting including miniatures, Tanjore, and reverse glass before the usage of the ‘primed canvas’ became popular in the colonial era. “Art is created on different surfaces or supports, each of which gives a distinct quality to the image produced. These surfaces determine not just the finish of the work, but also several other factors such as its size, longevity, as well as price. Through the ‘Before the Canvas’ exhibition, we not only intend to introduce the viewer to the many media that was used by artists in our country before the influence of European styles of painting, but also show that art is in a constant state of evolution and one of the ways in which it evolved is in terms of materials. Since materials go hand in hand with ideas, this also shows how ideas about the purpose and audience of art shift through time. Art is a part of life and all of us have grown up with some form of art or the other, be it images of gods we had in our home or beautiful textiles. We hope that visitors can see some traditions that they’re already familiar with and some new, but that they resonate with them deeply,” says Ms. Ramanathan.

Before The Canvas is the second exhibition presented by Piramal Museum of Art in 2019, preceded by the hugely successful Making Art: Materials and Technology (co-curated by Ramanathan and Museum Director Ashvin Rajagopalan), dedicated to showing how materials play a key role in creating art and ideas. Like most of their previous exhibitions, the art on display is from the Piramal family’s personal collection which forms the Museum’s collection. Says Ashvin Rajagopalan, Director, Piramal Museum of Art on the theme behind the exhibition - “PMA’s primary mission is education through art. We have always strived to not just make our collection accessible but also present art to the public in a way constantly evolves their understanding. With ‘Before the Canvas,’ we hope that the way the exhibition is designed brings people a greater worldview on those materials that we often overlook in our surroundings. India has a great tradition of art which hasn’t borrowed from Western influences, and this exhibition intends to make people realise the richness of that tradition. We also hope that we are able to reach out to non-traditional Museum audiences who can take away knowledge that inspires them further.”

Piramal Museum of Art runs a year-round public outreach programme made up of curated events, workshops and panel discussions giving visitors the opportunity to delve into a range of art-making practices. We have a special line-up of such events running throughout the duration of Before the Canvas (from August to November 2019) as well.

As part of a larger art community, the museum will be hosting its first ever annual conference – Art Laws of India: Deconstructing Antiquities and Art Treasures Act, 1972 on August 9 and 10, 2019. The conference, which brings together a variety of stakeholders including art, culture, legal and policy professionals to discuss the modern implications of this law in contemporary practices. In addition to this year’s conference, our outreach is pro-active - focusing on school and college students - specially designed to cater to all levels of experience, and we hope to reach out to 30+ art organisations and educational institutions in the next three months. Besides catering to younger audiences, we regularly engage working professionals in the city for whom special events are being programmed.