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Heritage Sikh Art Is Gaining Ground At Global Auctions

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1947-2014 (Archived)
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Jun 17, 2004
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Sikh art is now gaining ground at global auctions

By Shona Adhikari

http://www.mydigitalfc.com/op-ed/sikh-art-now-gaining-ground-global-auctions-653

In one of its most recent art auctions, Christie’s had in its Asian Art section, included a large number of artworks categorised as ‘Sikh Art’. This essentially referred to art generated during colonial times and earlier. There have been a number of auctions over the past three or four years by leading international and Indian auction houses who successfully featured and sold artworks in wash, tempera, pen and ink as well as numerous valuable artefacts and daggers.

Christie’s started taking an interest in ‘Sikh Art’ from last year when it auctioned five art pieces in April and a collection of paintings in October 2012; then again in April this year some artefacts went under the hammer. Last month’s exhibition had 10 interesting artworks, including a splendid painting on ivory of the Golden Temple, enclosed in a gold frame.

Bonham’s has also shown great interest in promoting Sikh artworks. This became apparent when number of such works were included in their auction of Islamic and Indian Art, held in June last year. Earlier, at the Chester Sale in February 2011, Bonhams had sold a splendid painting dating back to the 1800s, around the time of the East India Company. Also in January 2011, another rare painting — a view of the Golden Temple at Amritsar — went on sale.

In recent times, there has also been a move to categorise contemporary artists from the Punjab belt under the Sikh Art umbrella. So it now covers Sikh pianters such as Arpita Singh, her husband Paramjeet Singh and the ever popular Manjit Bawa. Arpita’s mural titled Wish Dream, fetched Rs 9.6 crore ($2.24 million) at a Saffronart online auction, making her the world’s top-selling woman artist. When asked about the central figure of a middle-aged woman in her mural, Arpita is reported as having said, “Glamorous women with hour-glass shapes are for film and television. I paint real women.” The mural, painted in oils on canvas in 2000-2001, consisted of 16 canvases clubbed together to create a mural 287 x 159 inches in size.

In September 2008, Manjit Bawa's untitled work sold for $362,500 at a Christie's auction in New York. At the time, the artist was in coma and remained so for three months — unaware of the sale of this particular painting and the many other sales of his works. Two years later in September 2010, again at Christie’s South Asian Modern and Contemporary Art auction in New York, Bawa’s beautiful painting Durga, possibly due to a drop in the general drop in art prices, achieved a slightly lower price, selling for $3,14,000.

We have all read about the royal jewels worn by the royalty of Punjab, that seem to be seen off and on under the auctioner’s hammer in the past. It is hoped that along with jewellery and the other rare artefacts that are periodically up for sale at international auctions, rare paintings of earlier times as well as the works by artists such as Manjit Bawa and Arpita Singh, will somehow find their way back to India some time in the future.

(Our columnist, Jhupu Adhikari, who had been with us since the inception of Financial Chronicle, passed away last month. His wife, Shona, also an art critic, will now continue from where he left off.)
 

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