Remoulding Traditional Art - Princess Vaishnavi Kumari

A fiesty soul, a​ true blue art historian, a custodian with commitment and a princess of one of Rajasthan’s most respected kingdom of Kishangarh, Princess  Vaishnavi Kumari talks with You & I in a free-wheeling interview that goes from art and restoration to being the mother of a two-year-old son, which she insists is her most fulfilling job thus far.

With an infectious smile and the sweetest glint, she wins over your heart before you can even get to admire her creative brilliance. It is hard to imagine a combination of grace, creativity, and intellect, but all doubts are put to rest the moment you meet her. Princess Vaishnavi Kumari of Kishangarh welcomes you into her world with inherited dignity, letting you discover her many cameos: that of a loved princess, noted curator, devoted wife, and a concerned patron.

“It is my aim to nurture the patron-artist relationship that has so deeply influenced the history of art in our nation,” she says. Born to the 20th Maharaja Sahib of Kishangarh, His Highness Maharaja Brajraj Singh and Her Highness Maharani Meenakshi Devi, Princess Vaishnavi Kumari is a perfect example of a woman who can cherish values and beauty of the past as she lives the modern life. Born in a family that has historically patronised a very evolved school of miniature art, she lost her heart to art at a very nascent age. “Stories about our ancestors always revolved around them being extremely passionate towards various art forms; be it poetry, dance, music, and of course, fine art.”

One of the greatest examples of this was the patron- artist relationship between Nihal Chand, master artist and Raja Sawant Singh (c.1748-1764), which in a brief span of 30 odd years added a completely new dimension of art to Kishangarh’s history and even established an atelier. It was his patronage which culminated in India’s most celebrated paintings, the ‘Radha’ being the most iconic today.

Enwrapped in tales of such artistic glory from her childhood, Vaishnavi was quick to identify herself on an artistic pursuit of happiness. After finishing her primary schooling at the Sri Ram School in New Delhi and Mayo School for Girls, Ajmer, she went on to study Product Design at the National Institute of Fashion Technology (NIFT). Her journey then led her to London, the prestigious British Museum. Not surprisingly, it wasn’t long before she was offered a position in the antiquities Department at the Osians Auction House, pulling her to the capital.

The older of two sisters, Vaishnavi got married to Kumar Saaheb Padmanabh Jadeja of Gondol and is now a mother of a gorgeous son who keeps this good looking couple on their toes. Globe trotters, Padmanabh and Vaishnavi’s life is divided between the two towns of Kishangarh and Gondol. It is in her parent’s palace that she works closely with a few surviving practitioners of miniature art. “The studio is located within Phool Mahal Palace situated at the foot of the Kishangarh fort surrounded by the lake. It is such a pristine environment to paint in.”

“Unfortunately, the recent past has seen a decline in the quality of miniature art coupled with a lack of imagination and tendency to mass-produce copied works of art for the expert market. My underlying motivation in pursuing art history and design was always to identify the ways in which I could nurture it in my capacity as a patron in Kishangarh and preserve our artisans from the malady of stagnation and lack of inspiration,” she explains. Hence, Studio Kishangarh- a remarkable school of Miniature art she founded in 2010 imbibes the notion of remoulding traditional art in a contemporary design language as a means to preserve its uniqueness in the modern world.

Through the studio, she doesn’t just provide employment to the local artisans, many of whom have followed this art form for generations, but she also strives to take the craft forward interpreting it in a modern idiom.

She is constantly exploring Indian mythology and the influence of Radha Krishna in bhakti as well as diversifying into new product areas to reinvent miniature art. A stellar example of this is the unique way in which she transcends the iconic pichwai cow from the traditional crowded and intricately-finished paintings to single subject paintings that give the work a zany, contemporary twist.
Art has to mirror society. It has to blend seamlessly into your lifestyle and Vaishnavi achieves this by creating a perfect amalgam of traditional techniques and modern colours, placement, and art forms. Creating mugs, cushions, trays, table knick-knacks etc., she reinterprets watercolours, inlay work, and oil on canvas in very funky new vocabulary. “It is this old into new technique that is the strongest statement of Kishangarh studio.” And also the most engaging aspect of this young princess’ life.      – Anshu Khanna