While the term ‘karkhana’ literally translates to ‘factory’ in Urdu or modern-day Hindi, its etymological lineage alludes to erstwhile Persia’s miniature-painting ateliers. Waswo’s book is not only an exploration of how he has continued the miniature painting tradition via working with various trained Rajasthani miniaturists, but also includes hand-painted photographs styled as staged portraiture, replete with whimsical props and botanical-patterned backdrops. As we read Waswo’s casual narrative text, we come to realise how he interweaves these two mediums into playful, irreverent visuals that include a cast of characters such as Ustad Mansur’s Zebra, Michelangelo’s David, Botticelli’s Venus, Caravaggio’s Bacchus, Abul Hassan’s Jahangir and Andy Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe.
With a foreword by curator and historian Giles Tillotson and an introduction by art historian Annapurna Garimella, the book documents the history and inner workings of Waswo’s intense and longstanding collaborative practice through a day-in-the-life style of anecdotal accounts. We are taken down tiny Udaipur lanes to secret workshops, as well as the photography studio Waswo uses in the outlying village of Varda. Karkhana highlights the work of miniature painters R. Vijay and Dalpat Jingar, as well as third-generation photo hand-colourist Rajesh Soni, and the master of gold borders, Shankar Kumawat. These artists, along with Waswo, weave imaginary visual narratives that blend traditional miniature-painting with digital photography. A “textual and visual memoir” — in the words of Waswo — the book combines the past with the present, and a self-eacing humour with existential angst.
Karkhana is available online through Mapin Publishing and Amazon and in New Delhi at Gallery Espace and also Latitude 28.
“...Possible Udaipur mornings are !lled with enchantment, work, sadness, and sometimes anger. The Karkhana is a geographically extended place of work and, as I often say, “If work was fun, they’d call it play”. We are artists, careful craftsmen, providers, caregivers, and most of all, human beings...The team has worked together, partied together, sometimes struggled, sometimes fought, but always, in the end, remained friends and co-workers. We were never a collective. We are a team... Crediting others has always been imperative. Consider this a textual and visual memoir. This is my story, and this
is our story, at least as seen through my eyes, and remembered by me.”
“...This time, as we park the jeep and ascend the stairs, I am a bit nervous about what Rakesh has begun to paint. The job we’ve given him takes him out of his comfort zone. I have come to know his comfort zone very well. He likes the Blue Series as the ideas are symbolic and dreamlike, and they give him a chance to show o his skills at painting moody skies and water...But removing him from his comfort zone, a thing I feel is my job to do, can cause strange results. Yet progress is made only by pushing beyond what one is used to.”
“...Somewhere, past those mountains, lies my apartment. When full darkness comes, a pale aura emanates from the lights of the distant city. Everyone is enjoying their food, or has finished it, and the conversations are now entirely in Mewari. I’m left alone, with a fourth gin and tonic, happily pung my beedi, and realising how lucky I am to be in this place, at this time, with these friends.”