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SEPTEMBER 28-29, 2002 ART

A mingling of cultures
Arthur Poon meets Madhu Jain, the only Indian artist who paints Indian imagery with a Japanese technique.

Art's role in diplomacy is often cited; however, artists like Madhu Jain do more than just bridge different cultural traditions, they create new artisitic expressions - besides making interesting discoveries- in the process.

Recognised as the only Indian artist who paints Indian imagery in the Japanese technique of Nihonga, Jain explores and experiments with several mediums based on her belief that "new experiments often lend new vigour to the art of painting."

She derives inspiration from the traditional art of Nihonga -consisting of a palette of over 1,500 colors. Jain studied Nihonga and learned its complicated techniques with Japanese artists during the four years she lived in Japan while her husband was posted as Minister in the Embassy of India in Tokyo in 1994.

Nihonga involves the use of rock mineral pigments which are derived from shells, corals, semi precious stones and even gold and silver leaves. But whats interesting is that this technique originated in India centuries ago, before it travelled to the Far East and was adopted there, Jain explains. The rock pigments are believed to have originated from India as mineral pigments and vegetable dyes, and can be found in the ancient cave paintings of Ajanta and Ellora in India.

Jain took up the traditional Japanese techniques but adapted them in portraying Indian scenes, in a novel and so far, well received style. "Nihonga is an obsession for me, a unique challenge. It has brought me closer to my second love- nature," she says. Jain feels that the brilliance of the pigments is particularly effective in illuminating the bright colors of her home city- Rajasthan.

Jain's skills in merging two cultural traditions have brought India and Japan closer together, in the diplomatic sense. She was invited to organise an exhibition of paintings `Folk Expressions' in Japan last week on the occasion of India and Japan celebrating 50 years of their diplomatic relations.

Nihonga, she says has also been a way to bridge the differing cultures of Japan and India. " During my exhibition in Tokyo," Jain says, " when viewers appreciated my work, we sometimes engage in discussion about a particular subject I have painted. Very often, we discover that Indians and Japanese have a great common heritage and very many similar traditions. "

After its week-long debut in Tokyo early this month, Folk Expressions was moved to Singapore recently. Her exhibition here will feature a collection of colorful paintings on folk life, deserts, festivals of Rajasthan in the unique nihonga art.

Some of her prominent works include Camel and Dunes, Baby Elephants and Water Carrier in sumi-e technique, Royal palace, Night sky, Bamboos, Flowers, besides a range comprising camels, peacocks, fort and palace, donkeys in harness and bullock cart.

Jain's attempt to project Indian cultural heritage and traditions to the people of Japan, can now be appreciated by the Singapore audience, as it further enriches the melting pot of artisitc traditions and views here.

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