Becoming a Deccani Artist: Tracing the History of Hyderabad School of Arts and Crafts

The aim of the Central School of Art and Crafts (now Jawaharlal Nehru Architecture and Fine Arts University), established in Hyderabad in 1940, was to address the issue of unemployment by engaging in Deccani art and culture. .

This piece is part of TNM’s Deccan series presented in collaboration with the Khidki Collective, a collection of eight essays that will examine what it means to belong to the Deccan, which does not exist as a state or administrative entity, but still defines the people and communities, how they live, what is their policy.

In the 1930s and 1940s, educational debates across India focused on designing technical and vocational training geared towards employment and industry. In this context, Hyderabad has nurtured a second objective – that of preserving and promoting its artistic heritage, from ancient monuments to contemporary craftsmanship. In 1940, the Central School of Art and Crafts (now Jawaharlal Nehru Architecture and Fine Arts University) was established in Hyderabad. This school shared Pan-Indian concerns about employment after education, but wanted students to learn from ancient and existing examples of Deccani art and crafts. The aim of the school was to address the issue of unemployment by engaging in Deccani art and culture. This essay is an attempt to reflect on this approach and the nature of the regional consciousness thus generated by focusing on the works of art produced by the students of the school.

In his convening speech at the University of Punjab in 1925, Nawab Akbar Hydari proposed the establishment of an art school near the ancient Deccan caves of Ajanta so that students could study and learn from his sculptures and paintings. . (Prior to the formation of linguistic states in 1956, the Ajanta Caves were located in the Hyderabad-Deccan state of Nizam). Although this particular proposal could not materialize, it was during Hydari’s service as Prime Minister of the Nizam government that the School of Arts and Crafts was founded. Unsurprisingly, Ajanta Caves made a strong impression on their presence in developing the curriculum and planning the school’s educational activities.

The program was structured so that students referred to and copied from ancient and medieval paintings, sculptures, and architectural motifs from the Deccan, to complement their art history lessons. One of the many things these exercises offered students was a way to visualize the myths, stories, and glories of the region’s past in their paintings. On the other hand, training in different craft skills, such as weaving Paithani, Himroo and Mashroo brocades and edging, durries and Warangal rugs meant a continuation of Deccani textile traditions, while allowing for self-employment or in joining the industry as modern trained artisans. . The school’s educational ecology can be discerned from the following examples of painting that its first group of students produced, printed in black and white in the Hyderabad Information bulletin in March 1944 (held in the State Archives of Telangana, Hyderabad).

Anonymous student, Old Goshamahal Houz, ladies of the royal family in pleasure boats

The table above shows the ladies of the royal court in pleasure boats at Goshamahal Houz. Goshamahal (gosha means veil) in Hyderabad was a large palace complex with a baradari (a building or pavilion with 12 arched openings for the free flow of air) at one end and a 12-foot-deep houz (large reservoir water) at the center end. The palace had a thousand rooms, built as a secluded place for royal women during the reigns of Sultan Abdullah Qutb Shah (1626-1672) and Abul Hasan Tana Shah (1672-1686). But by the end of the 19th century, the palace and the houz had completely disintegrated, leaving the baradari alone. In 1872, the Nizam VI, Mahboob Ali Khan (1869-1911), gave the existing structures of the palace to the Freemasons of Hyderabad and Secunderabad to organize their meetings and congregations.

So the 1940s student must have imagined this painting from his studies of medieval miniature Deccani, Asaf Jahi architecture, and contemporary costumes worn by women. A sense of nostalgia is apparent in the theme of this painting. While nostalgia was one of the dimensions linked to Hyderabad’s past, the other more remarkable engagement is reflected in the column titled “Ancient and Modern Hyderabad” in Hyderabad Information.

He published the stories of pre-modern archaeological structures and modern buildings of Asaf Jahi noting their importance. It could be the famous Charminar or obscure Jam Singh temple in the city of Hyderabad or the Osmania hospital built in Turkish-Egyptian design in 1926. Thus, the framework of Deccani cultural consciousness that evolved through the Modernization of Hyderabad at the beginning of the 20th century also informed the educational exercises in the school.

It may be useful to compare this approach schematically with the most important revivalist art movement in India, the Bengal School of Painting, to reflect on their differences. In the twentieth century, artists of the Bengal school refer specifically to pre-modern and pre-colonial sources of Indian painting. It was based on the formation of a language of painting imbued with spiritual experience, unlike the materialistic attitudes of Western painting. This instrumental approach to pre-modern art was motivated by the specific political challenges of the other British colonial.

But in the case of Hyderabad, the British presence did not assume the position of “another politician”. Thus, the artists as well as the school’s artistic pedagogy generously referenced, copied and interpreted a range of art forms, as well as Deccan stories and myths without being either revivalists or anti-colonial nationalists.

Anonymous student, Bhagmati’s first meeting with her royal lover

Bhagmati’s first meeting with his royal lover was yet another work of the imagination, based on the most popular Deccani legend of the love between a Hindu Bhagmati and the Muslim prince Quli Qutb Shah, the founder of the city of Hyderabad. In its popular form, the legend contained various adventures, such as their crossing of class and community barriers – Quli’s crossing of the Musi River to meet her lover, facing its dangerous currents. The painting shows the meeting of Quli and Bhagmati as a chance encounter, indicating the seemingly mystical beginnings of a love story.

Students at the school copied this painting repeatedly in the same format for several decades, even after independence. It shows the continuity of certain educational exercises at school where Deccan’s ideas jostled with new forms of citizenship and political identity.

At the start of the 20th century in Hyderabad, unlike British India, a specific configuration of culture took place through a process of modernization that did not involve anti-colonial nationalism. However, concepts of identity and belonging such as “Deccani” or “mulki” not only shaped the space of political representation, but also impressed the establishment of cultural and educational institutions in the State of. ‘Hyderabad. These ideas made the production and consumption of arts, crafts and industrial goods with a certain regional awareness. Remarkably, this awareness was not only ideological, but was clearly reflected in the actual material skills of making arts and crafts.

The tray presented to Prince Moazzam Jah Bahadur

The above tray was presented to Prince Moazzam Jah Bahadur during the inauguration of the first art exhibition organized by the school. The board displays the collaboration between art and craft students. It depicts the female figures framed in architectural columns which have been skillfully copied from Ajanta’s painting. The Ajanta caves, his paintings and sculptures to which students regularly referred became an important source of inspiration.

Through such artistic training, the institutional and hegemonic form of Deccani consciousness and the ideas of tradition shaped the sensibilities, skills and intellectual frameworks of practicing students. Thus, to become an artist or a craftsman was to become a Deccani at the same time. Like any skill practice, it meant a transformation of both body and mind. It is clear from the context of visual arts practice and training in the early 1940s in Hyderabad that this was an attempt to create and articulate a possible future of Deccan membership – a future that shattered in 1948 with the annexation of the state.

After the merger of Hyderabad with the Indian union in September 1948, the narrative of the ancient glory and future growth of the new Indian nation entered forcefully into the representational space and the realm of political consciousness in Hyderabad. -Deccan. Although it introduced new and competing positions between region and nation, it also enabled flows of ideas and artists across different regions affecting artistic practice as well as art pedagogy. Training at the school continued with reference to the past, not in terms of engagement with Deccani fame but more as a teaching convention. On the other hand, for artists referring to cultural and traditional forms of the Deccan as a region, it has become a personal and biographical engagement with the past as a living and transformative present.

Dr Santhosh Sakhinala is Assistant Professor of Art History at Visva Bharati, Santiniketan. His research interests are art institutions and pedagogy, and his doctoral thesis focused on the history of modern art institutions in Hyderabad. The opinions expressed are those of the author.

The Khidki Collective is a group of academics committed to reimagining and constructing perspectives on regional identities in order to question the narratives established around history, nationality and belonging. The regions existed even before the birth of India and continue to exist. By not adapting perfectly to dominant notions such as Hindi-Hindu-Hindustan, regions expand our imaginations. The collective takes its name from Khidki – window, the early medieval name of the city of Aurangabad, as well as the name of a famous octagonal mosque in Delhi built by an administrator who identified himself as a Telangani. The collective is anchored in Hyderabad Urban Laboratory.

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