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New Fralin Museum Exhibit Captures the Dazzle of Early Indian Painting

Fri, 2014-08-29 16:39
Robert Hull

A new exhibit at The Fralin Museum of Art at the University of Virginia offers a unique entry into the world of early modern India through an array of colorful paintings.

“Realms of Earth and Sky: Indian Paintings from the 15th to the 19th Century,” on view through Dec. 14, includes several artistic traditions that range across the span of centuries.

This is art made for emperors and empresses, kings and queens, and wealthy merchants. The exhibit reveals what they saw – and links the viewer directly to worlds far away and long ago.

The museum began seeking South Asian art in 1992, eventually acquiring a collection that today ranks among the best held by a university museum in the Southeast. The new exhibition comprises a selection of these works, supplemented by others drawn from private collections.

“Realms of Earth and Sky” was curated by Daniel J. Ehnbom, adjunct curator of South Asian art for The Fralin and associate professor of South Asian art in the U.Va McIntire Department of Art, along with Krista Gulbransen, visiting assistant professor of art history from Skidmore College and former Luzak-Lindner Graduate Fellow at The Fralin.

“For me, the color of the art is intoxicating,” Ehnbom said. “That’s what drew me to the pictures when I first saw them. In the more conservative styles, the pure reds and yellows are truly dazzling, and no viewer will forget the daring juxtapositions of blocks of color.”

One focus of the exhibit is Mughal painting, a style of South Asian art confined to miniatures such as book illustrations or as works kept in albums, which developed in the court of the Mughal Empire and then spread to other Indian courts.

“When the refinement and controlled colors introduced by Mughal painting come to the fore in this exhibit, the viewer is drawn into a world of subtle elegance,” Ehnbom said.

In addition, for the first time in its history, The Fralin has created an app specifically for an exhibition. Now a viewer can move easily from one section to another, use their smart phone to listen to authoritative commentary by the exhibition’s curator, focusing upon individual works in any order.

The app also includes a helpful glossary to help viewers understand unfamiliar Indian names and terms.

“I think that such apps may eventually even replace the printed catalogue for some exhibitions,” Bruce Boucher, director of The Fralin, said. “We are very pleased with the results in this case.”

Portraiture, religious and literary texts, and Ragamala paintings – a series of illustrative paintings based on “The Garland of Ragas,” depicting various Indian musical modes or ragas – are particularly well-represented in the The Fralin’s collection. Exhibit themes include the stylistic relationship between Mughal and Rajput paintings (Rajput kingdoms rose to prominence during the ninth and 12th centuries) and the function of book illustration.

In meticulously rendered tableaux, viewers will encounter scenes ranging from the opulence of the Mughal court to the actions of gods in the forms of men, and from lively battles to depictions of intimate courtly love. The styles are intricately refined or sweepingly bold, all contained in the small scale of the manuscript or album page. 

“An Indian miniature is a tangible and material connection with the past,” Ehnbom said. “We see what the artist and the patron saw, we touch what they touched, and in so doing, we become part of a chain that stretches back to artists both known and unknown, to patrons ranging from merchants and aristocrats to the kings and emperors of South Asia.”

A catalogue accompanying the exhibition documents The Fralin’s Indian painting collection and features essays and entries written by Ehnbom and Gulbransen. Since many of the Indian works in the museum’s collection remain unpublished, the catalogue also represents an important contribution to current scholarship on Indian painting.

The Fralin Museum of Art’s programming is made possible by the support of The Joseph & Robert Cornell Memorial Foundation.
The exhibition is made possible through the support of the Office of the Executive Vice President and Provost and the Vice Provost for the Arts, The Fralin Museum of Art Volunteer Board, the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation, the Weedon Foundation, U.Va. Arts Council: Enriching the Arts on Grounds, an anonymous donor, WTJU 91.1 FM, Albemarle Magazine and Ivy Publications LLC’s Charlottesville Welcome Book.

With Seas Rising, U.Va. Researchers to Explore, Model Vulnerable Coastlines

Fri, 2014-08-29 15:41
Fariss Samarrai

With nearly half of the world’s population living on or near coastlines, billions of people are vulnerable to the effects of sea-level rise, a symptom of a warming climate. And scientists expect the Earth’s climate to warm significantly throughout the 21st century, melting polar ice and causing a rapid acceleration of sea-level rise. This will affect humans and the natural environment, forcing rapid adaptation to avoid potentially catastrophic results in many highly populated communities in the coastal United States and around the world.

The University of Virginia will use two new major environmental grants to gain a deeper and broader understanding of how communities are changing, and are likely to change as a result of rapidly rising seas.

One grant, for $2 million from the National Science Foundation, is bringing together nine researchers from seven research institutions in Virginia, Massachusetts and Georgia to address wetland vulnerability and coastal resilience. The researchers, from a variety of disciplines – environmental sciences, economics, geography, public policy – will examine future scenarios of climate change and the adaptive actions that humans can take to adjust to such changes and manage the challenges.

Karen McGlathery, a U.Va. professor of environmental sciences and assistant vice president for research, sustainability and the environment, is the lead investigator on the project.

The other grant provides $1.5 million in funding from the U.S. Department of the Interior to address resilience to sea-level rise and coastal hazards in Virginia using “green” infrastructure and by developing a research-driven, model-based, online tool to help stakeholders predict how their decisions may affect the environment and coastal communities. That project is led by the Nature Conservancy and co-led by U.Va.

“Both of these projects leverage U.Va.’s nearly 30-year legacy of research on Virginia’s Eastern Shore, and position us well to develop cross-disciplinary programs in understanding coastal dynamics,” McGlathery said.

Since 1986, U.Va. environmental scientists have conducted research at the Nature Conservancy’s Virginia Coast Reserve, a protected span of 14 undeveloped barrier islands, shallow lagoons and salt marshes off the Virginia coast. The University operates the state-of-the-art Anheuser Busch Coastal Research Center and leads a National Science Foundation Long-Term Ecological Research project there, investigating natural and human-caused changes to the coastal environment.

The new grants will help researchers combine what they’ve learned over the decades with new research tools to develop computer models designed to help planners and policymakers create sustainable systems as rising seas encroach on natural areas and coastal communities.

“Projected rates of accelerated sea level rise – as much as five feet by the year 2100 – are expected to cause massive changes that would transform both the ecological and social dynamics of low-lying coastal areas,” McGlathery said. “It therefore is essential that we improve our understanding of the long-term resilience of coupled coastal human-environment systems in the face of sea-level rise and storm surge, which already is occurring and causing flooding problems along the Virginia coast.”

McGlathery and her colleagues in Virginia and at Long-Term Ecological Research sites in Massachusetts and Georgia will use the National Science Foundation funds to study coastal marshes and how these natural barriers protect coastlines as seas rise. The researchers use realistic scenarios of adaptation strategies to model how feedbacks between socioeconomic and environmental factors influence marsh vulnerability. If marshes were to lose ground to rapidly rising seas, natural and human environments would lose the buffering effect provided by these natural obstacles to storm surge.

Working with The Nature Conservancy and other partners at the Virginia Coast Reserve, McGlathery and the U.Va. team will use the Interior Department funding to develop an online coastal resilience tool to be used by decision-makers to help predict future outcomes of a range of environmental plans for the Eastern Shore of Virginia. This will provide “visualization” of wetland change, flooding frequency and other changes to the environment to help stakeholders make better decisions.

“These two grants recognize U.Va.’s research and leadership over the last several decades and our ability to integrate new understanding of human and natural systems and how changes will affect both,” McGlathery said. “We hope to develop a common language that can be used by researchers, planners and policymakers to solve the major global and regional environmental issues we face.”