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Art Historian Deepthi Sasidharan On Why Her Ongoing Exhibition Nizam’s Jewels Should Not Be Missed

  • IWB Post
  •  May 3, 2019

A Mumbai-based art historian and archivist, and co-founder of Eka Cultural Resources and Research, Deepthi Sasidharan has been working on heritage and museum projects across India, including Kalakshetra in Chennai and Udaipur’s City Palace.

Speaking to The Indian Express, Deepti, ahead of her lecture this weekend at Dr. Bhau Daji Lad Museum in Mumbai, talked about her work and why the ongoing exhibition of the Nizam’s jewels in Delhi is unmissable.

“The Nizam’s jewels are on display in Delhi after 14 years. These are 173 pieces of the most beautiful, exquisite jewelry bought by the Government of India (GoI) at a steal. One of the diamonds in the collection is 183 karat and is the fifth or sixth largest diamond in the world, a flawless piece that is priced at millions today. There are emeralds and rubies and such fine craftsmanship that I have had the privilege of curating in the past. These should be on permanent display. But on Sunday, they will go back into the vault.

People pay £40 for a glance at the Kohinoor whereas we never celebrate the fact that seven of the world’s top 10 diamonds are in India. The Nizam’s jewels are a benchmark of beauty and craftsmanship that is so uniquely ours…there is polki, kundan, foiling, gold. Hyderabad is where the Northern and Southern traditions of jewelry merged. Then there are pieces made during the British time, which are from the House of Cartier and other such names. But it’s pearls before swine, literally. There is a complete lack of vision from the government to sell this soft power India has.”

Talking about what it takes to archive when little chronicling is available about the history of Indian art and culture, she shared, “There was a breakdown during the colonial period but otherwise, rulers and maharajas had systems, or fragments of systems, for bookkeeping. They are in a bad shape, yes, but that’s a different story. Even an army of restorers won’t be enough because it isn’t in our culture to keep a track of old things. In the US or the UK, there is a sense of community and pride taken in it, every single house or even a tree that turns 100 is celebrated.”

Sharing her thoughts on whether archiving is more challenging in times of WhatsApp, she added, “There is no space for it in the field where we work. For instance, while working at the Padmanabhaswamy temple when the vault was opened, the forwards depicted a huge snake sitting atop a pile of gold coins, stuff out of a fantasy film. In reality, we were working in tropical Kerala where officially, no woman can are allowed. Inside, we had to abide by temple rules. As opposed to the Lara Croft image, I would supervise in a two-piece sari with not a piece of jewelry on me. The 22 men would be in a veshti because the temple rules didn’t allow them to cover their torsos. Inside, with nothing but a noisy whirring fan, we were photographing, archiving, cleaning, sifting. It was more like a scene from a factory. People will believe what they want to but that does not kill history. It is what archiving is about.”

H/T: The Indian Express 

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