Sonika Soni

Arts Research and Documentation

Grant Period: One year

This grant will support Udaipur-based curator/researcher, Sonika Soni, to curate an exhibition and write a series of essays on the role of the family tradition in post-independence Indian miniature painting. Sonika hails from a family of traditional miniature painters herself, and is currently a curator at the City Palace Museum, Udaipur, where she has examined the royal collection of the Mewar court (dating from the 17th century to the present). Sonika will study the impact of the changing relationship of patronage and the art market on the style and form of traditional miniature painters. The research will focus on the current generation of traditional painters who are burdened by family reputation (and idiom) and yet have to function under the changed systems of patronage, market forces, and facing the dilemma of whether to experiment with their oeuvre or remain within the restricted framework.

Sonika explains that the artists who hail from a family of traditional painters are given basic training using conventional methodology. However, the patronage for miniature paintings has changed significantly— national and international collectors, tourists and art institutions demand work from traditional painters. Court patronage has given way to the demand and supply of the market place. In order to meet the needs of their clientele the painters use synthetic colours and readymade materials further transforming the idiom of the miniature painting. Sonika’s research shall study this complex environment within which the miniature form survives in present times. For the study Sonika will conduct interviews with concerned artists, their families, clients, patrons, agents, and art collectors.

The research question central to Sonika’s enquiry will be the relationship between the traditional miniature painters, who are forced to innovate within a strict framework, and other contemporary visual arts practices. Some questions Sonika is scheduled to ask her respondents (hailing from the younger generation of painters) include (1) The type of training received by young painters, and (2) Whether tradition hinders or stagnates their practice, and if so, in what ways. A separate questionnaire for the older generation will focus on (1) The family history of the form, and (2) The context and relevance of certain formal idioms in the present day. The questionnaire will also investigate the impact of this changing nature of patronage on the practice of miniature painting.