Prinseps Returns With the Second Edition of Its Exhibition: Bharat Through the Lens of Bhanu Athaiya


Prinseps Returns With the Second Edition of Its Exhibition:

‘Bharat Through the Lens of Bhanu Athaiya’

~The exhibition will commence from 6st of December 2023 to the 1st of January 2023 at The Aguad

~The  exhibition will be open from 10am to 8pm

~More than 50 exhibits of works by Bhanu Athaiya, including personal heirloom textile pieces, oil and water paintings, and beautiful sketches and costumes designed for iconic films such as Lagaan and Gandhi will be showcased

~Sujata Assmoull will be in conversation with Zeenat Aman on the topic  ‘Bharat Through Bhanu Athaiya’s Lens’ on 13th December 2023


Panaji, December 2023: Prinseps is delighted to announce the second edition of its exhibition, ‘Bharat Through the Lens of Bhanu Athaiya’, curated by Brijeshwari Kumari Gohil. The upcoming exhibition is set to take place at The Aguad in Goa, inviting art enthusiasts and cultural connoisseurs to immerse themselves in the extraordinary career of Bhanu Athaiya, the creative genius and costume designer par excellence.


‘Bharat Through the Lens of Bhanu Athaiya’ is a celebration of the life and work of Bhanu Athaiya, a multifaceted artist who left an indelible mark on the world of art, cinema, and fashion. Athaiya’s contributions as an artist, illustrator, film and theatre costume designer, and art advertisement conceptualist are unparalleled. Notably, she stands as India’s first-ever Oscar winner, a testament to her creative brilliance. Prinseps introduced this exhibition with its first edition at Bikaner House, New Delhi in January this year, offering visitors a comprehensive overview of Bhanu Athaiya’s remarkable legacy.


Spanning an illustrious six-decade career (1929-2020), Bhanu Athaiya reshaped Indian fashion and introduced the role of ‘the costume designer.’ Prinseps ‘Bharat Through the Lens of Bhanu Athaiya’ examines her unique perspective on India and the profound impact of her work.


Bhanu Athaiya was born in Princely India but worked during a time when India was transitioning into a democratic nation. Her surroundings played a pivotal role in her artistic evolution, inspiring her to first paint and then venture into the world of costume design. This exhibition sheds light on the significance of this period for artists and explores how India’s culture, nature, and heritage played an instrumental role in shaping Bhanu Athaiya as both an artist and a designer.


With around fifty exhibits of works by Bhanu, (along with a few by her family members or colleagues), ‘The Prinseps Exhibition: Bharat Through the Lens of Bhanu Athaiya’ educates the discerning art lover on why she plays such an integral role in the history of Indian art and cinema and how her viewpoint of India and her research on Indian culture set the tone for design and fashion for years to come.


Broadly chronological, the exhibition opens with a section devoted to the artist’s early years in Kolhapur and what led her to eventually move to Mumbai and join the JJ College of Arts. Along with this, the treasure trove of Bhanu Athaiya’s personal heirloom textile pieces will also be displayed. Beautiful, handwoven sarees with real Gold Zari, passed down to Bhanu from her mother and grandmother. Descending from a family heritage of Rajopadhayas (Royal Priests) in Kolhapur, Bhanu Athaiya inherited and treasured these ornate sarees. These stunning pieces of art were not only adorned by Bhanu and her family members but it was also this exposure that inspired her many costumes during her path-breaking career. These ornate textiles have in recent years been documented and photographed by the Lakshmi Vilas Palace and Museum, Vadodara.


The exhibition then focuses on her time as an artist, the only woman artist as part of the Progressive Artists’ Group (PAG) with artworks ranging from technical sketches to beautiful oil and water paintings. Artworks displayed here will include loaned works from museums and esteemed art collectors such as the Kiran Nadar Museum of Art. This section is an important part of modernism in the Indian art historic realm and how Bhanu contributed to Modern Indian Art. Her canvas, ‘Rang Mahotsav’ will be displayed for the first time in an exhibition.


The final section is then devoted to Indian cinema. She travelled to far-flung parts of the subcontinent to understand culture and tradition and do justice to her designs. The section includes beautiful sketches created by her as well as costumes to complement the sketches. Her detailing and research to successfully put together the Amrapali silhouette or her historic documentation to design costumes for iconic films such as Lagaan and Gandhi are displayed. The section also features a range of blouse pieces, showcasing the diversity of India and the research that went into designing costumes for each film. The exhibition also provides an overview of her work as an art advertisement designer for leading organizations of the time such as Air India and Onida.


Radhika Gupta, daughter of Bhanu Athaiya shares: “Each film was a fresh canvas on which Bhanu Athaiya visualised costumes according to the script narrated by the director. Ideally, if she did costumes for all the artists in the film, e.g. Amrapali, Lagaan, Gandhi, the colour palette and look of all the actors blended into their distinctive characters creating a visual extravaganza. Her creative flair, the in-depth knowledge of the cultural heritage of India and the insatiable quest for learning was the secret of her lifelong commitment to art and all that was artistic.”


As part of the exhibition’s programming, ‘Bharat Through the Lens of Bhanu Athaiya’ will present two insightful talks featuring prominent figures in the industry:


13th December 2023: Breaking Stereotypes

A compelling conversation between Zeenat Aman and fashion journalist and author, Sujata Assomull, this dialogue will explore the groundbreaking contributions of Bhanu Athaiya and Zeenat Aman as trailblazers who broke stereotypes with their creative prowess. The discussion will delve into design trends of their time, reflecting on how costume design has evolved in cinema over the years.


Zeenat Aman, the veteran Indian actor says: “With her innate style, scrupulous work ethic, and inimitable creativity, Bhanu made waves globally. Prinseps’ work towards documenting and preserving her legacy is invaluable to India’s cultural heritage.”


Sujata Assomull says: “Bhanu Athaiya was one of Indian cinema’s true stars. No other costume designer has had her longevity. She is considered Indian cinema’s first Bollywood designer. Working with a range of directors from Raj Kapoor, Guru Dutta and BR Chopra to Vijay Anand, Yash Chopra and. Ashutosh Gowariker. There was Richard Attenborough and her Oscar win for Gandhi was a proud moment for India. She understood how clothes could tell stories- and while her costumes were always led by the narrative, she also set the fashion agenda with her designs. If you look at modern Indian silhouettes such as the concept sari, the kurti and the sarong, their roots all come from Athaiya’s body of work.”

16th December 2023: Emergent Influences of the late 1930s and 40s in Art Cinema and Design:

The Making of Bhanu Athaiya

Following an exhibition walkthrough, art critic and curator Gayatri Sinha will examine India at the cusp of Independence. The talk will focus on how Indian artists began to break away from the constraints of the Bengal School, discovering and rediscovering India, and creating unique styles in the process. The conversation will focus on the late 1930s and 40s in the three avenues that Bhanu Athaiya contributed to, art, design and cinema. Bombay served as a backdrop and centre for artists such as Bhanu Athaiya, and the rich confluence of design, cinema and art which flourished during this time period was instrumental in inspiring the emergence of her very individualistic practice.


Gayatri Sinha shares, “Among the least well-understood and most awarded members of the Progressive Artists Group, Bhanu Athaiya represents a critical phase of Indian modern art history. Years before she was awarded the Oscar for her work in Richard Attenborough’s Gandhi, she had gained mastery over what opportunities the city of Bombay offered, in art, cinema and costume design. This talk will seek to address the decades of the 1940s and 50s as a backdrop for artistic endeavour, from which she built her own highly individualistic practice that stood at the cusp of different creative industries.”


Indrajit Chatterjee, Founder of Prinseps, says: “Join us for an exhibition into the art of Bhanu Athaiya, from her Kolhapur Days to the Progressive Artists Group, to iconic costume designs and costumes. A rare opportunity to view her works that are essentially entirely in institutions in India and overseas. Our aim as a research-driven institution is to explore every aspect of this fruitful and inspiring career from various points of view, which can be of inspiration to budding creatives.”


Brijeshwari Kumari Gohil, Vice-President of Prinseps, adds “I am thrilled to be curating a second exhibition on Bhanu Athaiya. There are so many beautiful, inspirational layers to her as an artist and designer. Having the access and opportunity to study these and bring them to the public realm makes me feel like we are doing justice to her legacy. When studying her art, archiving her sketches, and intricately written handwritten notes, I am amazed to see the level of detailing and research she took on, at a time prior to the internet and social media. She was an influencer before the term was popularised and I hope this exhibition and her legacy inspire other budding creatives.”


*Please note that both the talks are invite only events


About the Curator


Brijeshwari Kumari Gohil is the Vice President of Prinseps and holds a BA Joint Honours in Archaeology and Art History and an MA in Heritage Conservation. She has worked in the industry for a decade essaying various roles from conservator to curator.


About Prinseps


Prinseps is an avant-garde auction house that celebrates discerning luxury and prides itself on being a research-focused auction house with a par-excellence archive and library. The name Prinseps is a reference to the Latin word meaning ‘first’ or ‘foremost’, to the princely states and to James Prinsep, the founding editor of the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal. Best known for deciphering the Kharosthi and Brahmi scripts of ancient India, James Prinsep’s diligent documentation and illustration of aspects of culture are reflected in Prinseps’ methodologies and processes.


Having hosted multiple auctions to date Prinseps continues to foster research, curation, and further discovery within the art world. Following the inaugural auction where Prinseps was entrusted with artworks from the estate of Rathindranath Tagore (son of the Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore), subsequent auctions have gone on to bring together the leading names in modern and contemporary art, backed by strong provenances and publication details. Over time the brand Prinseps has grown to become a on-stop destination for the collector and connoisseur.


Prinseps represents the estate of Bhanu Athaiya. This exhibition in no way has any sales involved and is purely educational and engaging.

About Aguad

Nestled at the foothills of Sinquerim Hill in Candolim, Goa, amidst swaying coconut palms and crashing waves stands the historic Aguad Port & Jail. This 400-year-old heritage complex is now been showcased as the country’s newest cultural destination – Aguad. Open to the public since August 2022, Aguad caters to every segment of visitor, including Goa’s own residents.


The complex is easily accessible via a unique waterfront and pier, offering boat transfers to and from Panjim, as well as convenient road access.  Aguad invites local community and visitors into a repurposed contemporary hub of museums, arts, recreation and delectable eateries with stunning views of the Arabian Sea and Mandovi Bay. With an outdoor jetty stage, and a growing programme calendar, Aguad is a year-round destination where history meets modernity, seamlessly weaving together stories of the past and present.


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