Parsi Traders and the Community, NGMA
The rare occasion when an exhibition demands more than a ‘look and a nod’ is usually apparent at first glance. The ravishing Painted Encounters: Parsi Traders and the Community time-travels back 250 years, into the lives of Parsi traders in the 18th and 19th centuries, to tell stories of men, women and children, their plush houses, plushier ships, opium and cotton factories. The exhibition, like no other, is not about the artists, but the subject; it is not about the colour schemes or the brush-strokes (opulent and detailed as they are), but is part of a bigger story—early colonial history, the lucrative opium and cotton trade with China and the grand lifestyles profits from it spawned.
It also features portraits of Parsi grandees done by unnamed Chinese and English artists, and bespeaks the freshly acquired love for art among Parsi businessmen. One may pick out the Romanesque and Gongbi styles in the paintings, but will have to prod further to discern the rich context. One has also to read more to find the stories playing out on the canvases, and that in itself is the most exciting bit in this cornucopia of technique, form and verisimilitude. Of the numerous celebratory events about Parsis happening now, this is a perfect ode to the small community.