Anil Relia's 'A Parsi delight' is a sparkling treasury on Parsi life

Anil Relia once again opens his treasure chest to give us a sparkling collection of Parsi portraits in the ninth edition of his eponymous Indian Portrait series. The vast personal collection includes portrait paintings, photographs, prints and collectible of the Parsi community ranging from early 16th century to late 20th century. The show opened at Amdavad ni Gufa on December 4, 2018 and will remain on display until December 9, 2018.

Anil Relia and Tanuja Relia
Tanuja Relia and Anil Relia in front of the Portrait of shipbuilder Jehangir Nowrojee with steamboat agent Oliver Miller White

Ninth in the series, ‘The Indian Portrait IX – A Parsi Delight’ is a collection of rare portraits from the personal collection of art collector, entrepreneur and preserver Anil Relia and his wife Tanuja Relia. The atmosphere of inauguration was amplified by the presence of eminent citizens from Parsi community who turned out at the event in their traditional attire. The exhibition opened on the evening of December 4, 2018, at Amdavad Ni Gufa in Ahmedabad.

The Indian Portrait series by Relia bears a legacy status now. The way it culminates documentary evidence and aesthetic evolution of portraiture in different regions of India over centuries, makes it a rare collection of topnotch curator-ship. In it’s early editions Relia has showcased portraits themed under subjects like Rajputana Nayak, Colonial influence on Raja Ravi Varma and his contemporaries and Mughal Empire among others. The founder of Archer Art Gallery this time takes its audience on a fascinating voyage to the Parsi culture by assembling 170 aesthetically rich paintings and collectibles from his collection. Relia, who has formerly curated shows according to era and styles has come up with an art exhibition that is specially dedicated to a community for the first time.

Parsi girl, Raja Ravi Varma
Manish Modi, Professor of painting at CN Fine Arts looking at the portrait of an unidentified Parsi girl prepared by Raja Ravi Varma

The Herwitz Art Gallery at the Gufa is looking nothing less than a Parsi museum with Parsi Paintings, photographs, carte de visite, cabinet card albums, engravings, lithographs, prints and collectibles. The opening day was graced by various artists, art connoisseurs and men and women from the Parsi community. The inaugural ceremony was conducted by Relia’s steadfast Parsi friend and former neighbour Noshir Anklesaria. The Parsi gentleman with roots in Surat alike Relia wore authentic Parsi apparel –  traditional headgear and Dagli – which stole all the eyeballs during the show.

The show consists portraits of Parsi individuals and families and has been carefully segregated into five segments. They are – Traditional miniature paintings by Indian artists; artworks that were created by English or Chinese painters while the Parsis toured to foreign nations; Pre Ravi Varma and Ravi Varma influenced paintings and prints; photographs/paintings by creators who were amongst the first graduates of JJ School of Arts including artist M F Pithawala, Pestonji Bomanji and J A Lalkaka; and the collectibles with portraits of Parsi people which includes a flower vase, a three dimensional model, pocket watches, rings etc. This is a massive feat for any curator to achieve single handedly; it is this artistic persistence that make Relia’s collections unlike any other.

sculpture of Justice Muncherji Pestonji Khareghat
Standing stalwartly is the sculpture of Parsi Sanskrit scholar, astronomer and astrologer  Justice Muncherji Pestonji Khareghat

Relia has been relentlessly working for this show since November of 2014. Parsi’s are known to be enterprising and a community with minimal social  prejudices. Through the collection Relia’s effort is to bring out the qualitative aspect of the community out for the viewer. He also expressed that the establishment of the first photo studio by a Parsi is proof of the community’s foresight; also worth noting is the community’s adaptability and their ideology of co-existence. The collector identified the artists through their signatures and other secondary references but finding the subjects identity (some of which are still unnamed in the show) was a tedious task for him. He says, “I travelled to places like Udhna, Bilimora, Surat, Navsari, Pune and Mumbai just to collect the paintings or identify the person in the portraits.” Many Parsi luminaries like Nowroji Dorabji Dittia, Pestonjee Bomanjee Wadia and others find a place in this detailed collection. The collection has representation of either genders and also of Parsi’s belonging to different vocations and age groups. And needless to day, the artistic quality of each and every piece displays aesthetic excellence of highest level.

Delnaz Medora of Medora Travel Services who was at the inaugural shares, “This show is fantastic, and I’ve never seen so many Parsi portraits assembled under a single dome. Looking at our legacy through rich visuals is like a history study tour for not just onlookers but even us.” What Medora and everyone at the show felt, and what needs to be complimented is the stupendous effort of putting together pieces of history together, both as a visual art show and also as a book.

The visual heritage of the Parsi community which ranges from early 16th century to the late 20th century can be viewed at Amdavad Ni Gufa until December 9, 2018, every day from 04:00 pm to 08:00 pm.

Indian Parsi Portrait
Left: Portrait of Chartered Engineer Ardesar Kaikobad Modi by M F Pithawala | Right: A Portrait of India’s oldest Parsi Family’s Member, Khan Bahadur Bomaji Edalji Modi by M F Pithawala

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