Now through August 19, the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston is host to a trove of royal treasures from the kingdom of Marwar-Jodhpur, a princely state in northwest India. The unprecedented new exhibition, Peacock in the Desert: The Royal Arts of Jodhpur, India showcases the artistic legacy of the Jodhpur court across nearly four centuries.
A dazzling number of courtly and ceremonial objects fills the sprawling exhibition space, which spans five galleries and Cullinan Hall in the Caroline Wiess Law Building. Intricate arms and armor, glittering jewelry, lush textiles and furnishings, and a diverse selection of paintings converge to provide an immersive experience for museum-goers. Clever juxtapositions characterize the exhibition—more than once, viewers will find themselves admiring a jewel or dagger in a display case, only to notice the same piece depicted in a painting hanging nearby.
Peacock in the Desert is the result of five years’ collaboration between Dr. Mahrukh Tarapor, senior advisor for international initiatives at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston; Dr. Karni Singh Jasol, director of the Mehrangarh Museum Trust, Jodhpur; the late Martand Singh, chief consultant from the Mehrangarh Museum Trust; and Dr. Angma Dey Jhala, associate professor at Bentley University. That the team consists entirely of Indian nationals is no accident. “We wanted this exhibition to represent an Indian point of view, and it does,” affirmed MFAH director Gary Tinterow.
Tarapor credits Indian royalty, such as that of His Highness Maharaja Gaj Singh II, whose private collection forms the bulk of the exhibition, with helping to keep the Indian culture and artistic traditions on display at the exhibition alive. “I went to an Irish-Catholic boarding school in South India,” she explained. “I learned about the French Revolution; I learned about the Magna Carta; I learned about the American Revolution; I did not learn about India.” Peacock in the Desert, then, is an opportunity both to celebrate India’s overlooked cultural traditions, and to introduce their majesty to a brand new audience.
“We show what it was to be a member of the royal court, whether you arrived on an elephant in a howdah or whether you departed in a Rolls Royce or an airplane,” Tinterow said, referencing the immense breadth and scope of the materials on display. “From my perspective,” he adds, “this is one of the most spectacular exhibitions ever organized by any museum, anywhere.”
Peacock in the Desert is on display through August 19. The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston is open Tuesday and Wednesday from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Thursday from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m., Friday and Saturday from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Sunday from 12:15 to 7 p.m.
A special Gallery Concert at Cullinan Hall scheduled for March 15 will feature a free performance from Sitar musician Aaron Hermes. On April 6, a special late-night party celebrates the exhibition with performances by Karsh Kale, DJ Sun, and DJ Yogi-G, specialty cocktails, and Indian fusion cuisine; tickets are available online. Members of the Asian art curatorial team will lead an exclusive tour of the exhibition on May 14; tickets are $65.
Featured photo: Pavilion (Baradari), 19th century. Courtesy of the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston.