Human beings are mere reflections of their landscape and this incredible art form reflects the needs and desires of the people and their place over the years.
Usta art, derived from the Persian word Ustad, which means expert of a particular art, is a general term used to signify Naqqashi and Manoti-forms of miniature painting influenced by Persian art, that flourished in the late-16th to mid-19th century in Bikaner.Bikaner is the fifth largest city of Rajasthan, founded by Rao Bika in 1486. During the Mughal period, architecture flourished in Bikaner and sparked the arrival of Usta artisans to perform design work on the Anup Mahal, Karan Mahal, and Phool Mahal of Junagarh Fort.
Canvases include walls, ceilings, glass, wood, marble, as well as artefacts made of camel leather. Modern instances make use of Arabic, Persian, and Urdu calligraphy on wooden photo frames, bottles, marble items, camel leather lampshades, and pouches for personal items. Usta Art is also featured at many havelis and heritage hotels. The making of this art form is indeed backbreaking one, involving hours and hours of patience. The designs are first made on paper, which is traced on the surface using indigo or black coal powder. Sand from a ground earthen pot which is sometimes mixed with glue and jaggery is then used to create required paste for embossing.
Embossing the surface is literally what gives Usta Art that lift that sets it apart from other art forms involving miniature paintings.The multidimensional look converts the staid piece of wood to a stunning piece of craftsmanship.The embossed surface is then painted upon in vibrant colours.While now more commercially available colours are used, the work initially would use naturally available vegetable dyes to bring in the vibrancy. The absence of foliage in the arid landscape gave birth to the vivid green floral patterns along with deep/carmine red hues. Shades of blue also felt its presence due to lack of water around Gold leaf is used extensively in this art form, especially in temples and palaces. Water was a scarce commodity in the desert area of Bikaner, precious enough to be carried around in the pouches of camel leather often embossed with Usta art.Then grew the need to perform the art on light and portable products which can carry oil, water or fragrances.
Centuries back while there were several families involved in this art form, the skill and knowledge were also passed down from generation to generation.The luxurious Usta Art demands tremendous hard work and commands a princely price, not finding many customers in the bargain; resulting in the younger generation of artists looking for alternate career paths. Will this art form find its lustre again only time will tell.
Commissioned by Asian Paints.