For a colourful people Motifs are widely used in both men’s and women’s clothing Image Credit:

Inspired by the unique colours and environments of India, several Hungarian artists are making a beeline for holding exhibitions in New Delhi and other cities and getting rave reviews. Brainchild of the Hungarian Information and Cultural Centre at Delhi, these exhibitions showcase paintings, sculptures, artefacts, folk costumes, ceramics and carvings.

“From Organic Forms to Light Art”, an exhibition that is a part of the cultural exchange programme between India and Hungary, was first on show in Delhi, before travelling to the National Gallery of Modern Art, Mumbai, and is now on display at Bengaluru’s National Gallery of Modern Art until January 12, 2014.

It includes works of the 36 contemporary Hungarian artists exploring divergent themes of art and architecture. Curated by Attila Csaji, vice-president, Hungarian Academy of Arts, the exhibition brings together significant contributions of the artists involving organic art, figurative and non-figurative works, light art, geometric art, graphics and sculptures.

Csaji says viewers get to see some of the optical illusions that celebrate the amalgamation of science and art in unique forms. “There is a direct reference to the title of this exhibition. It means a certain encounter, sensitivity and an existence with the organic that leads to the bold trend or tendency of medial renewal. Some art forms such as the architecture of renowned architect Gyorgy Csete, the organic spirit in the statues of Sandor Csutoros and the geometric figures of Istvan Llyes, relate to the artistic value of the exhibition,” she explains.

The innovative works also include a depiction in which a cylinder, which is used to measure liquids in laboratories, serves as the base for an artist to give a wide-angle view of a photograph, and a painting in which a hand seems to be holding a bridge. The pictures reflect development of their cultural roots and their impact on the world culture with some outstanding works in different fields of arts in the past 30-40 years.

Tibor Kovacs, director of the Hungarian Information and Cultural Centre at New Delhi, says, “The organic art, with its legendary forms of the past and materials borrowed from nature, creates harmony between nature and humans, whereas the technical and scientific innovations, the elementary parts and the taming of the light, call for the greatness of the human brain. Art, after all, should serve the purpose of creating harmony with nature.”

He adds, “Like India, even Hungary boasts of a rich cultural heritage. But after the two world wars, artists were displaced. Though they continued to create artworks, some of them never got the opportunity to display them in their homeland. On the other hand, the folk art of Hungary — whether it was music or crafts, which were found in many forms in the countryside — was passed on from generation to generation. And with the aim to further these art forms, every year we hold exhibitions in several parts of India and get a huge response. Occasionally, artworks more than 150 years old are also put on show, as was done at the Arts and Crafts exhibition held in New Delhi recently.”

Hungarian folk art originated and evolved in the Carpathian Basin of central Europe where Hungary lies along with many other countries. Being one of the most colourful and richest traditions in the world, the roots of Hungarian folk art are in Asia, the original homeland of the Hungarians. The costumes of the folk dancers, architecture, wood carvings and potteries reveal a great deal about their lifestyle.

Though traditional pottery is not used in their day-to-day life, Hungarian families often preserve it for decorative purposes. Weddings are the most important occasions when people buy these attractive items. In olden times, when potters made the ornamental pieces especially as wedding gifts, they often painted the bride and the bridegroom’s names on them.

Similarly, on woven textiles, either geometrical patterns were used or they were richly decorated with motifs of stylised flowers and birds. These patterns were collected from the villages of Paloc region, northern Hungary. Motifs are also widely used and applied in various forms on outfits and household items, and craftsmen and craftswomen, as evident in the exhibition, have a range of skills, from wood carving and painting to basket making and egg painting.

Kovacs says: “The Matyoland, which is in the northern part of Hungary, is famous for matyo folk art embroidery, which met with great success at the millennium exhibition in 1896 in Budapest. ... the designer women used brilliantly coloured flowers.”

The unique flower-work embroidery was also done on “felt coats”, which had their own story to tell in addition to protecting the wearer from cold, rain and snow. The technique of embroidery on coats spread widely after the invention of the sewing machine in the 19th century. The most celebrated application works are from the Great Plain and from near Kalotaszeg, Transylvania. Today, this remarkable craft has been successfully adapted in home textiles and to make fashion statements in other ways.

Another interesting aspect of the Hungarian culture is the egg. Considered a lucky charm and symbol of peace and happiness, eggs are not only consumed throughout the year, but also presented as gifts on several occasions. These are hand-painted and decorated with scratched and waxed motifs.

Kovacs provides insight into one of the most popular artefacts today, the black pottery from Nadudvar, a town in the northern Great Plain region of eastern Hungary. “This differs from glazed pottery in its ornamentation. The raw dish is scratched with a sharp tool and rubbed with river gravel. During firing, the coal diffuses into the body of the dish through the smoke, producing this particular black colour and the fine glossy surface,” he explains.

In Hungary, occupations in folk arts and crafts are still highly respected. The intricate decorations used on objects of daily use, including bed frames, gates and storage chests, have elevated the status of folk arts and ensured the survival of traditional technologies and expressions.

The result is that the new-generation artists are innovating, while at the same time retaining the glory of their traditions and finding similarities with art forms of other countries.

Most of them find the colours and environments of India extremely inspiring — the likes of which, they claim, cannot be found in Europe. Zsuzsa Gajdan, an artist, whose exhibition, “I Walk the Path with Water and Air”, is on at the Art Gallery of the Hungarian Centre in New Delhi, sums up: “The history, culture and the different religions of India influence me impulsively and these effects are reflected in my pictures. I paint not only the view and the thought but human warmth and wonderful tastes that struck me some years ago. My fire colours and the bright gold all reflect India. The abstract paintings are built up from layers and I often use collage technique so I can express the inner peace and calm that I can see on the faces of people living in India.”

The exhibition will run through January 2014.

Nilima Pathak is a journalist based in New Delhi.