This exhibition represented our first commission from the Victoria & Albert Museum. Under the auspices of the Asian Department, headed by Deborah Swallow, we worked closely with the exhibition's curator Susan Stronge to design and implement this installation.
Our aim was to transform the space into a tranquil retreat in which to view these treasures from the Mughal court, which have recently been exhibited at the Freer & Sackler Galleries in Washington and the Brooklyn Museum of Art in New York. Darkened rooms provide a mystical ambience in which to view the paintings and the rich, saturated midnight blue background combined with areas of deep terracotta red enhance the natural pigments of the paintings. Silk finishes and an organic floor covering were selected in keeping with the flavour and blend of customary materials from the region.
The Adventures of Hamza reunites 68 vibrant paintings commissioned by the great Mughal emperor Akbar in the 16th century, which tell the action-filled mythical story of Hamza, a character partly based on the uncle of the Prophet Muhammad. These dramatic illustrations depict epic scenes of heroism, magic, bravery and comedy, featuring dragons, monsters, giants, sorcerers and princesses.
The Hamzanama, the "Story of Hamza" was begun around 1557. This immense artistic project was commissioned by the emperor Akbar (r.1556-1605) when he was still a teenager. Painted on cotton, the unusually large volumes originally contained 1400 illustrations with accompanying text, of which only 200 or so are known. It was the emperor's first major commission and reflected the grandeur of his court. It took more than 100 artists, gilders, bookbinders, and calligraphers 15 years to complete. This exhibition reunites almost a third of the surviving paintings, including works from the Victorian & Albert and a core group from the MAK-Austrian Museum of Applied Arts/Contemporary Art, Vienna.