The Importance of Art in South Asia

South Asia used a range of artistic mediums to reveal their stories which date back centuries. They are all important to South Asian history.

The Importance of Art in South Asia f

Connect to the heavens using the written word.

Art has many faces. Often thought to be just pictures of painted faces, landscapes and the occasional bowl of fruit, art transforms into poetry, music and dance.

It becomes a melody of communication, a riddle of stories and food. Art is in everything we see and do.

It can shift from eclectic daydreams to capturing dark horrors, navigating a world which is not always visible to the human eye. With every form of art, you see a story.

South Asia prides itself on the importance of art in its culture, seeping into western influence, architecture and literature.

Popular forms of art in South Asia are sculptures, folklore, architecture and illustration. Art trickles its way to contemporary life, into Bollywood, music and the written word.

Each genre runs parallel with another, existing in multiple formats simultaneously.

Yet, each one is adorned with its own vibrant history, playing a part to emphasise the importance of art in South Asia.


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Sculptures have taken the art world by storm. They are often grand, physical expressions of art, depicting people, animals or something inorganic.

They can shrink to frame mantlepieces or become show stoppers to exaggerate how cultured a household is.

Sculptures are ice breakers, memory holders and conversation starters. They are the key to unlock someone’s taste in art.

Yet, sculptures have a deeper significance.

Sculptures are linked to a religious past. They provide an echo of divinity, rooted all the way back to 300-600 CE (Common era, same as AD).

In terms of art, sculptures have been used in Buddhism to create a humble air to the Buddha, delicately accentuating the simple folds of his clothes, the depiction of elegance to a spiritual level.

The statue of Buddha is crafted in a Greco-Buddhist style, depicting the Buddha in his enlightened state, after he swapped his life as a rich man to become the figure he is today.

Hinduism has also generated a style of art to symbolise the divine. Champa sculptures are crafted from sandstone, each one is carved lovingly to resemble Hindu Gods.

Some statues are used for ornamental pieces and others for religious significance. Yet a vast majority of them hold a personal meaning to their collectors.

Champa style has been moulded into different materials. Metal and wood are often used for durability, however, for a visual and authentic look, sandstone is still commonly used.

They proudly sit, becoming a work of visual art. Glinting to catch the attention of those who wander by and call for the appreciation to the detail so carefully shaped into them.

Sculptures are used to display art, to recreate a sense of divinity. All things heavenly are designed in a visually pleasing medium.

Connecting man to a higher power, sculptures play an importance towards art in South Asia.


The Importance of Art in South Asia - folklore

Stories are history. They manifest in dreams, on screens and in novels.

As a species, we use stories to teach lessons. Lessons with a deeper underlying meaning, creating guidelines on how to live a moral life, a life filled with happiness and a minimal amount of melancholy.

Folklore is an expression of culture, something born from stories, tales or jokes. It stretches across South Asia, seeping into households regardless of creed or colour.

Folklore is a type of art. Painting auditory pictures requiring nothing more than imagination and an understanding of the world around us.

It attempts to preserve society. It’s a creation of stories used to mirror life, the morals and satisfaction which comes through learning specific life truths.

When people hear folklore, they think of flowery fairy-tales, filled with hope, love and wishful thinking. They know Disney, the Grimm brothers and Hans Christian Anderson.

Yet, the Indian folklore dates back over two thousand years prior to the Grimm Brothers, with fragments of the same folklore being told in the USA.

These stories are still told to this day, with amendments and illustrations orchestrating a move into a different era.

The tale of ‘Tar baby’ originates from Indian folklore. Yet, by being re-told by millions over centuries, it has travelled continents, survived the test of time and became a Disney story.

Folklore is creation, an auditory version of a tale travelling the world, but has its roots buried deep in South Asia.

It whispers stories of significance and influenced millions of people. Folklore emphasises the importance of art in South Asia.


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The Taj Mahal. One of the new seven wonders of the world. Ordained in the beautiful scenery, timeless architecture, it has been classified as art.

Architecture is the design of buildings. It is a larger, physical style of art highlighting a countries culture, its character, and aesthetics.

The buildings we construct mirror a shadow against the skyline, highlighting a city’s silhouette.

We admire the Shard for its unique shape, the Empire State building for its significance. Everyone can picture the columns of Greece and the mosques of Arabia.

We awe at the Golden Temple for the way it shimmers against the Ravi river.

South Asian architecture is historical. Changing throughout the years, bricks and mortar have provided a chronicle of remains depicting a civilisation from aeons ago.

A shocking, yet normal realisation that humans love beauty. We strive to embellish our surroundings with beautiful things.

South Asian style has altered throughout the years.

Religious architecture has a shape of its own, for significance. Hindu temples are drastically different from Mosques, and yet both are equally recognisable.

Buildings became taller, rounder, more glamorous. Different styles were added, towers and spirals were reinforced for use.

Architecture became the front line of defence during battles. When wars were over, buildings returned to domes and centre statements.

South Asia then finally elapsed into a western model after the formation of the British Raj.

We use buildings and structures to amplify our lives, but keep them to a visual pattern of symmetry.

Something to behold and awe at, to make a mark that humans once roamed this area of the earth.


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Art is classically associated with drawing. With lines, and hyper-realistic drawings from the visual world. Sometimes morphing into abstract, and often accompanied with silhouettes of figures from history.

Yet, illustration art is also a documentation process.

Art provides a glimpse into the contemporary past. How people lived their lives from someone who was there to see it. Now handed down as a precious keepsake, providing a window into past lives.

The importance of illustration art in South Asia is vital. It provides a visual history and understanding of past literature, of how people lived and their styles of clothing.

Illustration in South Asia dates back to the fifth century AD, where art was scattered across the walls in cave temples.

They depict tales of the Buddha’s life. The style of drawing was free, captivating, spiritual and less reserved than the Indian art scene now.

As time progressed, illustration art became more reserved, the figures became sharper and more conservative.

Eventually, illustration became a tool to decorate myths, literature, with more western influence.

They became swayed with Turkish styles and in the 18th century, portraits became popular. This type of art portrays power, styles, the more traditional form of art we see today.

Illustration tells a story. It reveals how South Asia slowly transitioned over the centuries, producing work reflecting the time.

We see the narrative change, from religious illustrations, surpassing decorative pieces, to the current fashion we see today.


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When you ask someone what’s their favourite piece of art, more often than not they will give you the title of a painting.

It may be Van Gogh’s iconic Starry Night or Frida Kahlo’s The Two Fridas. Regardless, art is associated with hallowed halls of neatly framed paintings.

Paintings are iconic. They provide a window to a life we could never glimpse at ourselves.

With brush strokes and colour palettes, we see a reflection of the painter’s mood. We see a personal story, the equivalent of peeking into a diary and gain a glimpse into various emotions felt by another individual.

Self-portraits are visual autobiographies, abstract art lends to states of mind and romantic paintings representing different types of love.

Indian art has a distinct style, often wavering with phrases. Originating in caves, vibrant colours are constantly used throughout the centuries. The vibrant palette never hinders expression.

Big-eyed, adorned with birds and sarees that have their own life, figures often fill any canvas, and attracts viewers from far and wide.

Paintings represent culture, lifestyle and politics. It’s a mirror to a society that came before us.

Many painters like to document issues, like sexism and racism. To cause a stir, to provoke thoughts and make people aware of the life that is suffering, even if they aren’t involved.

South Asia depicts its history with no shame.

Paintings in South Asia are vital. They tell stories, they are attractive and personal. This medium is popular, as it is powerful.

But this medium is so dominant it is encouraged throughout South Asia. Sri Lanka, India and Pakistan have generations of history documented through this medium.

With any change in time, South Asia has moved with it, now hosting a new generation of contemporary artists.

Films and Bollywood (Dance)

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To dance is to be human. Seems like an over-exaggeration, and yet, dancing has been a method of communication for decades.

Dancing was a method to praise the Gods, to express our feelings and to celebrate our achievements.

It is through dance people express their love, their happiness and their little victories.

Dancing is a physical expression, one where words cannot aptly express how we feel, or how grateful we are. It is the art of movement.

Bollywood films are well known for the singing interludes coupled with dancing.

The traditional films have musical numbers with complex steps leaving you wondering how the actresses are not breathless, especially in those heels.

Dancing is encouraged across South Asia, traditional forms often being taught at school.

The visual element of these films is often depicted as art. They allow you to immerse into the film and be one with the scenery.

They show off the beauty of a country, forcing viewers to see their world through a lens designed specifically for the mood of the characters. A snapshot from a story which never really happened.

Their dancing helps you understand their emotions and with the help of lyrics, it tells a story more powerful than if narrated.


The Importance of Art in South Asia - poetry

Poetry details the world around us with timeless words.

It requires fewer materials than illustration, no movement needed unlike dance, not as grand or mighty as architecture and is not as moral depicting as folklore.

Poetry is its own genre, fitting in with the world around us, telling us clues of mysteries and scenery.

It’s a step guide on how to connect to the heavens using the written word.

The art is in the imagery created with the words, the stanzas and flow reading like a melody. It is emotional and moving. Almost freeing.

Poetry is a popular forum in South Asia.

Islamic poetry being a notable slice of history emerging over the years, with philosophers who dole out their philosophical stance using poetry.

It’s an art morphing with time, still something prominent in every generation, a good method of expression without the chains of being too commercialised.

With poetry we see ethnicity being crossed with culture, a lifestyle revealed to us in a written format becoming something sustainable for years to come.

An important artistic style in South Asia, as it preserves history much like all forms of art.

The importance of art in South Asia is undersold. Asia is an artistic continent, with many forms of art stemming from this part of the world.

There is an inherent focus on a vast medium of art, covering illustration, dance, visual and the written word.

Expression, through art, is vital. No one does it quite like South Asia.

Hiyah is a film addict who writes in between the breaks. She sees the world through paper planes and got her motto through a friend. It’s “What's meant for you, won’t pass you.”

Images courtesy of Gaon Connection, Showflipper, Kudoswall