Rupy C. Tut:  Redefining Indian (miniature) painting

By Sonia Dhami-

Sonia Dhami

Rupy C. Tut is exhibiting her latest collection of paintings at the Institute of Contemporary Art San Francisco (ICA SF), one of the newest galleries in the city. Together they are ushering in a fresh appreciation of art and artists, not highlighted enough in the media or in the galleries.

“Out of Place” echoes Rupy’s feelings as an artist, a woman of color, a mother, a first-generation immigrant – all intersectional identities that she bears as she navigates her life in her chosen home – California.

Though her work is rooted in the Indian miniature painting tradition, she is pushing the boundaries by adopting a larger size for her paintings. At first look, the shear scale of the paintings displayed on the wall surprise any viewer who is familiar with the tradition. They literally take up space, which is exactly what the artist intends. And why not!

Quickly the vivid colors start to do their magic. Multiple hues of yellows, earthy browns and greens contrasting with bright oranges, muted blues and dappled reds fill the paintings and draw in the excited viewer.

 Portrait of a Woman, 2023, 56″X36″, handmade pigments and shell gold on hemp paper. Courtesy of artist and Jessica Silverman Gallery. Image by Phillip Maisel.

Gazing onto the painting titled “Portrait of a woman” showing a young visibly pregnant woman, standing amidst a clearing in the forest. A female viewer would instantly relate to the vulnerability that the artist is expressing. Color and form are used adroitly to draw in the viewer. But clearly it is not the only reason the work exists.

Rupy also wants us to look deeper and really “see” the work. Hiding amidst the beautiful landscape are the not-so-explicitly visible elements of danger, which are the darker context of some of this seemingly lively and bright painting. In some ways it is like the artist saying to us – look I put in the effort to create this and now it is the viewers’ turn to put in the effort to really see it for what it is.

The only human figures in Rupy’s paintings are brown and female and placed central in these compositions. Their plain facial features and flowing body contours give them the simplicity of sorts. Rupy is not interested in showing beautiful women laden with jewels rather she focuses on drawing attention to the context and situations that they are in – wary, exhausted, resting or firmly rooted.


A drop in the desert, 2023, 36″X56″, handmade pigments and shell silver on hemp paper. Courtesy of artist and Jessica Silverman Gallery. Image by Phillip Maisel.

Drawing from her personal life she conveys the accompanying exhaustion of being a mother to 3 young children while navigating her professional life as an artist. Two of the paintings show women resting and are set against a California landscape. Their mere presence in this environment is a form of claiming their space on this land. In these works she intends to “show glimpses of everyday life where doom and optimism hang in delicate balance. I created this work to highlight the human capacity to exist with hope, even on shaky ground.”

As a practitioner of the traditional Indian miniature painting style, Rupy is expanding its boundaries both in terms of content and scale. Her themes are contemporary while her technique is rooted in the tradition – one that is labor intensive – burnishing the hemp paper, grinding the pigments and mixing colors, all taking its toll on the physical body. As she takes on this additional process, which is heavily exhausting yet, not so visible in her paintings, Rupy brings the focus on the unseen labor of most women in our communities.

As more and more museums acquire her work to add to their permanent collections, she creates space for other artists who like her are brown & female so that the narrative can turn from “Out of Place” to “At Home”


[N.B:  The show is on view till 5th Jan 2024 at the ICA SF Museum, 901 Minnesota Street San Francisco. Rupy C. Tut is represented by Jessica Silverman Gallery and has been featured in the New York Times and her works are in the permanent collections at the Asian Art Museum, De Young Museum, Crocker Art Museum amongst others.]


Artist Website & Instagram

Image Credits:

Placing Self, 2023, 49″X36″, handmade pigments and shell gold on hemp paper. Courtesy of artist and Jessica Silverman Gallery. Image by Phillip Maisel.[Above main painting]




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