Jaipur’s Meenakari Museum is more than just a Vanity project

Designed by a fleet of skilled artisans working with jeweller Sunita Shekhawat, Studio Lotus, Usha R. Balakrishnan and Siddhartha Das Studio, the marvelous ‘Museum of Meenakari Heritage’ (MoMH) is one of its kind project  to democratise enamelling technique of ‘meenakari’.

Spread across 2,200 sq.ft, the museum displays over 120 reproductions of jewellery pieces that once belonged to India but are now in possession of  international institutions like the British Museum and Victoria & Albert Museum.

The structure is designed in hand-carved Jodhpur red sandstone that complements the city’s pink palette with ease and devotion. The façade draws inspiration from Jaipur’s Indo-Saracenic roots, quite apparent in  Rajput, Mughal, and art deco influences of the region.

Shekhawat’s unique take on traditional enamelled jewellery earned her the moniker of ‘the modern meenakar’, in large part due to her unconventional use of colours beyond the typical enamelling palette; as well as for her multi-purpose, reversible designs.

Inside, the central cut-out visually binds the museum to the retail experience and the karigar areas on the lower ground floor, as well as to Sunita Shekhawat’s personal studio and other offices on the first floor. 

This connecting void houses a helical staircase and a tubular elevator. While charcoal grey shapes the mood on the ground floor, lime plaster, stone, and terrazzo complete the first floor, and the lower ground floor features a gorgeous eggshell white lime stucco finish. Here, the central lounge and library lead to individual meeting rooms for a one-on-one retail experience, featuring bespoke furniture by Mangrove Collective.

“Developed over several months in-situ by 12 artisans, the restrained colour palette immediately draws attention to the hand-painted frescoes on the ceiling. the frescoes depict vignettes of the region’s architecture and flora and fauna.

The outcome—a jewel-like expression of hand-crafted luxury that celebrates the brand’s ethos—is a testament to the skills of the artisans, who’ve interpreted them on an unfamiliar scale and medium; a synergistic collaboration between the architects, the client, and Nisha Vikram of CraftCanvas”. He also credits key contributor Buildkraft India for lending a detailed effect to the façade, interior contracting, and millwork.

Dr. Balakrishnan and her team spent four years sourcing over 300 references and images from about 15 prestigious museums, private collections, art galleries and auction houses such as the British Museum, Victoria & Albert Museum, The Al-Thani Collection, Aga Khan Museum, The Hermitage, Sotheby’s and Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. 

As per historian  Usha R. Balakrishnan, “Old jewellery was often melted to make something new. It was used as currency. Then the British looted us, so a lot of the history was erased. Many of our temples and monasteries are full of jewellery but, again, they are off limits. Even our museums have old pieces hidden in the basement.”

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