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Exiles can be long if they have a cause. Nupur Tron, founder and director of ‘Foundation Frison Horta’ in Brussels, Belgium, has a cause fired by passion. She is an Indian woman in a foreign land, using European legacy, heritage and aesthetics to get the Indian message across. After having lived in Paris as part of the haute monde set and as Ambassador for Indian Culture in France, Tron, a jewellery designer, found Belgium her next port of call.

She moved to Brussels with her daughter Arya—a piano prodigy—from a Spanish diplomat. In Brussels, she heard about Maison Frison, an art nouveau building designed by the famous 19th-century Belgian architect Victor Horta. For a country not exactly teeming with icons of its own, Tron was surprised that the residence of a foremost architect should be in a state of disrepair. Now, after six years of painstaking restoration, she runs the Foundation Frison Horta. “Heritage and culture are a universe of their own. The more you dive into it, the more magical it becomes,” says Tron, the head of business development, culture and philanthropy for Europe Indian Chamber of Commerce, Brussels. 

The house, which Horta built for his friend Maurice Frison in 1894, stayed under lock and key for almost two decades before Tron acquired it in 2017. Holding over 300 pieces of furniture, customised door handles, frescoes and mosaic, it is a tribute to a lost history: an elegant relic of the art nouveau movement and a “living museum” as Tron calls it. “It is inclusive, not exclusive, an organic festival of sweeping lines, soft corners, streaming lights, suspended spaces, colours and materials in symbiosis. It’s a part of me, and I am a part of it,” says the Indian aesthete.

She has made the house a melting pot of culture. Chamber music sessions are organised every month featuring a wide range of artists from the Austrian Cultural Forum, Brussels, the Carousel Chamber Music Ensemble and even a presentation of Rabindra Sangeet on flute; Tron can speak fluent Bengali. Last month, she organised a Korean Hanji workshop. “There is an ongoing exhibition of Spanish photographer Bernardo Aja, who captures people living in historical properties. I want to bring it to India too, where living alongside heritage is so common,” she says, adding, “With the help of the King Baudouin Foundation, Brussels, which invests in inspiring projects, we started the American Friends of Foundation Horta in May. I will be visiting New York in September for the inaugural conference.” In fact, most of her time is taken up in trying to bring to the notice of the world the role India has played in art nouveau.

Tron believes that in architecture, heritage and culture, a lot is inspired by India, though the country never got the credit. “Rather, the West coined the terms eclectic and exotic to explain this inspiration. What art nouveau is to the West, is what you have in Indian royal houses, where customisation or made-to-measure is the central theme—the motifs, the textiles, and the patterns are exactly the same. For us, this is not new; it is age-old, parts of which we took from the Persians, Ottomans, Mughals and Portuguese. These techniques and colours were not known in Europe.

They came from India through the East India Company and other European firms.” Tron believes it is important to build a bridge between the East and West. “We need to connect the dots and show the world how the influence of India in architecture is very deep and I want the Indian government to help me bring it to the world for the youth to get the right perspective about their country,” she stresses.

Arya, now nine, has lived most of her life—six years—at Maison Frison, even during its restoration. How has she taken to it? “My daughter is a living example of East meets West. She is half-Spanish and half-Indian, who is growing up in a cultural bubble,” says Tron, who is planning to bring the history of the Horta House with its East-West connection to India next year. “Heritage is fragile. Like us, it needs love and care, and it gives you so much back unconditionally,” she smiles. A bridge here, a song there, is both Tron’s dream and reality.

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