Artists attempt to promote tribal art

The ethnic fabric of India boasts of a host of major tribes varying from the Gonds, the Bhils, the Santhals, the Minas, the Oraons, the Mundas, the Khonds to other close-knitted clans, who proudly preserve their folk crafts and codes, even to this day. In an age when aggressive onslaughts of a hi-tech, cosmopolitan, consumerist culture are constantly threatening to put up a cloud-cover over a mass of indigenous art forms, there the loyal practitioners and followers of decadent adivasi arts, folklore and heritage are still trying hard to retain their last flickering flame for posterity’s sake. The challenge is to bring the marginalised creativity to the mainstream platform and reinstate to its past glory.
Amidst a galaxy of such divine arts, Gond and Bhil styles are beautifully aesthetic. Stemming out of the beautiful province of Madhya Pradesh, the tribal art form is steeped in with labyrinthine intricacies, minute-detailing, complex craftsmanship, neat finish and dexterity of the artist’s balanced hand-movement. The result is an unspeakable visual delight for those who yearn to indulge in a leisurely dekko only to understand its esoteric essence. Apparently looking like threaded embroidery designs or woollen-works, the paintings reflect the creator’s imagination running riot to lend a multi-dimensional effect, thereby foregrounding certain objects and figures, while leaving the rest sprawling behind in the background. Of late, a magnificent exhibition featuring the lesser-known Gond and Bhil artworks was showcased at Kolkata’s prestigious premises of Harrington Street Art Centre gallery. Offering a kaleidoscopic view to an array of framed specimens on paper as well as large canvases mounted upon spacious walls, the exposition titled The Trail Of The Snake Tiger, unfurled the works of some reputed names in the field of tribal arts. Catching the deftness of specialists like Durga Bai and her husband Subhash Vyam, apart from Venkat Raman Shyam Singh, Rajendra Shyam and Bhuri Bai is a sheer pleasure to the art connoisseurs’ eyes and their refined tastes. A collector’s item for sure, the variegated splurge was carefully curated by noted art patron Ina Puri.
Bringing in the best of Gond and Bhil’s stylistic genres to the culture-capital, the art-show had widely unveiled a wealth of grotesque patterns, designs, motifs and geometric shapes to the city’s art- enthusiasts. “It is like the top creamy-crust of a classic beauty which goes limitless after a point. The more you dig deeper, the better is the rapturous joy felt by the exhilarated viewers,” shared Tulsi Mehta, a university art-student. Dabbling in the art, the painters fill in the compositions with a rainbow of hues and then dapple the pictures with lines, dots, dashes, blocks, circles, et al. The speckled portraits further give an impression of verve and vibrancy on the canvas. In a nutshell, it breathes in a new lease of life.
Borrowed from a tapestry of fables and forest-bound tales, the paintings pulsate with an animated spectrum of the flora and fauna of the beautiful Mother Nature. From animals to humans; from landscapes to rippling water-bodies, this folk art knows no extent to stop its spontaneity which bursts like a fountain-jet. Both domestic pets (like cows, cats, dogs, hens, ducks, goats, sheep, parrots) as well as wild creatures (like snaky reptiles, tigers, lions, porcupines, the owl, migratory birds) come alive on the paper. A pond of swimming fish, slithering snakes transforming into tridents, buds blooming into flowers or green trees spreading out their branches and a gush of flowing stream conjure up an optical illusion of motion in the otherwise stationary pictures. The sparkling shades of yellows, blues, oranges, greens, pinks, browns, greys, blacks, reds and whites metamorphose into an eye-dazzling magical world where a carnivorous and a herbivorous beast co-exist in perfect harmony of peace alongside a cluster of happy villagers, while the benign deities look on. One may spot a snake and a chameleon snuggled up in playful company. Or an elephant in an ecstatic posture, coiling its trumpet with its partner’s.
Primarily drawn from the ages of yore, from the depths of adivasi memory, the painters align themselves to the past as much as to the present. Therefore, in Bhuri Bai’s exquisite painting, the narrative shows not just a pastoral scene but also delineates a clip of an aircraft flying overhead, which stands as a proud testimony to her current-day life when her work gets hugely lapped up in the distant parts of the world. Durga Bai’s art too represents the notable change which has come about in their lives in modern times. Venkat’s is the most modern voice and in his unique oeuvre, one can clearly witness a second-generation Gond artist who has been able to carve out his own niche space amongst a band of contemporary artists. Rajendra is another painter who uses his imaginative powers to create a strange, bizarre world of lore and songs. Subhash’s black and white paintings are but a collage extracted from motifs and myths. In lieu of a vivid palette, he adorns his portraits in sharply defined lines and whorls of black and white chromes.
Attesting the Gond and Bhil art as a coming-of-age avenue, Venkat confirms that “it is no longer a dying art but a contemporary one. Earlier, it was drawn on the wall-facades of a hut to denote the owner’s name and entity through a matrix of signs and symbols. In due course of time, the art progressed to surface as a revamped form, thus enhancing its quality of presentation in the process.” Armed with almost three decades’ long experience in the aforesaid style, Venkat observes that the craft is closer to the Mother Earth and her sacred soil. “As a Gond clan, we worship prakriti (nature) and the Prithvi, our dharti maa (Mother Earth). We celebrate a festival called Hariyali (greenery) wherein we plant saplings and grow vegetation. When the rain-gods bless the earth with a monsoon shower to quench the thirst of a parched, dry land, then the first drop of rainwater is ushered in with much pomp and show. The soil turns green, the farm-fields are tilled to sprout crops and the season of cultivation is celebrated amidst big festivities. So it is quite obvious that the themes will be logically elicited from the verdant nature,” reasons the enormously talented artist who’s a resident of Bhopal and whose forte lies in oil, acrylic shades and murals. Having conducted a workshop at a Spicmacay programme, recently held in Kolkata, this visiting artist taught the subtle nuances and finesse of the Gond art to a bunch of inquisitive students, teachers and parents.
It is true that just a decade ago, this art form was not propagated the way it has been attempted now. In fact this fabulous art-basin could be a great feather to preen in the cap of Madhya Pradesh tourism department. So the government can also play a very significant role to nourish this attractive art. “Even the late noted painter Manjit Bawa had encouraged the painstaking art and its exponents. I feel the way the most
eminent and revered theatre personality Habib Tanvir’s stage-plays were not only well-received in the hinterlands of Chhattisgarh but carried beyond borders, the arduous tribal arts should also be given its deserving respect on the global frontiers,” avers Puri. adding further, “Believe me, I had an overwhelming response at a recent London show and am now taking the exhibition forward to Singapore.”
Having had several constructive meetings in Bhopal already, Puri has plans up her sleeve to flourish the movement in the overseas market.

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