Emergence of Gond art

Folk art

Emergence of Gond art

The casual observer identifies Gond art by the characteristic pattern composed of dots and dashes that fill its motifs. The aficionado on the other hand, can identify the artist by taking one look at those dots and dashes. This feature, uniquely so, is considered the signature of a Gond artist and each of the over 100 recognised pursuers of the art have evolved their own style.

Though it may appear so, there’s no abstract thought behind choosing the signature. The inspiration for that almost always is drawn from nature or societal customs and represented through a play of elements. And each artist has his fascinating explanation for having chosen a particular style. For example Suresh Kumar Dhurwe, a leading Gond artist settled in Bhopal, fills his colour drawings with a series of small dashes.

“This is my way of expressing the thought of peedi dar peedi (down the generations). A family’s or for that matter, the world’s expansion and survival is based on the next generation and in return, each of us have a bit of the past in us. This fact always intrigued me and I chose to make it my stamp in paintings.” Within the Gond artist community, this pattern remains exclusive to Suresh and his drawings can be recognised based on that.

Gond art is visible in two forms: colour and black-white. For the latter, the artist can chose a different stamp. Dhurwe fills his black and white series with a pattern of small circles with a dot in their centre. “For me the circle represents the world and the dot the human being. We are all no more than a micro dot in the universe,” he says in a matter of fact way, reflecting creativity and observation as well as a subtlety found in folk wisdom.

The nuances of Gond  art, though, don’t start and end with the patterning. As seen in other tribal forms, it is primitive art and its visuals depict engrossing folk stories and legends.

With a population reportedly of around five million, the Gonds are considered the largest tribe in central India or Gondwana as it was once known as. Today this region comprises of Chhindwara district in Madhya Pradesh, Bastar in Chhattisgarh, and parts of Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, as well as Orissa. The word Gond though is said to be a derivation from the term konda meaning green hill.

The practice of wall and floor paintings in honour of religious celebrations as well as portrayal of customs is a tradition among all tribes of India. Gond villages follow a similar pattern and amongst all themes, it’s the digna — painted on houses during weddings and other festive occasions —  that’s most popular.

Central to most visuals are mother nature and her bounties, something that manifests itself in present day commercial paintings. Except, as opposed to the limitless spectrum of acrylic/ink colours found in paintings done on paper and canvas, the wall art in villages is found in three basic earth colours of ochre, brown, black besides white.

When speaking about Gond art, a must-mention is the name of Jangarh Singh Shyam, the pioneer of the art form as seen in the urban milieu today. Legend says, it was J Swaminathan who saw the potential in 17-year-old Jangarh, who used to paint the huts in Patangarh, a village in Madhya Pradesh, where a majority of Gond artists still hail from.

It was Jangarh, under the guidance of his mentor, who gave a distinct form to Gond art by introducing the definitive style of motif patterning with dots, dashes, roundels etc. Over time, his work got a label for itself and popularly came to be known as ‘Jangarh kalam’, considered the benchmark technique by Gond artists.

The initial crop of artists were happy to reach that level, but this seemed to have changed after Jangarh’s son Bhajju Shyam was commissioned to do the illustrations for The London Jungle Book (2005) which went on to become a bestseller. The stunning visuals were a tribute to Bhajju’s lateral thought — perceptions of a tribal in a Western environment — that captured the imagination of the art lover internationally.

Since then, there has been an emergence of many a talented Gond artist, Dhurwe being one among the pool that includes Japani (Jangarh’s daughter), Dilip Shyam, Chotti Tekam etc.

The mass appeal of an art can be gauged when its motifs find their way to souvenirs and household articles. A few years back, the spotlight was on Madhubani and Warli. It’s time for them to move over, as Gond enters that realm and can now be spotted on pen stands, mouse-pads, tees, keychains etc. The next time you enter a store you might just return with a set of mugs with Gond motifs. And what’s laudable is that the name of the artist will be found on the reverse.

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