Art from rural India finds an urban home

Art from rural India finds an urban home

In this day and age, when ‘Contemporary’ and ‘Bengal renaissance’ are the only two genres of art popularly displayed and known, a unique art exhibition in the city is showcasing two precious, and unfortunately extinct, folk art forms of India.

Rare paintings from Maharashtra’s ‘Pinguli Chitragathi’ and Rajasthan’s ‘Mewar School’ of art are on public display at the ‘Arts of the Earth’ gallery in Lado Sarai.

This gallery, in fact, came up only two years back with the sole aim of preserving and promoting the folk, tribal and popular arts of India. Meena Verma, the founder-director of ‘Arts of the earth’ says, “I had always been interested in the folk/tribal art forms of India. Our country, being home to so many states and cultures, has an astonishing variety of local art. Most people, however, are not aware of it. At the most, we see these gems at places like Dilli Haat; but other than that, there is little variety to see.”

So Meena Verma started to travel widely and collect these paintings from various folk artists and dealers. This exhibition, too, is a result of 20 to 25 years of efforts into gathering and carefully preserving ‘Pinguli Chitragathi’ and ‘Mewat’ paintings by her. Around 40 paintings, 20 each of ‘Pinguli’ and ‘Mewat’ art forms, are on display at the exhibition.

The ‘Pinguli Chitragathi’ art form comes from the small and inconspicuous village of Pinguli near Kudal in Maharashtra. It has been practiced by the Thakar Adivasi community of Pinguli since as long back as the mid 18th century.

At one time, it received patronage from Sivaji Maharaj himself. In a simple audio-visual medium, some artists would hold these paintings like placards while others would narrate the sequence of events, from Hindu mythological stories, dramatically, with musicians accompanying.

The Mewar School of painting, on the other hand, flourished in the state of Udaipur in the 16th century. The themes were from epics like Rasidapriya, Surasagara, Ramayana and heroic Rajput tales. Ramayana manuscripts in Mewar paintings (7 volumes) were produced between 1649 and 1680 for Rana Jagat Singh and Rana Raj Singh of Mewar in the court studio at Udaipur. Two of these have been identified as having been painted by studio master Sahib Din.

Besides the fact that both these art forms depict Hindu legends and epics, both make use of very simplistically drawn lines and vibrant colours. Emotionally charged faces with sharp features, robust figures, flames and common motifs can be observed in both forms of paintings.

Also, with the lack of patronage and interest, and the last few skilled artists having died some years back, both these art forms have now become extinct. “Today, you can only expect to see them in a museum,” says Meena; or else, we would say, visit ‘Arts of the earth.’

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