Winds of change

Tribal art

If Venkat Raman Singh Shyam is to be believed than initially gond paintings were used as a signage to identify the gotra of a family, mostly used to locate a house, especially for the matrimonial purpose. “There are around 750 gotras in our community and every gotra has a character. Different animals depict these gotras and hence the family would paint them on the walls of the house as an identification mark,” Shyam says.

Shyam belongs to the Pradhan (tribal) family in Sejohra, Mandla district of Madhya Pradesh and has been painting since the age of 10. He along with two other gond artists – Bhajju Shyam and Roshni Vyam are participating in an ongoing exhibition Satrangi- A Gond Expression, that highlights the contemporary discourse this form is following.

The gonds are among the largest tribes in Central India and are predominately located in Madhya Pradesh, but have significant numbers in Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh and Odisha. The community paints their walls with vibrant depictions of local flora and fauna, village life and various celebrations and rituals.

“On the birth of a child, or festivals, the walls of the house will be decorated with this art. It is considered to be auspicious. But as the form gained popularity among urban centres, the artist community started focussing on rendering contemporary tales through traditional craft,” Bhajju tells Metrolife.

Without tampering much with the design process, the artists are reimagining folktales and drawing them keeping the buyers in mind. “This form of art is pretty popular and there is competition among the community. But the ones who are contemporarising the form without compromising on the aesthetics are able to do justice to this art,” points out Venkat.

Bhajju explains how one of his works takes a cue from a folktale where a king, with the help of the god and goddesses is able to defeat another king who misused his magical powers. This work is ‘Son Barha’ which shows a tribal king on a horse, as the motifs of fish and faces dot their entire bodies, representing the people and animals in distress. The deft strokes are visible through the fine lines that are distributed equally in the work.
“I try not to tamper with the background and the local flavour of this form. There are times when I have a story in mind but that doesn’t come out well on the canvas. So there is no set deadline for a work to finish. It can take a few days or a few months, depending on the amount of work and labour required to be done,” admits Bhajju.

Earlier, the artists used to rely on natural colours that they would extract from tree leaves and a particular kind of clay. But now, because of the non availability of natural colours, the artists use poster colours in their work.

The exhibition Satrangi- A Gond Expression is on display at the Ojas Art till
September 6.

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