Showing posts with label Gond Art. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Gond Art. Show all posts

5 Dec 2018

Art News: Jangarh Singh Shyam - A Conjuror’s Archive (New Delhi)

Jangarh Singh Shyam

A Conjuror’s Archive

‘Jangarh Singh Shyam, A Conjuror’s Archive’, co-curated by Dr. Jyotindra Jain and Roobina Karode is on at The Kiran Nadar Museum of Art (KNMA) at KNMA, Saket, New Delhi.

Jangarh Singh Shyam
ca. late 1980s
Pigment on paper
Collection and image courtesy: Museum of Art & Photography (MAP), Bangalore

The opening of the exhibition was accompanied by a book launch, ‘Jangarh Singh Shyam, A Conjuror’s Archive,’ authored by Dr. Jyotindra Jain, who has had an extensive engagement with the works of Jangarh, having known him personally and following his practice.

KNMA has expanded its curatorial and exhibition program in the last few years. Since 2017 a special exhibition category has been introduced, to open up discourses around preceding pre-modern, traditional and indigenous art practices, and critically examine their influence and appropriations in urban contemporary art. The first of this kind was ‘Amruta Kalasha, Thanjavur and Other South Indian Paintings’. This year the exhibition on Jangarh problematizes ‘the tribal’ and ‘the contemporary’. Jangarh was born into a Pardhan Gond family in the village of Patangarh in Mandla district, of Eastern Madhya Pradesh. He is much discussed for his creation of a new style, which is named after him as ‘Jangarh Kalam’. A unique style when compared with traditional tribal art practices. Its initiation happened early when Jangarh met J. Swaminathan (who was then Director at Bharat Bhavan) during a talent scout. Swaminathan convinced Jangarh to relocate to Bhopal and work as a professional artist. Jangarh’s primary subjects were sometimes Gond deities like Thakur Dev, Bada Deo and Kalsahin Devi and at other times were applique styled portraits of animals, trees, folklore imagery and landscapes of the place where he grew up, placed next to objects and entities from urban settings, like aeroplanes.

The exposition is enriched with works brought in on loan from government and private institution collections and many private collectors. The exhibits include paintings on paper and canvas, terracotta murals, digital prints of photographs, Jangarh’s letters, and reproduction of mural images and theatre posters which incorporated Jangarh’s art work.

A substantial showing in this exhibition of Jangarh’s works has come from The Museum of Art and Photography (MAP), Bangalore. Works from institutions such as Bharat Bhawan in Bhopal and The Crafts Museum in New Delhi are historically important as they were places where Jangarh worked on-site projects. Some in-situ murals will be reproduced for the exhibition. The book by Dr. Jain (who is a cultural historian and museologist), offers rare insight into the life and works of Jangarh Singh Shyam.

“This exposition is a witness to Jangarh’s excitement and angst, his hope and despair, which pulled him into a vortex of uncertainty and alienation from his familiar ground. His rise to fame, through the exhibition Magiciens de la Terre, at Centre Pompidou, Paris in 1989 followed by subsequent multiple commissions from different art entities, with his journey ending tragically, when Jangarh committed
suicide in Japan at the age of 39. At a cursory glance while one may think he created the universe he knew, which was being amidst the flora and fauna in natural surroundings that were associated with his imagery, there are embedded stories, fables, anecdotes and myths that are unveiled beautifully by Dr. Jain”, mentions Roobina Karode, Chief Curator and Director, KNMA.

The ethos of the exposition at certain points resonate and harmonize with the spirit of the book on Jangarh and at other times take a self-determining course to generate unique visual experiences.

“Jangarh Singh, a young Pardhan artist with an inborn genius for drawing and painting and modelling … was “discovered” when the walls of his hut were found to be covered with paintings done by him”, J. Swaminathan once stated, to what Dr. Jain points out, “The term ‘discovery’ as applied to encountering works by indigenous or vernacular artists by ethnographers, art historians and what Jangarh would call sheheri (urban) artists further stresses the hierarchised binary between the two and, concomitantly, the power relation inherent to the dynamic between the invasive ‘discoverer’ and the passive ‘discovered’, more explicitly visible in the histories of colonial voyages and geographical discoveries”.

One of his works from the late 1980s depict a serpent supporting the animate earth on its head where the stylized form is shaped out of numerous dots. Jangarh introduced this entirely new style which generated a narrative instead of portraying a singular deity. Adding layers of chronicles to his subject, Jangarh often drew from the social and cultural changes that he observed around.

His earliest commission work from 1996, is a massive exterior mural covering 6500 square feet in Vidhan Bhavan, Bhopal, in which he was assisted technically by Ashis Swamy, a theatre associate and a trained artist from Santiniketan. This mural was the first of its kind done by Jangarh. He populated the pictorial ground with his gods, the vegetation and creatures embedded in his memory to which he added a colossal aeroplane and a leaping tiger. The vast and charming painterly space of the murals both predicted and determined the large scale of the images and propelled him to add more.

Jangarh Singh Shyam
Image courtesy: Jyotindra Jain

Another work depicting a young boy playing flute, done in acrylic on canvas from the mid-90s, is a rare painting. It talks of a young boy seated amongst animals under a tree playing his flute. The tree hosts birds, a beehive and a large cobra, which too appears mesmerised with the tune of the flute. The painting is unconventionally divided in diagonal spaces with in which the central protagonist, according to Jyotindra Jain could also be a possible representation of the artist himself.

Jangarh Singh Shyam
ca. mid 1990s
Acrylic on canvas
Collection and image courtesy: Mark Tully and Gillian Wright, New Delhi

Raised with powerful sensibilities that were shaped by his memories from Patangarh, a place which he left behind, Jangarh created, a huge body of artworks in over two decades. His works are inhabited by gods and demons, shamans and priests, birds and beasts and sometimes creatures that dwell in imaginations. Thus the entire realm of memories that had remained dormant in his mind came alive through his imageries, as response to the new and alluring space of the paper, canvas or the walls that ‘he turned into a vast and unique conjuror’s archive’, says Dr Jain.

Exhibition continues till 12th January 2019

Based on press release

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13 Oct 2014

Art for Festive Occasions

Art is a wonderful way to add colour, style and statement to our surroundings

Festivals are an ideal time for family and friends to get together and celebrate the occasion and to take the opportunity to reiterate lifelong bonds. Deepawali which is celebrated across the country with great enthusiasm and joy is a festival which mandates spring cleaning and decorating home interiors on an extensive scale. It offers immense possibilities to unleash your creativity and decorate interiors innovatively.
Art for Festive Occasions, Art Scene India, Image courtesy Bipasha Sen Gupta
Art is a wonderful way to add colour, style and statement to our surroundings. Colours and moods are interlinked and it is a well-known fact that bright vibrant colours which symbolize energy and vigor are uplifting and help in creating a spirit of celebration. Also, colours that are used symbolically in our tradition and culture as part of rituals and ceremonies, such as ochre, vermilion and rust should be used generously to reaffirm the festive spirit. This would be a good time to choose paintings which reflect not only these colours but are also celebratory in nature.

Conventionally, paintings are the most popular form of artworks that are Art for Festive Occasions, Art Scene India, Image courtesy Mahirwan Mamtanidisplayed in homes and it is common to have a large painting placed over a central seating area and it works well in most interior spaces. During the festive season it would be a good idea to display paintings which focus on traditional and ethnic themes. These can be put up as a set or singly if they are large.

In addition, there are several other options apart from just traditional ones which can also be used to create a unique and different look. Displaying art in the form of accessories is also a wonderful way to enhance your surroundings. For instance, having paintings or sketches on functional and utilitarian accessories such has chairs, cushion covers, coasters, coffee mugs, decorative wooden boxes and Art for Festive Occasions, Art Scene India, Image courtesy Sanghita Dasso on not only make these functional items colourful but also very dramatic. A single large piece of furniture such as a chair or a table can be hand painted by a professional artist to turn it into a conversation piece. This may be slightly expensive but if you look around you should be able to find an upcoming artist or a student who can do this in a more affordable manner. And, in case you are artistically inclined you could always try painting it yourself, but do experiment on a smaller and less expensive piece first. For a larger number of collectable items, a screen-printed option which has been done professionally works much better.

Art for Festive Occasions, Art Scene India, Image courtesy AhambhumikaThese days, it is common to have a wall as an accent by painting it in another colour and by using textures to enhance its mundane appearance, instead you can have a wall accentuated by having it painted by an artist. Here you can either have a contemporary look or opt for an ethnic or traditional finish by getting it painted by a folk artist. An abstract sketch or a colorful mosaic will look fabulous in a contemporary décor, while Madhubani, Pithora, Worli or any other folk or tribal art can make a huge difference to the ambience. Both these options are worth exploring and are sure to make your décor stand out.

Festivals are also a great time to display traditional figurines, antique paintings and other artifacts which are either hand painted or customized. The important thing is to be creative in your display and choose artifacts with care to ensure a festive air prevails.

Images courtesy Bipasha Sen Gupta, Mahirwan Mamtani, Sanghita Das and Aham Bhumika
This article was published earlier in The Times of India-Property, Bangalore

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10 Feb 2014

Social Cause: Gond Art by Rural Children

This week we focus on Ahambhumika, an NGO which is working actively to empower rural children by teaching them arts and crafts in an effort to raise funds and to also equip them with vocational skills. 


Gond Art by Ahambhumika, Image courtesy AhambhumikaAhambhumika, an NGO is an active campaigner on social media and strives to raise funds by direct sale and auction of tribal paintings made by their volunteers. The bright and colourful Gond paintings have found many homes and have thereby helped to support them in their work with underprivileged children. Ahambhumika is a small organization based in Bhopal, comprising of a few like-minded people consisting of artists, housewives, engineers, tourist guides, teachers and government employees. Besides supporting a few rural schools, they have a literacy center which provides basic education to 120 rural children.

The organization aims at helping underprivileged children, destitute and orphans by involving people from cities and by collecting material discarded by them (clothes, bicycles, books, toys, newspapers etc.) for the underprivileged people.According to Subrat Goswami, Founder Ahambhumika, “We also impart training in embroidery and art, especially Gond Art to rural children and women. One of our volunteers does the Gond Art and we are now teaching this to a group of rural children. Besides this we also make efforts to raise funds through sale of paintings made by our volunteers.”
 Gond Art by Ahambhumika, Image courtesy Ahambhumika
The Gond tribe is one of the largest Adivasi communities in Madhya Pradesh and as is common with most tribal communities to express their joys and sorrows collectively and in a ritualistic manner, Gond art follows this trend. Their art form conforms to the belief that ‘viewing a good image begets good luck’, which leads them to decorating their houses and floors with traditional tattoos and motifs. Gond art is now practiced on paper and canvas and many artists have found success through this form of tribal art. (Readers will remember that I had written recently about Nankusia Shyam, the wife of the famous Gond artist Jangarh Singh Shyam, you can read the article here.)
Gond Art by Ahambhumika, Image courtesy Ahambhumika

Ahambhumika aims to raise funds through the sale of these paintings. It is wonderful that the organization not only provides literacy to children, but also puts in substantial efforts to empower them by providing skill-based learning. 
Gond Art by Ahambhumika, Image courtesy AhambhumikaGond Art by Ahambhumika, Image courtesy Ahambhumika

If you would like to help them out in any capacity please visit their website or contact them here.

31 Aug 2013

Jangarh Singh Shyam’s Legacy – Gond Art Continues to Thrive

A tribal art demonstration was organized at Gallery Sumukha, Bangalore recently and it was a delight to see Jangarh Singh Shyam’s family members (his wife, Nankusia Shyam) and their associates diligently paint canvases and paper with Gond art.  Bright acrylic colours and meticulous detailing filled every inch of the space inside the outlined figures!

   Jangarh Singh Shyam – his Kalam

The Gond tribe is one of the largest Adivasi communities in India and they inhabited the dense forests of the Vindhyas, Satpura and Mandla in the Narmada region in Madhya Pradesh*.  As is common with most tribal communities who express their joys and sorrows collectively and in a ritualistic manner, the Gonds too have been celebrating their festivals and rituals with songs and dances. For centuries they have been rooted in their cultural practice and traditions.  However, in the 1980s many men from villages began to leave for the cities in search of work.  In those circumstances, Jagdeesh Swaminathan, who was the Director of Bharat Bhawan in Bhopal and was constructing the tribal art wing at Bharat Bhawan found Jangarh Singh Shyam who became the first Gond artist to use paper and canvas for his art.  As most of us know, Jangarh Singh Shyam’s tribal art found great support and success and was exhibited widely not only in India but also abroad.  When in Japan for a three month visit, while he was still in his thirties Jangarh Singh Shyam took his life, under circumstances which are still not clear.  When I met Nankusia Shyam, the late Jangarh Singh Shyam’s wife, one could see that she still carried the burden of the pain and loss.

Image by Nalini Malaviya

 Nankusia Shyam creates her own identity

Image by Nalini MalaviyaNankusia Shyam revealed that she had no interest in art initially, but later on at the insistence of her husband she began to fill in colours in the figures and drawings.  Once Jangarh Singh Shyam passed away, for her, painting was a way to continue his legacy as well as a means of survival.  During this phase, many artists tried to take advantage of the situation and promote themselves as Jangarh Singh Shyam’s heirs in the art world.  That forced Nankusia Shyam to come out of her mourning and establish herself and her family as the legitimate practitioners of Gond art – or rather the form which was initiated by Jangarh Singh Shyam.  She gained confidence as she worked more and often found herself working late in the night to complete images for paintings which had to be delivered.   

Incidentally, when Jangarh Singh Shyam was alive he already had a system in place where members of his community were apprenticing with him while painting and assisting him.  As a result, there is a whole community of Gond artists who are practicing this tribal art form and are exhibiting in art galleries in India and sometimes even abroad. The particular style and genre of Gond painting which was initiated by Jangarh Singh Shyam is termed Jangarh Kalam. Bhuri Bai and Lado Bai who were also present at the demonstration in Bangalore have been associated with Nankusia Shyam for a long time.

Image by Nalini MalaviyaImage by Nalini Malaviya

Coming back to Nankusia Shyam, she has clearly come a long way.  If you compare her early works to the recent ones, there is a greater clarity and confidence in the paintings now.  Images are refined and there is finesse in her works.  Mythical animals, fables and other stories along with elements from nature are reflected in her paintings.  Her two older children, son Mayank and daughter Japani are also accomplished artists as they have been painting for many years.  I came across one of Japani’s paintings which was a delightful black and white work, with a fascinating imagery and contextually much more contemporary in nature. Nankusia Shyam’s youngest son has not shown much interest in painting until now, but she is optimistic that he may take it up soon!

Folk and Tribal Art – Survival?

Gond art in its current form has been able to establish itself in the mainstream galleries and has also been part of curated exhibitions.  And, although there is a lot of competition amongst the Gond artists to find recognition and acceptance in galleries and auctions, I feel it has fared much better than other folk and tribal arts, which are rendered as crafts displayed in handicraft and lifestyle stores. 
No doubt, commercial and business aspects have crept into the Gond art practice as well, but then one must accept that at the end of the day it is a question of survival.  As I have said many times before, what is much needed at this juncture is sufficient government and corporate support to ensure that our folk and tribal art and other cultural practices/traditions can be sustained and conserved.