Showing posts with label Jangarh Kalam. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Jangarh Kalam. 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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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.