The main gate at the Crafts Museum is built to resemble a traditional entrance to an important site and marks the significance of the space it demarcates. It is painted in a series of panels with traditional designs from Phad painting, the narrative scoll from Rajasthan.
The artist Prakash Joshi from Bhilwara, Rajasthan selected decorative motifs such as half circles, zigzags and flowers that are normally used either as border or to fill up space between figures on a scroll, to create a completely modern look.
Mandana Wall Painting
The designs on the roof of the bridge passage complement the gate as they too are composed of interweaving lines in a charpai or chequer board pattern. The artist hails from Rajasthan but is schooled in the style of Mandana wall painting. The dominant colours used are shades of grey, and sage green, and they give a texture to the roof area.
The choice of colour is extremely unusual for folk artists who often revel in the range of bright colours now available to them in commercial paints, and it is here perhaps that one sees the influence of other aesthetics and ideas.
As we descend the steps of the main entrance gate, one’s eyes travel to the wall adjacent to the ramp that leads to the cafeteria that adjoins the shop.
The painting on this wall consists of a series of trees in white, in the style of Orissa called Juthi, usually painted on the walls of homes by women as part of their annual rituals.
The painting in this case has been executed by Patachitra artist Akshaya Kumar Bariki, and his fellow artists, Sushanta Kumar Mohapatra, Narayan Pradhan and Mahindra Malik, all from Chandanpur.
The juxtaposition of highly stylized trees in patachitra style with free hand prints and rough brush strokes of the domestic alpona, is striking.
Each of these paintings is framed by the vertical bars of the railing that is aligned to the ramp. It is as if these were window niches opening out to the scenery outside. A horizontal row of birds complete the trompe l’oeil effect. It seems as if they are sitting on the railing waiting to catch insects for their morning feed.
This painting is made in the distinctive style of Srikalahasti Kalamkari tradition. Here the Kalam or pen is used for freehand drawing and filling in of the colour is entirely handworked. This painting depicts the story of Srikalahasti, named after three staunch devotees of Lord Shiva, the spider(Sri), the serpent (Kala) and the elephant (Hasti).
A Kalamkari painting being made at Crafts Museum. The completed paintings can be seen in next two panels.
Sanjhi, the ancient art of paper stencilling that is found in Mathura and Vrindavan, is intimately linked to Vrajabhoomi because its subject matter has always been the stories and motifs of the Krishna legend.
Traditionally, the use of the paper cuts, or ‘sanjhis’ as they are called, was also linked to Krishna worship.
Sanjhi Hand Cut Paper Craft
Traditionally Sanjhi was an integral part of Krishna worship, where the elaboprate stencils of motifs from the Krishna legend were used to create pictures with enamelled powder or rangoli.
Over time the craft has evolved and now the paper cut itself is the final work of art. The range of motifs and designs now include many more themes and designs. the work on display is a famous jali.
The major transformation in Sanjhi that has come about in the 1990s is that from being a work of art which was produced with flowers or coloured powder, mainly in the temple for worship, the paper cut that was used as a stencil to create the image has itself become the final artwork, and has lost all ritual or religious significance.
Akshaya Kumar Bariki, the patachitra artist from Orissa, has incorporated the lota as a motif, both as a subject within his paintings as well as in the borders of some some smaller works. Even more interesting is the way in which he has experimented with the technique of ‘nesting’ - presenting one image concealed inside another so that the boundary between the two appears ambiguous.
Thus the silhouette of a lota (made up of many smaller lotas each containing a different tree) emerges from the background of a painting that consists solely of rows upon rows of lotas. Bariki has made a significant departure from his traditional ornamental style in that he has incorporated the idea of negative space or space left empty in his lota design so that some lotas seem to be sliced in two, one half elaborately ornamented, the other left blank.
Kalighat painting emerged in the interface between migrant folk artists and a burgeoning metropolis – Calcutta. They adapted their styles of painting to suit the tastes of the people who visited Kalighat, some of whom were pilgrims but many were just ‘tourists’. The painters catered to many different tastes, painting gods and goddesses from the Hindu pantheon but also secular themes including local scandals and news items.
Some of the favourite subjects of the Kalighat painters involved representations of decadence and the erotic - such as actresses and dancers who performed on the modern stage and men of the new middle class and their mistresses.
Kalam, in his paintings in the Kalighat style, often depicts more contemporary subjects but retains the flavour of decadent eroticism. Thus even his ‘scroll painting’ in the Lota shop has scenes where craftsmen are seen bargaining with potential customers, some of them dressed in the latest fashion such as hipster jeans and so on.
Amidst the homely craft objects we also see a lifesize mannequin – a female figure assembled from lotas in various sizes.
He has assembled a human figure out of lota-like shapes. He has chosen the traditional Birbhum format of pata (scroll) painting but has introduced some of the satirical elements that are usually associated with the Kalighat style.
Each kala, depicted in a separate frame, displays the much vaunted ‘continuous line’ that was supposed to be a distinctive feature of traditional Indian painting. A closer look however reveals the ironic humour in the choice of themes as the artist plays with the idea of tradition by depicting gambling, cheating and the different arts of thievery, alongside the more conventional arts, such as dance, drama, painting, adornment, etc.
Mithila art on the outer walls of the Crafts Museum has been done by two younger artists from the famous Ranti village in Madhubani District – Pushpa Kumari and Pradyumna Kumar. Mithila art has a fairly long tradition of experimentation with secular themes.
It was in the 1960s that the Central Government first encouraged women to transfer the ritual motifs they painted on the walls of their houses on to paper, so that these could be sold and provide a regular source of income for families in Bihar, which was then reeling from the effects of severe drought.
A closer look at these panels, and this is true of some of the others as well, is the way in which the artists have included iconic motifs from their traditional repertoire as if to signpost their particular styles of painting and allow for easy identification.
Thus, Pushpa Kumari and Pradyumna Kumar have incorporated a Naina Jogin figure in a scene depicting village festivities.
Naina Jogin (literally ‘eye goddess’), a feminine figure with her veil covering all but one eye, is an icon that is included in the ritual painting of the nuptial chamber (kohbar ghar) of a newly-married couple and is meant to ward off the evil eye.
In this painting, a Naina Jogin-like figure is positioned in the centre of a circle of dancing women. The position of this image, next to a scene of a woman painting the walls of a kohbar ghar, is probably an intentional reference to the original context in which this image would have been placed, as is the figure of the woman painter who bears a striking resemblance to Mahasundari Devi, Pushpa Kumari’s aunt and one of the foremost artists of this tradition.
In this Warli painting, the artists Rajesh Chaitya Vangad and Balu Ladke from Ganjar, Maharashtra, have divided their work into separate sections that deal with the village landscape and daily activities, village crafts, and festive celebration involving music and dance, depicted here in the famous Warli dance circle.
The juxtaposition of new motifs such as trains and aeroplanes with traditional themes is well within Warli art. The way the artists have introduced touches of versimilitude in otherwise stylised depictions of agricultural activity is fascinating.
Thus, we see a series of paddy fields at the bottom of the panel but each field shows the paddy crop at a different stage of growth. In one, the seedlings have just taken root, not yet ready for harvesting, while in another, the sheaves are lying on their side already harvested, waiting to be gathered for winnowing.
Even more interesting is the way in which the artists have introduced the Warli ‘signature’ into the panel. The dance circle is the most well-known motif in Warli painting. There is also the figure of a fisherman casting his net in a river.
Such self-conscious use of quotations to signpost a distinctive art style must surely remind us that these artists are part of the commodified world of contemporary Indian art, and while perhaps yet to fall victim to forces of commercialisation, they are able to understand the discourse generated in the contemporary world and attendant art markets.
Meheru Netam from Chhattisgarh, who belongs to the Muriya community, has painted next to the Warli panels and has sought inspiration from a different source. His primary influence seems to be the wrought iron strip figures of the metal (dhokra) workers of Chhattisgarh. His figures complement those of the Warli painter.
He too has concentrated on public ceremonies, showing the many deities of the Muriya pantheon and the ritual hunt that is an important feature in the sacred calendar of the tribal people of Central India.
Even though Meheru Netam’s art is not part of a sacred tradition, it seems to carry traces of a mythic universe where tiny creatures, insects like centipedes and scorpions, fish and birds walk the forest as do large animals like antelopes and tigers, which are sacred objects of the hunt.
The space of the painting is a heterogeneous one, juxtaposing creatures that could never co-exist in the waking world.
Jangarh Singh Shyam, the famous Gond artist, went out to find a new tribal art tradition. Three artists who are like his grandchildren have painted the Gond panels in the Crafts Museum - Chandrakali Poyam with her brother Rajendra Kumar Uike, and Sunil Shyam.
The Bhil and Gond artists make a departure from the monochromatic palette that dominates the outer wall of the building, next to the shop.
Lado Bai, the well known Bhil artist, refused to be restrained in the conventional practices of art. Her panel (painted with her daughter, Anita) exhibits a medley of colours – figures in brown and dull red are positioned next to those in pastel shades such as pink and blue, not to speak of orange, yellow and green, that are used indiscriminately on the foliage.
The colours seem to reflect the whimsical images that dominate her paintings in which Pithora horses - iconic motifs in Bhil ritual art - jostle with gingerbread-like dolls and astrological figurations. It is as if we, the viewers, are entering a fairytale world.
Ramayana in Patachitra style
A selection of scenes from the Ramayana have been depicted on the east-facing wall of Shilpa Kuteer, the craftspersons' residence at the Museum.
This is patachitra art from Odisha, traditionally done on palm leaf, later on canvas. Patachitra is a very fine detailed art form done in ink - nowadays in acrylics - but here the artists were encouraged to work on much larger scale and with waterproof synthetic paint.
While at first somewhat diffident and hesitant to to take up the challenge, the artists produced a grand work, and have given new expression to their skills and tradition.
Going from the far left of the wall towards the right, the scenes depicted are Anant Syana, Rishi Shrunga, Birth of Four Sons, Lessons in Archery, Rama breaking Shiva’s Bow, Marriage of Rama and Sita, Manthara conspiring with Kaikeyi asking Dasaratha for two promises, Lakshman Rekha and Rama's exile to the forest, Bharat worshipping Rama’s Paduka, Rama going to hunt deer, Sita ordering Lakshman to go with his brother Rama, Ravana kidnapping Sita and taking her to Ashok Vatika in his flying chariot, Hanuman carrying the whole mountain with him, and other scenes.
Crafts Museum, Delhi
Craftspersons for creating murals at Crafts Museum
Roma Chatterjee, 'Repository for Antiquities or Catalyst for Change: The Crafts Museum in Delhi', July 2012, Crafts Museum.
Ruchira Ghose, 'Sanjhi - Rang se Roshni: From Colour to Light', Modern Asian Studies, 2004, Cambridge University Press.
Online exhibit credits:
Consultants - Digitization, Crafts Museum - Gunjan Tripathi, Visetuonuo Kiso and Habib Ahamad