Folk and Tribal Paintings: The Gond School

Academy of Fine Arts and Literature

Folk Paintings in India
A live tradition, vibrant and deep rooted into people’s blood, folk art reveals a massive variety of form and theme. Her ten-twelve thousand years old creative culture and a wide-spread art geography apart, India has hundreds of ethnic groups scattered from north to south and east to west, each with its own art form representing its taste, needs, aspirations, aims, joys, sorrows and struggles. Regional peculiarities, nature around and a different pattern of day-today life apart, their art reveals each group’s ethnic distinction and creative talent. Not in the ‘word’, these primitive peoples discovered in the ‘form’ their diction which gave expression to their joy, jubilation and intrinsic warmth and announced their rejection of violence, eroticism and the ugly.
In the form they discovered the ultimate means to discourse with each other and with the ‘divine’. Skill, education, or training hasn’t been their tool. Their legends, myths, or convictions weren’t born of texts or were the dictates of authority. They discovered all that their art sought to represent within them, in their blood that retained it across ages, almost as it was transfused into it, with its vigour and freshness which the murky narrow cells of authority often defiled, or at the most sought to gild. What imparts distinction to their art is their massive imagination, a passion to embellish, and an inborn ability to give to a routine form symbolic dimensions, and to things scattered around, status of art imagery – all that transformed into artists, not just individuals but communities in their entirety, generations after generations. In a world every minute seeking means to distort and destroy they have kept along their own tenor singing to their own tunes, dancing to their intrinsic rhythm and to the notes of their hearts, and discovering in the jumble of things, rough crude lines, raw colours and incoherent motifs, a world that breathed purity, harmony, respect and concern for life.

Such composite forms, requiring to discover any of the missing organs as one pair of legs here, have always been popular in classical as well as folk art traditions. This form composed of two lizards has three apparent pairs of legs. The fourth one is missing.

This form composed of two lizards has three apparent pairs of legs. The fourth one is missing.

Four creatures, owl, lizard, crab and snake, whose natural abodes are a tree, wall, water and hole, have nothing in common except that they all love darkness and are its friends. Owl, lizard and even snake remain hidden during the day and roam freely during the night. Crab, a creature of water, fears daylight.

Owl, lizard and even snake remain hidden during the day and roam freely during the night. Crab, a creature of water, fears daylight.

A lovely creature, the little dog turns back to ascertain if the call made from behind is for it. Legs’ forward thrust, subdued back and raised neck correspond exactly to its mental state. For underlining the role of eye the artist has magnified it using around it a dual blue ring, and to portray the agitation in the mind, a texture of red laced beads. Arpana requested Janagarh to leave the rest of the figure free of details which makes this look very contemporary. Janagarh was the father of a whole school of painting, the pioneer whose tragic suicide in Japan due to exploitation by a middleman reflects the vulnerability of these artists in front of market forces. The current Gond artists including his relatives are ardent followers of his unique style and his legacy.

Arpana requested Janagarh to leave the rest of the figure free of details which makes this look very contemporary.

His long disheveled hair, wide open eyes, strange typically striped dress carrying an alike striped pole with tree-like branches denote that the represented figure is a magician or hypnotizer who creates a form, like the tree he is carrying, by sheer magic or hypnotism.

His long disheveled hair, wide open eyes, strange typically striped dress carrying an alike striped pole with tree-like branches denote that the represented figure is a magician or hypnotizer.

Titihari, a bird colloquially called tithi, is always afraid of a cloud or tree branch falling on its nest and destroying its egg. So it sleeps with its legs up to protect its eggs.

Titihari, a bird colloquially called tithi, is always afraid of a cloud or tree branch falling on its nest and destroying its egg. So it sleeps with its legs up to protect its eggs.

A creature of the mythical world, the portrayed figure blends many animal forms from a tiger to a donkey. Such mythical animal forms, usually identified as Shardulas, have voluminous presence in Indian sculptures, though in medieval painting their presence is negligible. With its variegating colour effects this mythicised animal has a more cute and strange look.

A creature of mythical world, the portrayed figure blends many animal forms from a tiger to a donkey. Such mythical animal forms, usually identified as Shardulas, have voluminous presence in Indian sculptures, though in medieval painting their presence is negligible.

This colourfully conceived image of a tiny flying machine reveals a childlike curiosity which a tribal or villager usually has for an aircraft. He sometimes perceives it as a huge bird, something like Lord Vishnu’s Garuda, and sometimes as gods’ ‘vimanas’ - flying chariots, of which he has been hearing in mythical narratives. As if composed of colourful beads the aircraft combines in its form a bird, a royal chariot’s gorgeous look, and a machine and, above all, a curious mind.

As if composed of colourful beads the aircraft combines in its form a bird, a royal chariot’s gorgeous look, and a machine

With a tiny machine with just two gusts of gases charging at two human beings, this ink sketch seeks to scale, and quite correctly, the massive gas tragedy of Bhopal. It is the same as the Union Carbide factory confining to a few acres land area but its killer fangs extending to miles sparing neither the higher ones nor the common masses, the two figures representing society’s different levels as also different directions.

With a tiny machine with just two gusts of gases charging at two human beings, this ink sketch seeks to scale, and quite correctly, the massive gas tragedy of Bhopal.

As if charging on a rival in love or war – fight, the blue goat, with lolling tongue and eyes fixed on its target, looks quite ferocious. Legs’ forward thrust and horns’ backward, inflated haunches and strange body texture, all reveal animal’s aggressive and ferocious mood.

As if charging on a rival in love or war – fight, the blue goat, with lolling tongue and eyes fixed on its target, looks quite ferocious.

Ahead are intriguing tracts, dense forests and long ways but with a friend along who will not find a passage across them, especially when one is superbly cunning and wise, and other, alert and capable of driving away whatever comes its way.

Ahead are intriguing tracts, dense forests and long ways but with a friend along who will not find a passage across them.

A versatile concept, the motif represents an aircraft but as much a boat, and a bird and as much a fish – a thing of the sky and as much of the sea. Notably, all passengers riding it are women suggestive of women gaining new heights, whether by spanning space or by exploring the unfathomable ocean, and whether as a bird or a fish.

Notably, all passengers riding it are women suggestive of women gaining new heights.

A curious composition, a flower-basket nesting a bird’s family, the mother bird and its offspring. The mother bird is feeding its youngest ones. Its grown up kids, entwined in mounting order, are looking skywards, as if aspiring to explore it with their tiny wings.

Its grown up kids, entwined in mounting order, are looking skywards, as if aspiring to explore it with their tiny wings.

The painting portrays a bird fishing in the pond indifferent of the snake, a potential danger around, and thereby asserts that even under the shadow of death the life seeks means to sustain.

The painting portrays a bird fishing in the pond indifferent of the snake, a potential danger around, and thereby asserts that even under the shadow of death the life seeks means to sustain.

Around is a two-tiered pavilion, though with no spectators in seats. It is one to one battle for the ball which the dog has snatched from the fox throwing it flat on the ground, a foul under rules of man’s games but for the contenders in the game here this alone is the way.

It is one to one battle for the ball which the dog has snatched from the fox throwing it flat on the ground.

This form of the four-armed Ganesh is unique in its innovation. In two of the four arms he is carrying a trident and a serpent, while of the other two, emerging from his waist, one is a transform of a goad, and another, is in the gesture of ‘abhaya’. Not a crown or headdress, his long thick blue hair adorns his head. His mount mouse is under him but he is not riding it. He is seated on a semi-circular ribbed structure which also symbolises his lower half.

Two rows of camels, four on one side and three on the other, with their high raised heads, comprise a scarecrow statue posted in the field to protect it from birds destroying the crop.

Two rows of camels, four on one side and three on the other, with their high raised heads, comprise a scarecrow statue posted in the field to protect it from birds destroying the crop.

Here is a bullock cart carrying two persons on it. As against the overall used green, the red colour used for the figures on the cart often symbolising some kind of emergency, something which the excited action of the cart driver and his pedestrian helper further affirms, suggest that the figures on the cart are emergency cases requiring immediate treatment.

As against the overall used green, the red colour used for the figures on the cart often symbolising some kind of emergency.

Amazingly innovative, this form of Ganesh is a blend of the Master and his mount, and even the form of the mouse, the mount, except its tail, is more like a frog. Simply an elephant trunk, larger than normal, usually mounted on a human torso with any number of arms, four, six, eight or more, in the Ganapati imagery, has been mounted here direct on the body of the mouse, though even the identity of the mouse is established from its tail and tail’s characteristic behavior. Figure’s mischievous eyes and large winnowing basket-like ears re-affirm the identity of Ganesh.

Simply an elephant trunk, larger than normal, usually mounted on a human torso with any number of arms, four, six, eight or more, in the Ganapati imagery, has been mounted here direct on the body of the mouse, though even the identity of the mouse is established from its tail and tail’s characteristic behavior.

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