Art of the Tribal & Folk - an exhibition on Tribals’ & Folk Art
Tribal cultures have always lured us to a certain realm of fantasy. The aboriginal inquiry into life is entangled with nature. Such pristine heritage is not only preserved by the people but their secret lies in the communal life they share. The ‘face of Indian tribes’- Gond people are a creative heterogeneous community famous for their indigenous arts and crafts- an indispensable part of their social milieu. They chiefly inhabit large portions of central India & Maharashtra along with few parts of Orissa and Andhra Pradesh. Gond Art survived the scope of time where their secret knowledge was passed from one generation to the next. Their work is a statement which is a reflection of their collective memory and oral heritage. Far from the limits of urban consciousness their expression is spirited by their simplicity.
Folklores and tribal beliefs play a major role in their process of image making. Spirits still dominate their ritualistic beliefs. Surreal overtones of their paintings borrow a great deal from such mythical stories. Their connection with the greater Hindu pantheon is a distant absorption due to prolonged exposure to urban centres. Their own legends and tales of heroics often surface in the images. History confirms that these marginalized clans were of warrior descent that fought the British people with valour and even gained prominent foothold at Malwa in 1690 after the Mughal decline. But somehow their existence has been overshadowed for long. Famous anthropologist Verrier Elwin and social worker Shamrao Hivale started a dialogue with them in the first half of 20th century. Later renowned Indian artist J. Swaminathan took the initiative to identify some exceptional talents and brought them under urban limelight. Such transactions infused a great deal of contemporary thought in their pictorial frame.
The purpose of these paintings is multiple. These were often used to promote fertility, to avert diseases, to propitiate the dead, to fulfill the demands of the ghost spirits who permeate their dream worlds. By depicting the desired object the result is believed to be achieved and spirits satisfied. Previously the main surface for the Gonds was the walls of their mud huts. The urban exposure made them learn and master the technique of pen and ink. In recent times even canvas and acrylic became a favoured medium. From simple pictographs made during festive occasions they gradually evolved into narratives of global concern while experimenting with contemporary themes. Such grand repertoire of images paves way for their visual vocabulary. In our changing India probably one should try to preserve and promote such senile tradition which is far beyond the label of ‘Exotic’. Their plurality is the key of their living tradition. Their primeval knowledge is an inspiration.