The visual culture of ancient central India finds tasteful assemblage at an ongoing exhibition in the capital, giving city dwellers easy access to the interior region’s tribal art — with a feel of contemporaneity.
For, the three-week show by the government has its 70 paintings and 10 sculptures done in recent times without distancing much from prehistoric ethos typical of indigenous works from what are today states such as Madhya Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand, besides slices of Maharashtra and Gujarat.
‘Earth Songs’ at the Lalit Kala Akademi (LKA) are a discerning reproduction of primordial aesthetics as conceived by 55 new-age practitioners of art by the Gond and Bhil tribes predominantly. The charm of Mandana and Warli paintings, too, find a dash at the show that will run on till November 15.
The exhibits are invariably from the LKA’s repository, making brief public reappearance following a recent initiative by the 1954-founded institution. The “dream”, though, was long-awaited, says LKA secretary Sudhakar Sharma.
“This collection reflects the need to reaffirm the vitality of Indian folk and tribal arts,” he notes about Earth Songs that began on October 25. “We would like this collection to travel.”
Art scholar Uma Nair, who is the curator of the show that is “likely to extend date”, says it took her four months to finalise the works from more than 300 pertinent paintings and sculptures in the LKA vaults. “I was particular it features works of senior masters, the middle-aged and the younger lot — men and women. I had to ensure non-repetition of theme,” she points out.
The oldest sculpture at ‘Earth Songs’ is a 1978 Danteshwari Mata tribute called Devi Puja, coming across as a tableaux of characters: the goddess, tigers and many little men and other animals all part of an everyday life and ritual in the land-locked belt. As for the paintings, the chunk is as recent as starting from 2013.
While the canvasses at the LKA show reflect intricately balanced textures of tribal life, they hide the reality of their world: exploited by development programmes that trigger conflicts over natural resources, adds the curator.
Thus, stylistic representations and decorative elements pattern the tribal art, unveiling narratives that fascinate the viewer.
Amid them are works by young Japani Shyam, whose main motif is the world of animals and birds, their struggle for food, sense of camaraderie and different moods. Then there is Ram Singh Urveti, counted as one of the historical figures in contemporary Indian tribal art.
Sukhanandi Vyam Pradhan’s painting ‘Manushya Gotra ki Utpatti’ typically represents nature, and deities rich with evocative imagery. Self-trained Venkat Shyam, who draws from Gond myths and also depicts modern urban life, has come up with an abstract rendition.
Among the sculptures at Earth Songs, the newest are 2015 Bastar works and two wooden works called Madiya Khamba. “Overall, their sensibility is rustic, their compositions deeply empathetic,” says Nair. “Their illustrations are bold enough to live beyond the years.”
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