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Tribal artists can be a good addition to your portfolio
•‘Vernacular, In the Contemporary’, a significant two parts show at Devi Art Foundation in New Delhi, featured over 60 artists typically categorized as makers of folk and tribal art from remote corners of the country. It showcased their amazing artistic productions.

Curated by noted museologist Jyotindra Jain, a major showcase courtesy Paris-based Musée du Quai Branly a few years ago unraveled the most fascinating artistic face of India. Apart from focusing on several magnificent macrocosms each corresponding to the different tribal communities, ‘Other Masters of India: Contemporary Creations of the Adivasis’ featured two world-renowned contemporary artists, Jangarh Singh Shyam (Gond) and Jivya Soma Mashe (Warli tribe).

•Mumbai-based Institute of Contemporary Indian Art (ICIA) presented an interesting show, entitled ‘Tribal Instincts - The Ancient & The Contemporary’. It featured works by Ramsingh Urveti and Arijoy Bhattacharya, both following traditional forms of painting and sculpture making.

•Two other Mumbai galleries Pundole (Gond artists with the likes of Bhuribai) and Chemould Prescott Road (drawings and paintings of Jangarh Singh Shyam & family) held tribal art shows, whereas New Delhi’s W+K Exp hosted an exhibition of Gond sculptures, entitled ‘Dog Father, Fox Mother, their Daughter & Other Stories’.

Above are some of the most prominent tribal art showcases in the recent times, aiming to bring audiences closer to a fascinating traditional folk art form that signifies India’s rich heritage and culture nurtured by artistic ‘adivasis’. They seek inspiration and imagination from centuries-old traditions, festivals, auspicious occasions and religious rituals. Their practice invariably incorporates images drawn from life around them, myths, gods and goddesses and fantasies.

The astounding tribal art tradition, having taken roots and thrived at the fringes of the majority communities, is different from the mainstream. Equally attached to their dynamic living traditions, woven into their day-to-day living like music, dance and drama, they still are hardly familiar to Western world; this despite the fact that many established contemporary artists like Sujata Bajaj have been influenced by tribal art and culture. However, the representations of the adivasis have been full of prejudices and preset notions removed from reality, for a long time, as much for the Indians as for art lovers abroad barring a few exceptions. But that seems to be slowly changing.

Talented exponent of folk forms like Jangarh Singh Shyam and Jivya Soma Mashe have started getting recognition at global auctions like the one by Sotheby’s South Asian Art sales in New York in 2009-10. Tracking the trend, Anindita Ghose of The Mint had pointed out in an insightful essay how it’s now ‘the youngest star’ of India’s contemporary art scene, mentioning: “The raison d’être of tribal art is that in an age of digital imaging and virtual installations, they seem handmade. They’re the farmers’ market equivalent of cling-wrapped fruit.”

Quoting renowned curator Yashodhara Dalmia, the writer underlined the fact that folk & tribal artists aren’t the ones perhaps slow in catching us; in fact, probably other way round, as we’ve been a tad slow in recognizing them. Those like Lekha Poddar though, well understand their intrinsic quality. The savvy collectors noticed a young and talented tribal artist from Madhya Pradesh more than a decade ago. Impressed by Ramesh Tekam’s peculiar animals and tree of life works done on paper, the astute art lover got him canvas and oil paints, for enlarging one of those strange animal forms. She realized the work was as ‘contemporary’ as those already there in her collection. Since then there has been a ‘tribal invasion’ of sorts in the arty abode of Lekha and her son Anupam Poddar.

London-based Grosvenor Gallery has just hosted a show of wonderful Warli paintings in association with Hervé Perdriolle, a known expert in Indian tribal and folk art. Created by members of a tribe, which lives in the Thane District, about 90 miles north of Mumbai, the incessant movement in their art is related to human activity in general. The reason why gods are rarely represented in their art is because they are generally manifested in the forms of animals, minerals or plants. Trees are very common in Warli paintings and depicted with great care, as the spirits particularly like to manifest themselves in this form of life.

Several tribal artists have produced a mesmerizing body of works over time. Pradyumna Kumar’s trees have movement, suggesting the sighing breeze passing through the leaves. An important aspect in Jivya Soma Mashe’s oeuvre is the fluidity with which he invariably paints each and every object/figure. Pranab Narayan Das creates exquisite Pattachitra paintings whereas Dhavat Singh Uikey looks to translate the fascinating tales about the forest and the animals therein. Prakash Jogi, Gopal Saha, Narmada Prasad Tekam, Ram Singh Urveti, and Anwar Chitrakar are among other self-taught tribal artists from the different states of India Mention must also be made of female practitioners like Bhuri Bai, Pushpa Kumari, Nankusia Shyam, Durga Bai, Japani Shyam, Gangu Bai, Laado Bai, Sita Devi, and Japani Shyam. Saffronart featured many of them as part of its Folk and Tribal Art online auction held a couple of months ago.

Indeed, artistic ‘adivasis’ have started drawing attention of astute art lovers. Going by the rising demand for tribal art at major auctions, the prices are only going to rise in future. This might be the perfect time to acquire some wonderful works by these highly talented indigenous artists.