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Gond Art – Preserving an Ancient Tradition

Adam and Eve


The vivid depictions of Gond tribals have captured the imagination of art enthusiasts around the world. We were lucky this past week in Goa to have “Katha”, shop an exhibition of Gond artists, previewing at the Gallery Gitanjali in Goa. Gonds – tribals of Madhya Pradesh – date back many thousands of years and number an estimated 7.4 million people. Residing in deep forests, they lived off the land and had no written word, so village priests and elders imparted knowledge of worship, hunting, art of sex, rituals and ceremonies to the youth verbally – and, of course, through paintings.

Intricate colourful paintings decorated walls of their huts and thresholds, and were thought to bring good luck. The motifs are closely related to nature, with wild and domestic animals, birds, flora and mythical beasts.

The advent of urbanization in these remote areas and the slow depletion of the art form were a cause for concern to activists and art lovers, who began promoting the works and exhibiting them around India and the world.

Gond Pradhan motifs were introduced to the world by the late painter J. Swaminathan , who discovered a talented 17-year-old Jangarh Shyam decorating the huts of Patangarh in Madhya Pradesh. Jangarh’s meteoric rise to fame was marked by acclaimed exhibitions in Paris and Tokyo. The exquisite beauty and raw power of his works created a stir in National and International auctions with Saffron Art and Sotheby’s. His career was cut short, however, when he committed suicide in 2001 at the age of 37.

Padmaja Shrivastava and her husband, both architects living in Bhopal, were in the process of designing resorts and hotels in remote locations, when they came across tribal art and included it in their décor. This helped spread the word to the public, and she began promoting the artists, giving them a platform and an opportunity for city dwellers to go back into ancient art forms.  This is the third exhibition in Goa.

Japani Shyam, the daughter Jangarh Shyam, is herself an accomplished Gond artist, capturing the eco systems in which animals and plants survive.

Her black and white compositions are stunning.

Durga Bai, much sought after by connoisseurs of tribal art, uses the motif of paddy seeds to fill in the forms in her paintings, narrating a rich body of folklore.

Subhash Vyam has been painting for over two decades. His works focus on conservation of forests.

Rajendra Syam’s theme revolves around folk tales, with intricate strokes and textures, blending modernity with traditional motifs in a spectrum of colours.

Manoj Tekam’s green peacock on an orange background was particularly eye catching. Strokes known as ‘mustard seeds’  are his signature.

Santosh Maravi is an upcoming artist with a passion to create abstract imagery apart from the typical Gond tribal art style.

Dileep Shyam, nephew of Jangarh Shyam, has been influenced by his uncle. His work features a spray of multi-coloured birds on a deep blue background, with the plumage of every bird differing in the flow of intricate strokes.

The works feature trees with multi-hued foliage, tribal gods and deer with elongated snouts. Imaginative and creative, they ripple delicately and transport you to another world – a true celebration of uniquely Indian folk art.

On exhibit till 31 March, 2014. At Gallery Gitanjali- Fontainhas. Phone: +91 832 243 5628