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Moving on from Jangarh: Gond art comes into its own
ADITI UBEROI  11th Mar 2012

Piece by Ram Singh Urveti

ond art, for centuries, has adorned the walls of the Pardhan Gond tribe homes in Central India. However, over the last two to three years, interest in the art has escalated among city-dwellers and foreign collectors, with its growing accessibility, vibrancy and affordability.

The credit for popularising the art form, formalising many of its styles and its transformation on canvas, is always attributed to the father of Gond Art, Jangarh Shyam. His mysterious death in Japan left his admirers bereaved but during his lifetime, he gave help and guidance to many of his tribe whose only livelihood is painting.

Artist Arpana Caur, one of the first collectors of tribal art in India, reminisces of the time she met Jangarh. "Even though he was already quite famous when I met him, his manner was always that of a sweet village boy. He would have been so happy to see his tribe do so well now."

Earlier, there was great disparity in what the artists were getting paid for their work and what their work was selling for in the international markets. Now, however, the market is developing and the business is getting fair. — Tulika Kedia

Dilip Shyam, an established Gond artist known for the cheery and playful element in his paintings, recalls the harder days of Gond artists. "Bharat Bhavan (Bhopal) would organise roughly one or two workshops for us in a year and the rest of the time we would work as manual labours to sustain ourselves. But as art dealers started seeking our work, things have improved a great deal," he says.

Tulika Kedia, who runs a gallery Must Art dedicated to the art form in New Delhi, explains, "Earlier, there was great disparity in what the artists were getting paid for their work and what their work was selling for in the international markets. Now, however, the market is developing and the business is getting fair. Also, the artists are now quite aware themselves and some of them are net savvy too. They know what price to command."

Japani, Jangarh's daughter, named after his first visit to Japan, is popular with collectors in India and abroad for her black and white canvasses. Speaking of how she learnt the art, she says, "I never went out of my way to get the technique right. My father always maintained that there is no right or wrong in art. Hence, most of us end up painting the things we see around us or stories we have been hearing since the time of our birth."

Venkat Shyam, one of the older painters of the tribe, feels it is this connection with the soil and the originality in Gond paintings that appeal both the art aficionados and the lay admirers. "The stories we paint are usually similar. Ours is a bardic tribe that thrives on the joy of story telling. But how each artist depicts these stories on canvas will always be unique and subject to individual interpretation. The colour and the fine detailing are eye-catching. Thus, our art has become popular and our livelihood more stable over the last two decades."

 
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