Friday, 2 May 2014

T H E  W A L L  is my  C A N V A S

Text: Hina Nitesh

Sometime back we had done a feature on the Ndebele Art from South Africa which was well received. 
Since then I have itching to do a post on what India has to offer by the way of wall art. So here goes…

Like almost everything else in India, folk paintings too have a really really long tradition. They originated in rural and tribal India from the beliefs of people and almost always have a sacred connotation attached to them. Some types of traditional wall paintings are -

Pithoro Paintings

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Made by painters from the Rathava community of Baroda, these paintings are a means to appease Pithoro the God. When a person makes a wish, five dots are marked on a wall. If the wish is fulfilled, the artists are called to paint. The process starts with young unmarried girls preparing the wall surface with clay and cow dung plaster a day prior. Only men are allowed to paint Pithoro while a group of singers sing about the myth of creation, the Gods etc during the painting process. Images from daily life, bulls, horse, birds etc. are depicted in the painting. When the painting is complete, a badva (an elder) who is supposed to be possessed by Pithoro and is in trance comes to inspect it in detail. After the approval is granted by him a goat is sacrificed to consecrate the painting.

Comb cut painting
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The tribals in Jharkhand practice the ancient art of comb cut painting. The process is pretty simple – a comb is run over a freshly painted wall. Colors on the walls come from things in daily use like black from charcoal, red from red soil, orange from the Flame of the forest flower, white from ground rice etc. Mixing up of these colors creates a different color tone on the wall.

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This art form belongs to Mithila district of Bihar. Originally only women used to execute these paintings which were themed around love and fertility, with scenes from the Ramayana and motifs like fish, parrot, elephant, turtle, sun, moon etc. The wall would be plastered with mud and a prayer offered to the deity before painting starts. No part of the painted wall is left blank. Double lines are used to highlight and a net of smaller lines fills up the space between the two. Traditionally, natural colours were used for these paintings.

Mirror Work in Mud
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Similar to these paintings in south eastern Gujarat, the tribals of Kutch decorate the walls of their bhungas (circular houses with conical roof). A mud and cow dung mixture is used to plaster the wall which is then decorated with floral or geometric motifs. Often mirrors are inlaid in the plaster and bright colours used for painting.

Gond Art
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The Gond tribals from Madhya Pradesh have their own distinct style of painting which is marked with rich colours. They paint the flora and fauna that they see around them in beautiful compositions which is an outcome of their close link with nature. Originally the paintings were made in three mud based colours on a white background but these days chemical colours are used which makes it possible to have yellows, oranges, greens and blues etc in the paintings. 

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This folk art from Maharashtra belongs to the Warli, Malkhar koli, Kathodi, Kokana, Dhodi tribes. The paintings are made by the women to pass folklore down the generations. They are considered sacred and are an integral part of marriage ceremonies. Unlike most traditional paintings where the subject is mythology or images of deities, Warli paintings depict scenes from nature and daily life. Main elements are represented in abstract forms, for instance the human figure is represented by two triangles joined at the apex. They are traditionally painted with white colour made from rice paste on mud walls coated with cow dung or ‘geru’.  Small twigs are fashioned to be used as brushes.

Saura paintings

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This style of mural painting is credited to the Saura tribals of Odisha. Known as Ikons, these paintings are dedicated to their deity - Idital. Ikons are made on the wall which is prepared with red or yellow ochre mud. The brushes for the painting are made with bamboo shoots while the colours used are natural. Originally, the artists belonged to the priest class to explain the symbolism of the images.

Ikons look like Warli paintings however the style of painting and treatment of the subject is different in both. Ikons are painted from border towards the centre and it is not possible to differentiate between male and female.

With that I will end today's post, but mind you this is just the tip of the iceberg. There are many many  more types of tribal art that India has to offer. Maybe you could write to us about them.  

Most of these art forms are vanishing especially in their original form. Changes in life styles has adversely effected this art.Using natural dyes to paint is both time consuming and expensive and hence there are not too many people who are interested in these art forms. It saddens me to think that we in India do not appreciate this rich heritage of ours. 

However there are some art forms like warli and madhubani which have found a new definition through commercially viable products like t-shirts, saris, mugs, vase, etc. 
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For the artists these are ways to keep their art and its traditions alive and also bring it to a larger population. We need to do the same with other forms else it would not be long that these too will become a thing of the past..

Any takers?