Showcase of Gond art to keep artist’s legacy aliveOctober 20th, 2010 - 11:59 am ICT by IANS
By Madhusree Chatterjee
New Delhi, Oct 20 (IANS) The legacy of tribal artist Jangarh Singh Shyam, who died in Japan in 2001 - but not before starting a whole new tradition of painting in his Gond community - is set to come alive in the capital.
Four ethnic artists from the Adivasi Pardhan community - traditional storytellers, musicians and genealogists of the Gond tribe of Madhya Pradesh - will showcase their unique genre at “Jangarh Kalam: Narrative of a Tradition, Gond Painting” at the Art Alive Gallery from Friday.
The participating artists - Durga Bai Vyam, Ram Singh Urveti, Bhajju Shyam and Mayank Shyam - are synonymous with the “Jangarhi” tradition.
The exhibition curated by Bhopal-based critic, art historian and doctor Udayan Vajpeyi will bring to light the journey of the four-decade-old Pardhan community art pioneered by Jangarh Singh Shyam.
“I would not call it a tribute to Jangarh Singh Shyam. He just started this whole tradition of painting in his community - who were genealogists, musicians, storytellers and keepers of the Gond myths by tradition,” curator Udayan Vajpeyi told IANS over telephone from Bhopal.
Jangarh Singh Shyam was the first Pardhan youth to pick up the paintbrush and canvas to interpret his flock’s music and stories through vibrant motifs.
“Jangarh led the way for many members of his community to take up art and make a living out of it. I brought together four artists who have been following in his footsteps,” said Vajpeyi.
A chance encounter with J. Swaminathan, veteran artist and founder of Bhopal’s Bharat Bhavan, altered 22-year-old Jangarh Singh Shyam’s fate drastically. He was brought there from his village to work as a muralist at Bharat Bhavan that was being designed by architect Charles Correa.
A string of national and international exhibitions and workshops followed soon after that shot Jangarh Singh Shyam to limelight. In 1985, he was awarded the Shikhar Samman by the Madhya Pradesh government.
The Pardhan art of “Jangarhi tradition” is more stylised and lyrical than the primal ethnicity of the ancient tribal art of Madhya Pradesh. It is sought after worldwide and commands formidable prices in international auctions.
While Ram Singh Urveti, Bhajju Shyam and Mayank Shyam are students of Jangarh Singh Shyam, Durga Bai is self-taught, having developed her own idiom influenced by Jangarh Singh’s trademark style.
The quartet has deviated from the ritualistic, community-oriented Gond art in favour of a more individualistic lexicon, representing the inroad of several cultural influences and modernism in traditional Gond art.
Bhajju Shyam and Durga Bai are also skilled illustrators with picture storybooks to their credit.
Mayank Shyam, the youngest of the group, has moved away from the primary colour palette to experiment extensively with black.
Pardhan art has a chequered lineage, Vajpeyi said.
Once patronised by the community, it was lost during Mughal rule and in the ensuing British Raj when members of the Gond tribe clashed with British colonialists who tried to strip the tribals of their wealth with stringent revenue and land laws.
“Subsequently, Gond fortunes declined. Their artistic traditions languished for over a century till Jangarh Singh Shyam gave a new lease of life to his community’s art (in the early 1980s),” Vajpeyi said.
History cites that members of the Pardhan community were entrusted with the task of keeping track of the Gond family trees - the key to their mythology and folk tradition.
When the social standing of the Gonds dwindled, the provisions they formerly made for the Pardhans as the chronicler of family trees and mythologists dried out. The community gave up past bard traditions and resorted to various forms of manual labour in order to survive.
In the September 2010 edition of the South Asian art auction at Sotheby’s, Jangarh Singh Shyam’s works went under the hammer along with those of modern Indian masters. They were valued at Rs.14 lakh to Rs.23 lakh.
(Madhusree Chatterjee can be contacted at email@example.com)
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Tags: adivasi, art historian, bharat, chance encounter, chatterjee, curated, ethnic artists, genealogists, international exhibitions, mayank, muralist, new tradition, paintbrush, ram singh, samman, shyam, storytellers, swaminathan, tribal artist, veteran artist