Warli Artists: The Other Masters

Medha Kapur shares a note on Warli painting, one of India’s most well known tribal art forms



The Warlis are the largest tribe found on the northern outskirts of Mumbai. The name is derived from the word ‘Warla’, which means ‘piece of land’. Maharashtra is known for its Warli folk paintings. These are vivid expressions of daily and social events of the tribe, used by them to decorate the walls of village houses.

Jivya Soma Mashe, acrylique et terra cota sur toile, 1997

Jivya Soma Mashe, 1997

Jivya Soma Mashe, acrylique et bouse de vache sur toile, 2003,

Jivya Soma Mashe, 2003

The trademark of Warli paintings is the use of geometric designs such as triangles, circles, dots and crooked lines to depict human figures, animals, houses, crops etc. The circle represents the sun and the moon, and the triangle is derived from mountains and pointed trees. The square indicates a sacred enclosure or a piece of land. The subject on which Warli art is done includes festivals, harvests, marriages and other celebrations. Women are mainly engaged in the creation of these paintings. These tribal paintings of Maharashtra are traditionally done in the homes of the Warli people. An interesting fact about Warli paintings is that it is rare to see a straight line; it usually is a series of dots and dashes that make one line. The artists have recently started to draw straight lines in their paintings. Warli paintings are ancient painting made on the walls. The colours used were not permanent. But the paintings were made again on different occasions. Today,  Warli paintings on paper, cloth and canvas have become very popular and are now sold all over India.  Small paintings are done on cloth and paper but they look best on the walls or in the form of huge murals that bring out the vast and magical world of the Warlis.


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