2000 Years of Indian Art

The Indian subcontinent has nurtured some of the oldest human settlements and civilisations in the world. Having hosted countless cultural awakenings, innovations and exchanges since prehistoric times, the region boasts a rich and fascinating artistic history that continues to influence aesthetic movements and captivate spectators even today.

Beginning with the sculptural masterpieces of Buddhist and Hindu art from the first millennium to the ground-breaking modernist art of the 20th century, here we explore India’s captivating art history through a selection of works from Saffronart’s upcoming Winter Live Auction this December.

Early Buddhist Art

Some of the earliest records of artistic experimentation in Northern India during the Common Era can be traced to the Kushan Empire, which, during its peak, extended from Ujjain, Mathura and Sarnath, across the Hindu-Kush to Afghanistan and Bactria. Under Kanishka, their fifth and most famous ruler, the empire witnessed a period of great wealth and flourishing visual arts traditions. The Kushans are credited with some of the earliest depictions of Buddha in sculptural form, which includes the 2nd century red sandstone sculpture below.

(L-R) Head of Buddha, 2nd century, Red sandstone, Estimate: Rs 1.5 – 2 lakhs ($2,055 – 2,740);
Ganga, 8th century, Sandstone, Estimate: Rs 10 – 15 lakhs ($13,700 – 20,550)

Medieval Indian Art

From the 4th to 6th century AD, a large portion of northern India was conquered and ruled by the Gupta Empire, who produced some of the most recognised and celebrated works of sculpture and architecture in Indian history. The incredible developments in technology, literature, religion and visual arts during this period went on to shape the artistic productions of the many smaller dynasties that emerged in the following centuries.

One of the most significant characteristics of art produced during the medieval period, i.e., the 7th to 14th century AD, is the influence of religion and religious texts. As evident in the above 8th century sandstone carving depicting Ganga, the river goddess in Hinduism, the representation of religious figures, storylines and even philosophies through sculpture grew to become a significant practice. This tradition is noticeable even in the sculptures of kingdoms of southern India, especially the Hoysala Dynasty. As observed in the 12th century grey schist sculpture of Lord Ganesha, the sculptures produced under the Hoysala Empire showcase a classical style that is distinct to that of the northern schools.

(L-R) Uma-Maheshwara, 12th century, Bronze, Estimate: Rs 12 – 15 lakhs ($16,440 – 20,550);
Standing Vishnu, 14th century, Bronze, Estimate: Rs 9 – 12 lakhs ($12,330 – 16,440)

Along with stone, bronze was another prominent medium in the sculptures of medieval India. While stone sculpturing was often practised on temple walls and similar architecture, bronze works were smaller in size and relatively easier to transport – giving them a prominent role in the diffusion of Indian philosophies, practices and religion, especially Buddhism, in Southeast Asia. The 12th century Pala sculpture of Uma-Maheshwara, and the 14th century Kulu sculpture depicting Vaikunta Vishnu from our collection showcases that bronze sculpturing thrived not only in the realm of artistic innovations, but also in transmitting cultural discoveries and tradition.

Painting Courts and Indigenous Art

Kalighat Pat, Circa 1860s, Estimate: Rs 8 – 12 lakhs ($10,960 – 16,440)

Following the golden age of Indian sculpturing was a period that saw the development of a diverse range of painting schools including Mughal, Rajputi, Deccani and Pahari courts. The period also saw the resurgence of age-old indigenous art practices such as Pat or scroll painting. Developed in then-Calcutta, Kalighat Pat is a scroll-painting technique that gained momentum in Bengal during the 19th century as the port city transformed into a thriving industrial and commercial centre. As seen in the above Kalighat Pat from the 1860s, practitioners of the Kalighat art form traditionally depicted scenes from the life of Lord Krishna as well as other narratives from Hindu mythology.

Early Bengal School

The presence of British and European trading companies and governing bodies in India during the 18th and 19th century led to the creation of a new school of art known as the Company School. The school depicted Indian people, sceneries and subjects in a traditional Royal Academy-style of painting, thus recording life in Colonial India from a foreign perspective.

Untitled (Radha in Jamuna), Estimate: Rs 12 – 18 lakhs ($16,440 – 24,660)

The Early Bengal School of Art was launched as a response to the increasing prominence of the Company School. Artists of the Early Bengal School, who remain largely anonymous till date, combined the artistic styles of the East and West to forge a direction that was vastly different from any other artistic movement prevalent during this time.

Pre-Independence

The final phase of colonial rule in India saw many attempts by artists to merge the artistic traditions of European schools with the age-old traditions, themes and practices of Indian art. One of the most significant artists from this time, Raja Ravi Varma was known for incorporating oil as a medium and adopting European naturalism and realism to portray distinctly Indian mythological themes.

Raja Ravi Varma, Music Hath Charms (Kadambari), Circa 1900s, Estimate: Rs 12 – 15 crores ($1.64 – 2.05 million)

The movement towards India’s independence from colonial rule urged artists to launch a new style of art that accommodated the changing social, political and cultural conditions of the country. For Jamini Roy, this meant seeking a new aesthetic style that reflected his cultural roots and fulfilled his need for a more personal artistic identity. He went on to introduce a new style of modern painting that celebrated and preserved the country’s regional artistic traditions, particularly Kalighat patuas, while simultaneously reconceptualising them to adapt to the changing times.

Modern Art in Independent India

The year 1947, when India gained her independence, also welcomed the launch of one of the most influential artistic alliances in India: the Bombay Progressive Artists’ Group. Initiated by artists S H Raza, F N Souza, K H Ara, M F Husain, H A Gade and S K Bakre, the group went on to lead the modern art movement in India. Although most of these artists began with a formal training in traditional realistic painting, capturing urban scenes, landscapes and still life through their art, the post-Independence era encouraged them to reach beyond the scope of European Realism and the Revivalist movements of the early 20th century. While the immediate response to their entry in the art world was shock and aversion, their presence was met with national and international respect, recognition and admiration in the years that followed.

K H Ara, Untitled, Estimate: Rs 30 – 40 lakhs ($41,100 – 54,795)

The 1960s

The 1960s were a period of great artistic experimentation and discovery. Increased exposure to European and American modern art movements, as well as a renewed interest in the imagery of classical and regional Indian art, aided the artists of modern India – such as Ram Kumar, Prabhakhar Barwe, M F Husain, S H Raza as well as the other Progressives – to develop their own independent styles that eventually came to define their careers.

Ram Kumar, Untitled, 1962, Estimate: Rs 70 – 90 lakhs ($95,895 – 123,290)

During this period, artist Ram Kumar moved from figurative works to an increasingly abstract renderings of cities and landscapes, whereas M F Husain developed an artistic style that efficiently brought together European modern art traditions and classical Indian forms, subjects and motifs. For S H Raza, the ‘60s were a key period of experimentation, aided by his exposure to the works of American Abstract Expressionists, whereas for Prabhakar Barwe, it was a period when he delved into the genres of Pop Art as well as Tantric philosophy and its imagery.

While many of the modernists were settling into their own unique artistic style and identity, artists such as Jagdish Swaminathan and Bhupen Khakhar were still in the early stages of their career during the ‘60s. Swaminathan, who was concerned with the creation of a truly Indian modern art that was developed by turning inward, explored and adopted the symbology of ancient cave paintings and the nation’s age-old indigenous art during this period. Meanwhile, Khakhar, who had just moved to Baroda from Bombay, would create an iconic style that featured elements of Hindu symbolism and elements of the Baroda School in formats that were inspired by Western Pop Art.   

Late 20th Century

The latter half of the 20th century saw Indian artists experimenting with diverse mediums, techniques and disciplines, as one can see in the works of Himmat Shah whose sculptures were made from materials as wide as brick, cement, plaster as well as terracotta and bronze. Despite their differences in medium, the majority of art produced in this period of Indian history were connected by a similar purpose – an examination of life in the modern age.

From exploring the aftermaths of the Partition of India to examining the contemporary struggles of migrants, refugees and the destitute, art became deeply relevant, conceptual and heavy in metaphors alluding to matters of social significance. These qualities are demonstrated in Krishen Khanna’s bandwallah series as well as Zarina Hashmi’s semi-abstract woodcut and intaglio prints.

Zarina Hashmi, Debris of Destruction, 2016, Estimate: 40 – 60 lakhs ($54,795 – 82,195)

“The history of art is the history of revivals.” These words by British novelist Samuel Butler powerfully resonate with the evolution of Indian art. Since its ancient beginnings, a plethora of artistic traditions and movements have prospered in the subcontinent, each reflecting the distinctive and diverse political, cultural and social influences of the period from which they were conceived. Nevertheless, as seen in this brief journey through India’s rich artistic past, these multiple independent aesthetic movements bear many similarities despite their differences in time, geographic origins, and socio-political circumstances. From the influence of the Ajanta frescoes and Mughal miniature on the Early Bengal School of Art, to Himmat Shah’s sculptures that were inspired by the prehistoric masterpieces of the Indus Valley Civilisation, Indian art has frequently touched upon the past when directing the future.

The Art of Jangarh Singh Shyam

Gond art is among the most popular and well-known indigenous art traditions of India. Taking its name after the tribe which practices it, Gond art is mainly centred in Madhya Pradesh. Within this form, there is a wide spectrum of artistic styles, primarily connected to certain painters and their practices. The tribe’s strong tradition of oral narrative—often focussing on their gods who corresponded to elements of nature—transposes to their paintings as well.

These indigenous art forms have now evolved in their social and cultural roles. Efforts by art historians and the government have helped push them to prominence and artists themselves have painstakingly modified a centuries-old ethos to contemporary demand. At the forefront of giving the folk and tribal arts the recognition they deserved, was Jangarh Singh Shyam, famed for his Gond paintings and for popularising the art form abroad.

Jangarh Singh Shyam at his studio in Bharat Bhavan | Wikimedia Commons

Shyam is synonymous with this art form, so much so, that Udayan Vajpeyi, in his essay, “From Music to Painting” proposes that the art be called Jangarh kalam, or Jangarh style. (Sathyapal ed., Native Art of India, Thrissur: Kerala Lalithakala Akademi, 2011, p. 33) Hailing from the Gond tribe in Madhya Pradesh, Jangarh Singh Shyam lived in the jungles of Mandla until a chance encounter with the modern artist Jagdish Swaminathan in the 1980s. Swaminathan, who was leading an Indian collective on a study tour with the aim of creating a collection of tribal art in Bhopal, came across Shyam’s house, whose walls were adorned with his art. Upon enquiring, they met Shyam—only a teenager at the time, but with a striking style of painting.

Jagdish Swaminathan with Jangarh Singh Shyam and his wife at Bharat Bhavan, Bhopal, 1987 | © Jyoti Bhatt

Swaminathan took Shyam on as his protege, bringing him to the Roopankar Museum in Bhopal, where he learned to transfer his art from walls to paper. He created a series of works on paper and canvas which are displayed at Bharat Bhavan today. “His first large works on paper from the start of the 1980s contain highly expressive forms of great simplicity redolent of primitivism.” (Herve Perdriolle, Indian Art: Contemporary, One Word, Several Worlds, Milan: 5 Continents Editions, p. 61)

Shiv – Many-headed or Shesh Nag snake, trident and lingayoni (Gond Art), 1989, Gouache on paper, 19.5 x 25.5 in, Estimate: Rs 6 – 8 lakhs ($8,220 – 10,960)

In typical Gond tradition, Shyam’s art is based on the deities and divinities of the Gond tribe, and the animist culture of worship surrounding them. Suspended in space, he renders them like silhouettes creating the effect of shadow puppets, with bright colours, dots and hatched lines. The inspiration for using fine dots comes from the tribe itself, where shamans go into a trance and imagine that the particles of their bodies disperse into space to join with those of spirits to form other beings. The intricacy and control in his dot-based designs is seen in the works of all Gond artists, as are his most common subjects – the tree of life and various animals.

Sher (Gond Art), 1990, Ink on paper, 14 x 11 in and Gughawa Pakshee (Gond Art), 1993, Ink on paper, 21.5 x 14.5 in, Estimates: Rs 3 – 4 lakhs ($4,110 – 5,480) and Rs 5 – 6 lakhs ($6,850 – 8,220)

In 2010, the Muse du quai Branly in Paris held an exhibition called Other Masters of India, which carried large works on paper by Shyam from the late 1980s and early 1990s, which according to Perdriolle, “reveal a development in the direction of a profusion of psychedelic colors and more elaborated forms. The second half of the 1990s was marked by an unusual refinement, pictorial maturity, and graphic mastery that resulted in some of his best works.” (Perdriolle, p. 61)

Birds (Gond Art), 1996, Ink on paper, 11 x 13.75 in, Estimate: Rs 4 – 5 lakhs ($5,480 – 6,850)

Shyam worked with several mediums throughout his career, including drawing and silkscreen painting, rediscovering a new style and representation every time. As he achieved fame, Shyam encouraged other artists in his community to paint, giving them access into the mainstream. His house was the studio, where he provided his students with paper, canvas and paint, encouraging them to find their own expression through new mediums.

Shyam passed away in Japan in 2001. He was in his early forties. The artist’s memory is preserved in his body of work, including the large murals he created for the Parliament building in Bhopal, and continued by the members of his family trained by him, including his wife Nankusia, daughter Japani, and son Mayank. In a short-lived but exceptional career, he left behind a powerful and dynamic legacy which reached for the new while preserving the roots of the Gond artistic tradition.


Saffronart’s Winter Online Auction features four works by the artist, and will be on auction on 9 – 10 December 2020 on saffronart.com.

My Picks from StoryLTD

Rashhi Parekh of Saffronart picks her five favourite pieces being offered for sale in the boutiques and collections on newly launched website, StoryLTD

Mumbai: Launched earlier this week, StoryLTD by Saffronart brings together carefully curated collections of beautiful and significant objects from the past and present. At StoryLTD, you can browse through, learn the nuances of, and acquire some of the most coveted objects – ranging from fine art, antiquities and jewellery, to vintage and designer furniture and unique accessories for the home.

Partnering with some of the most creative artists, designers, collectors, manufacturers and dealers from India and soon, around the globe, StoryLTD offers consumers a unified and convenient shopping experience for objects and collectibles encompassing all styles, designs and budgets.

Here are my five picks from the many beautiful objects available on the website. Not surprisingly, they are all art related!

Maqbool Fida Husain: Eternal Mother

Collection: Serigraphs

M.F. Husain

M.F. Husain, Eternal Mother, Serigraph on paper

The venerated figure of Mother Teresa first appeared in Maqbool Fida Hussain’s art in 1980. Since then he has devoted a number of his works to Mother Teresa, whom he depicts as a faceless entity. This approach underlines his efforts in exploring not just the figure of Mother Teresa, but motherhood in general.

Having had the opportunity to meet Mother Teresa in 1994, he says, “I have tried to capture in my paintings, what her presence meant to the destitute and dying, the light and hope she brought by mere inquiry, by putting her hand over a child abandoned in the street.. That is why I try it again and again, after a gap of time, in a different medium.”

Works like the ‘Eternal Mother’ have been converted into serigraphs by Husain, to make his art more widely accessible. He stated that the idea of creating prints from canvasses was to make his work available to common man and also make his inner psyche available to a larger audience. This painter is distinct and different from most others because he wants to share his paintings. He says that all his life, he has sought just one image – the image of his mother, whom he had never seen. He tried to depict his mother whenever he painted women; that is why he never painted their faces, merely just an outline as shown in this serigraph of the Eternal Mother.

Raja Ravi Varma: Sri Shanmukha Subramaniaswami

Collection: Dressed Oleographs

Raja Ravi Varma, Shri Shanmukha Subramaniaswamy

Raja Ravi Varma, Shri Shanmukha Subramaniaswamy, Dressed oleograph on paper

Considered one of the greatest painters in the history of Indian Art, Raja Ravi Varma was an artist who achieved recognition for his depiction of scenes from the epics of the Mahabharata and Ramayana. This oleograph like many of his other works, is a fusion of Indian traditions with the techniques of European academic art. His representation of mythological characters has become a part of the popular Indian imagination of the epics. Although his works are often showy and sentimental, they are very popular throughout India.

Here, Shanmukha or the six-faced Karthikeya, the elder son of Shiva and Parvati, is pictured on his peacock mount. Also known as Skanda, Subramania and Murugan, he is the God of War and Victory. Ravi Varma has depicted Shanmukha flanked by his two wives, Valli and Devasena, while the snake he is frequently associated with lies at their feet. The group is framed by the magnificent plumage of Shanmukha’s peacock, which symbolizes the deity’s victory over the ego.

Due to his vast contribution to Indian Art, in 1993 art critics curated a large exhibition of Raja Ravi Varma’s works at the National Museum in New Delhi.

Bhuri Bai: Speaking Tree

Collection: Gond Art

Bhuri Bai, Speaking Tree

Bhuri Bai, Speaking Tree, Acrylic on canvas

Bhuri Bai made her first mural painting at the age of ten. She was one of the very first women of her tribe to paint on paper and canvas. The forms depicted in her paintings appear to be in a state of weightlessness. The figures in this painting are made in bright colors, similar to paper cuts.

Many of the subjects in her painting depict the conflict between the woman, as a creator and the man, as a predator. These themes, which are often found in other early painters, may also be seen as metaphors for the theft of land, the relationship between man and animal, the domestic and the wild, the nature and the modern world. Her works share an ancestral view according to which every body is made out of particles.

Lado Bai: Sun and the Deer

Collection: Gond Art

Lado Bai, Sun and the Deer

Lado Bai, Sun and the Deer, Acrylic on canvas

Lado Bai started painting on canvasses at the same time as Bhuri Bai. Her main motifs are taken from the animal kingdom and Bhil rituals and festivals. Lado Bai’s art reflects “the flora and fauna of her environment along with rituals and festivals of her tribe. She draws Bhil Gods and Godesses in the centuries old Bhil style which is steeped in ethnic animism and spirituality.”

Today, this artist works at Adivasi Lok Kala Academy; however she was guided by artist Jagdish Swaminathan, who encouraged her to paint on canvasses instead of painting on mud walls in her village. Lado Bai has been able to make new statements through her art within the ambit of traditions, like other fresco painters of her generation.

Bose Krishnamachari: Stainless Steel Chandelier

Collection: Seven Art

Bose Krishnamachari, Stainless Steel Chandelier

Bose Krishnamachari, Stainless Steel Chandelier

Bose Krishnamachari’s stainless steel chandelier is an extremely unique piece of art. This chandelier can be viewed as an installation piece as well as a piece of furniture, because it has a unique combination of utility and design. The chandelier which appears to be the culmination of a number of individual lights put together haphazardly, is actually an extremely well designed object. It allows the viewer to depart from the perceived notion of a chandelier which is supposed to look elegant and somewhat symmetric. This chandelier is made with an extremely modern and contemporary outlook, almost as if it were the result of an experiment. According to some, it also looks like an asymmetrical space station.

This work by Bose Krishnamachari is abstract and dynamic. In all his works, weather it be paintings, photography or installations, these are dominant forces.

Subodh Gupta’s Massive Boat Docks in London

Elisabetta Marabotto of Saffronart on Subodh Gupta’s exhibition at Hauser & Wirth and a talk by the artist at the Courtauld Institute of Art in London

What does the vessel contain, that the river does not, Subodh Gupta, 2012

“What does the vessel contain, that the river does not”, Subodh Gupta, 2012. Photo by Elisabetta Marabotto

London: Following its success at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, Houser & Wirth, London, decided to showcase to an international audience Subodh Gupta’s installation “What does the vessel contain, that the river does not”.

Subodh Gupta found inspiration for this work in the words of the famous Persian poet Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi:

“What does the vat contain that is not in the river?

What does the room encompass that is not in the city?

This world is the vat, and the heart the running stream,

This world the room, and the heart the city of wonders.”

In this poem, Rumi embeds among the lines the idea that the entire universe is contained in our soul. Gupta was touched by this concept, and chose to visually express Rumi’s words through an art installation that drew parallels between an individuals’s life and a boat.

The artist filled the vessel, a traditional fishing boat from Kerala, with common objects that he found in Kochi and Delhi, carefully piling them into the vessel. Chairs, beds, a bicycle, window frames, fishing nets and cooking pots are among the objects Gupta has used to represent our cluttered lives.

Detail of "What does the vessel contain, that the river does not", Subodh Gupta, 2012

Detail of “What does the vessel contain, that the river does not”, Subodh Gupta, 2012. Photo by Elisabetta Marabotto

Through this work Gupta also raises questions about cultural dislocation, feelings of belonging and displacement, movement and stability, which are symbols of the current epoch. Hence the boat acquires both positive and negative connotations. The fact that the boat is displayed with one end raised up from the floor gives the impression that it is floating, and transmits positive energies. At the same time, however, walking underneath the raised boat generates feelings of anxiety and discomfort.

Verso of What the vessel contain, that the river does not", Subodh Gupta, 2012

Passing underneath “What the vessel contain, that the river does not”, Subodh Gupta, 2012. Photo by Elisabetta Marabotto

Last Tuesday, in conjunction with the exhibition at Hauser & Wirth, the Courtauld Institute of Art in London hosted a panel discussion titled ‘The Routes of Success’, between Subodh Gupta, Jessica Morgan (the Daskalopoulos Curator, International Art, Tate Modern) and Deborah Swallow (Director of the Courtauld Institute of Art).

From the left Jessica Morgan, Deborah Swallow and Subodh Gupta at the Courtauld Institute of Art

From left: Jessica Morgan, Deborah Swallow and Subodh Gupta at the Courtauld Institute of Art. Photo by Elisabetta Marabotto

The panel discussion was preceded by a presentation by an unexpectedly shy Subodh Gupta, who discussed his major works of which you find a selection between the text below.

29 Mornings, Subodh Gupta, 1996

29 Mornings, Subodh Gupta, 1996. Image Credit: http://www.aaa.org.hk/onlineprojects/bitri/en/gallery.aspx?eid=A010.04

After the presentation, a more confident and very entertaining Gupta had a very interesting exchange with Morgan and Swallow. The artist revealed his past as an aspiring actor, a career that was derailed once he started painting film posters. In fact, he only joined art school because he was convinced by his friends. And now he is one of the most acclaimed Indian contemporary artists in the world!

The scale of his artworks was also one of the topics tackled in the discussion. Although slightly shy on stage, Gupta is not shy at all in his artworks’ dimensions! The artist however stated that the creation of large artworks wasn’t premeditated; it just happened. And once it started it became a habit, and now he can’t stop it!

Gupta also discussed his love/hate relationship with painting. It is something he doesn’t feel confident about and that is one of the reasons why he often “secretly” embeds photography in his paintings. He said: “painting is hard to make, doing a good one is like reaching nirvana”!

Aam Aadmi, Subodh Gupta, 2009

Aam Aadmi, Subodh Gupta, 2009. Image Credit: http://www.hauserwirth.com/artists/11/subodh-gupta/images-clips/63/

The artist also added that he doesn’t intentionally make political art, but art comes from where you live, from what surrounds you, and so that is why politics and social issues cannot be taken away from it.

His main influences are to be found in the work of some of the Indian masters such as M.F. Husain, Jagdish Swaminatan, Francis Newton Souza, and more recently in the Khoj Workshop that freed him from any kind of restrictions on his creativity.

E tu, Duchamp?, Subodh Gupta, 2009

E tu, Duchamp?, Subodh Gupta, 2009. Image Credit: http://www.hauserwirth.com/artists/11/subodh-gupta/images-clips/61/

I would like to conclude with an interesting question/point of discussion that came up during the talk about whether it is always possible to transport art outside its country of origin. This was discussed in respect of Spirit Eater, one of Subodh Gupta’s latest works which is deeply embedded with cultural references and traditions which make it extremely difficult to be understood. The artist was reluctant about the idea of compulsorily bringing his art out of India, because sometimes it could be misunderstood and its original message lost.

I’ll leave you reflecting on this topic, and encourage you to visit Subodh Gupta’s exhibition in London. Click here for more information on the exhibition.

Bhil Art: Tribal Paintings from India

Amy Lin of Saffronart explores the wonders of Bhil art and their significances

gond_12_08454_big

Bhuri Bai
Untilted
The Story by Saffronart

New York: Tribal art has been gaining popularity in recent years due to the rich cultural heritage it reflects and the bold creations it results in. In a previous post, we discussed Gond art in celebration of the first Indian Folk and Tribal Art Auction held at Saffronart. After with the Gonds, the Bhils are the second largest tribal community in western and central India. Their art focuses on their natural environment filled with songs, rituals, tattoos and folklore. In a new collection on The Story by Saffronart called Rhythms and Rituals, we’re featuring some fantastic pieces from celebrated Bhil artists.

The tradition of Bhil painting first stemmed from the home. Upon visiting a Bhil household, one will discover a delightful myriad of images from myth and folklore adorning their walls and ceilings. Every year, a new plaster of mittichitra (clay relief work) and paintings are applied to the interiors of the house. Pigments are ground from natural materials and leaves and flowers, while brushes are made with neem twigs.

Pithora horses are a common theme among Bhil artists. The traditional painter or lekhindra often paints pithoras as an offering to the goddesses. According to legend, the people of the Kingdom Dharmi Raja have forgotten how to laugh. The brave prince Pithora rode on horseback through a dangerous terrain and brought back laughter and joy from the goddess Himali Harda. Similar to all adivasi tribes, the Bhils live close to nature and lead a largely agricultural life. Their paintings reflect the changing seasons, the natural phenomena that guide their harvest, and the gods that protect them.

Subhash Bheel Untitled The Story by Saffronart

Subhash Bheel
Untitled
The Story by Saffronart

Bhuri Bai of Zher is one of the leading Bhil artists of our time. She started painting at a young age when the colors at a local festival inspired her to paint laughing goddesses and everyday scenes from the village. Her mother taught her how to make huts and decorate them with cows that became a prominent symbol in her work. In her adult life, she transferred the paintings from mud to paper and canvas, and continues to decorate the walls at the Museum of Mankind in Bhopal.

gond_12_08456_big

Lado Bai
Untitled
The Story by Saffronart

Another prominent artist is Lado Bai whose art reflects the spirituality and animism of her community. For years, she could not pursue her art because of financial constraints. Her luck turned when she was discovered by the famous Indian artist Jagdish Swaminathan. Swaminathan encouraged her to work for the Adivasi Lok Kala Academy where she had the opportunity to transfer images of festivals, rituals and animals from wall to paper.

Bhil artists are just starting to be internationally recognized. They paint the simple human joys of birth and other ceremonial occasions like harvests that are often forgotten in our modern society. The art of the Bhils along with that of other tribal groups reminds us what the simple pleasures in life are.

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