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Non Metropolitan


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Presented by Pundole Art Gallery - Mumbai, EW Art - Los Angeles, Rob Dean Art - London. …

Presented by Pundole Art Gallery - Mumbai, EW Art - Los Angeles, Rob Dean Art - London.

This exhibition presents the work of five artists: Bhuri Bai, Ladoo Bai, Narmada Prasad Tekam, Nankushiya Shyam and Ram Singh Urveti. Their paintings, which are being exhibited in L.A. for the first time, form part of a collection built up over the last five years by the Pundole Art Gallery, Mumbai. The artists represent an emergent third field of artistic production in contemporary Indian culture which is neither metropolitan nor rural, neither modernist nor traditional, neither derived from academic training nor inherited without change from tribal custom.

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  • 2. NON METROPOLITAN Five Contemporary Artists from India Presented by E W Art - Los Angeles I Pundole Art Gallery - Mumbai I Rob Dean Art - London September - October 2010 - Los Angeles
  • 3. Five Contemporary Artists from India ‘Now that the trees have spoken’ presents the work of four artists: Bhuri Bai, Ladoo Bai, misleading rubric of ‘Gond painting’, but which the commentator Udayan Vajpeyi has Narmada Prasad Tekam and Ram Singh Urveti. Their paintings, which are being exhibited correctly designated as the ‘Jangarh style’. in Mumbai for the first time, form part of a collection built up over the last five years by Dadiba Pundole. They way-mark the process of dialogue that this Bombay-based gallerist While achieving international recognition for his own art, Jangarh Singh Shyam also and collector has enjoyed with the artists, in the course of his research trips into central opened the door to acclaim for many other artists of tribal background. However, the India. tragic circumstances of his suicide in Japan in July 2001 only emphasised that the ‘tribal artist’ had a long way to go before he or she could throw off the shackles of the Born and raised in Madhya Pradesh, the protagonists of ‘Now that the trees have spoken’ emporium-dealer-patron circuit. represent that emergent third field of artistic production in contemporary Indian culture which is neither metropolitan nor rural, neither (post)modernist nor traditional, neither * derived from academic training nor inherited without change from tribal custom. Indeed, as theorists and curators actively engaged with mapping this third field (including J In their art, Bhuri Bai, Ladoo Bai, Tekam and Urveti invite us to reflect on an ecology Swaminathan, Jyotindra Jain, Gulammohammed Sheikh and Nancy Adajania) have menaced by the expansion of late industrial activity. The intricately balanced textures of demonstrated, descriptions such as ‘tribal’ and ‘folk’, although still used as convenient their lifeworld are subject to several debilitating and destructive factors: the vagaries of shorthand, are worse than useless. shifting development policies; the brutalisation generated by schismatic political violence; recurrent conflicts over the natural resources of land, water, fish, birds and animals; and the Generated from the typological obsessions of the colonial census, these labels have long rivalry among religious groups and ideological activists for control over the tribal been responsible for a dreadful incarceration. They have reduced thousands of individuals population. to the happenstance of birth, registering them primarily as bearers of community identities rather than as citizens of a Republic. And, once circumscribed as Warlis, Bhils, But delight, exuberance and an irrepressible radiance remain their chosen states of being. Gonds or Saoras, these individuals have had to mortgage their free-floating, self-renewing Although anxiety and melancholia play at the edges of their paintings and drawings, these imaginative energies to the regime of the emporium. moods are not permitted to overwhelm the leitmotifs of regeneration and plenitude. Startlingly, perhaps, these four artists remind us that beauty, just as much as reason, hope None of the four artists presented in ‘Now that the trees have spoken’ inherits a primordial or violence, can provide motive energy for processes of psychic and historical ‘folk art’. None of them was trained in a fine arts academy. Yet their work has the capacity transformation. to surprise us, to compel our attention with its freshness of insight and rendering. In this, they provide enduring testimony to the success of a catalytic experiment in cultural These artists share a gift for conveying an aesthetic experience that is perhaps best evolution initiated by the painter and visionary J Swaminathan and the poet and cultural glossed with the Sanskrit word laya: a subliminal rhythm, a cosmic pattern of energy flow, administrator Ashok Vajpeyi. The visual sensibilities and conceptual gifts of these artists the rippling-in and rippling-out of the universal breath. Sinuous animals and fabular birds were honed in the creative environment of Bharat Bhavan, Bhopal: a seed-ground of ideas inhabit these frames; real and imagined aquatic and arboreal creatures address us, and impulses that evolved from the partnership of Swaminathan and Vajpeyi, and a circle speaking not only from an ecosystem but also from an ecology of the mind. Bhuri Bai and of colleagues they drew from various domains of creative and critical expression. Ram Singh Urveti, Ladoo Bai and Narmada Prasad Tekam delight in the interplay of finesse and disturbance. They are adept at calibrating the gradations of strangeness: in their Significantly, therefore, the one artistic expression that does indeed exercise a magnetic epiphanies, trees sing in many voices, their trunks morphing into rivers in flood, swollen influence on the imagination of these artists is that of the late Jangarh Singh Shyam (1962- with uncontainable memories; snails fly, boars fight tigers over territory; ancestral figures 2001), an extraordinarily gifted artist of Gond origin and a protégé of Swaminathan. Shyam cross vast distances on tireless horses, and turtles carry the legends of dead islands across excelled in the melding of diverse mythic and pictorial resources into an unprecedented, the oceans. entirely contemporary expression that has sometimes been subsumed under the
  • 4. Acknowledgements Their paintings are charged with a powerful, intuitive command over colour as carrier of psychic energy: understated olive greens and glowing lime yellows captivate us here, as This essay owes much to my conversations with the theorist and curator Nancy Adajania, who mobilised attention do alizarin and saffron fields, motifs rendered in subdued ochre and khaki, grey and blue. towards the re-definition and interpretation of the ‘folk’ and ‘tribal’ arts in a benchmark international symposium, ‘Should the Crafts Survive?’, which she convened at the National Centre for the Performing Arts, Mumbai, April 1995. Each of these artists demonstrates an enviable attentiveness to surprising contrasts and delicately tuned harmonies. The enduring influence of Jangarh Singh Shyam I would also like to thank Prakash Hatvalne, Bhopal-based photographer and researcher, for his patient and detailed communicates itself both through the chimeras that populate these works, as well as the responses to my questions about the lives and circumstances of the four artists in this exhibition, and about the Bharat Bhavan ethos. travelling lines of stitch-like stipples by means of which the images are often shaped. Select Bibliography The protagonists of ‘Now that the trees have spoken’ display a fluency and assurance in their absorption of motifs from diverse sources; their paintings attest to a complex mutation of narratives from their own past and from elsewhere. Song and story pass into Nancy Adajania, ‘Mother Goddess on a Bicycle and Such Other Themes’: concept note for the international symposium, ‘Should the Crafts Survive?’ (Mumbai: National Centre for the Performing Arts, April 1995). the pictorial image here: Tekam and Urveti’s paintings, especially, are alive with images drawn from the ancestral songs of the Gonds, which have been sung, elaborated and Nancy Adajania, ‘Art and Craft – Bridging the Great Divide’, in Art India Vol. 4 Issue 1 (Mumbai, January-March 1999), pp. 34-38. passed down by the Pardhans or bards of the Gond community. In Bhuri Bai and Ladoo Bai’s paintings, especially, we may detect the luminous presence of styles from mutually Nancy Adajania, ‘Past as Resource’, in Art India Vol. 6 Issue 1 (Mumbai, January-March 2001), pp. 30-37. distant parts of the Indian subcontinent. They translate, into painting, techniques culled John Bowles, ‘Songlines from the Museum of Man’ (Tehelka, New Delhi, 28 January 2006). See: from other arts: they draw on the delicate stitch-lines of kantha embroidery from eastern Bihar and Bengal; on the chain-stitch gestures and peacock motifs of the aari tradition, and the distinctive mirror-work of aabhla embroidery from the Sind-Kutch border; and on suf Verrier Elwin, The Tribal World of Verrier Elwin: An Autobiography (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1964). and bandhni patterns. Madhav Gadgil & Ramachandra Guha, Ecological Conflicts and the Environmental Movement in India (Oxford: Blackwell, 1994). In the paintings of all four artists, we also find traces of the spatial dispositions of Mithila Ramachandra Guha, Savaging the Civilized: Verrier Elwin, His Tribals, and India (New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 1999). painting from northern Bihar, auspicious motifs from the Pithora stories of the Madhya Pradesh-Gujarat border, the geometricised figuration of Warli ritual painting. And Ranjit Hoskote, ‘Situation and Symbol: A ritual identity and mode of expression under bourgeois cultural appropriation, with special reference to Warli art’, in The Indian Journal of Social Work (special issue on ‘The Social Construction and occasionally, we also find references to the work of contemporary paintings by Australian Expression of Ethnicity and Identity’, guest-ed. Nandini Rao, Vol. 57, No. 1: Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bombay, artists of Aboriginal heritage. January 1996). Jyotindra Jain ed., Other Masters: Five Contemporary Folk and Tribal Artists of India (New Delhi: Crafts Museum & The This relay of resources arises from the Bharat Bhavan ethos, with its promotion of access Handicrafts and Handlooms Exports Corporation of India Ltd., 1998). and openness to various forms and levels of art. At its peak, Bharat Bhavan hosted an Pupul Jayakar, The Earthen Drum: An Introduction to the Ritual Arts of Rural India (New Delhi: National Museum, 1980) international biennale of art and a world poetry festival, among much other stimulations rpt. as The Earth Mother: Legends, Goddesses and Ritual Arts of India (New Delhi: Penguin Books India, 1989/ San to the imagination. The collection strategies and workshop culture of its Roopankar Francisco: Harper & Row, 1990). Museum also ensured that a broad spectrum of artistic idioms were available to the young Geeti Sen ed., Indigenous Vision: People of India, Attitudes to the Environment (New Delhi: Sage Publications, 1992). artists of tribal origin who were invited from remote districts, by Swaminathan’s research teams, to discover and practise art in Bhopal. Gulammohammed Sheikh, ‘The World of Jangarh Singh Shyam’, in J Jain ed., Other Masters (1998), pp. 17-34. J Swaminathan, ‘Pre-naturalistic Art and Postnaturalistic Vision: An Approach to the Appreciation of Tribal Art’, orig. in The consequent positioning of such artists as ‘non-metropolitan contemporary artists’ has Ashish Bose, U P Sinha, R P Tyagi eds., Demography of Tribal Development (New Delhi: B R Publishing Corporation, 1990), ensured the circulation of their art in a particular global circuit; this is also how they have rpt. in Lalit Kala Contemporary No: 40/ Special Issue on J Swaminathan (New Delhi, March 1995), pp. 50-57. become aware of the struggles and contributions of their counterparts in other countries, J Swaminathan, ‘Submerged Archipelago’, orig. in Swaminathan ed., The Perceiving Fingers, catalogue of the Roopankar such as Australia, as we have already observed. The work of the four artists in ‘Now that the Museum (Bhopal: Bharat Bhavan, 1987), rpt. in Lalit Kala Contemporary No: 40 (March 1995), pp. 57-59. trees have spoken’, and many other artists in their circle, may be regarded as the living Udayan Vajpeyi and Vivek, Jangarh Kalam/ Narrative of a Tradition – Gond Painting (Bhopal: Vanya Prakashan/ legacy of the Bharat Bhavan experiment. It is the best possible tribute to the vision of J Swaminathan. I Department of Tribal Welfare, Government of Madhya Pradesh, n. d. [2006]). 5
  • 5. bhuri bai NANKUSHIYA SHYAM Bhuri Bai grew up in the Jhabua district on the Madhya Pradesh-Gujarat border. J Swaminathan identified her as a potential artist nearly three decades ago, when she was a 20-year-old daily-wage labourer. She picks up clues from the arts of embroidery as well as ritual narratives; her images shuttle between the intimate and the cosmic. This is especially evident in paintings where she depicts stags whose antlers grow into forests, their bodies distinctively patterned after desert dunes or river wavelets. She returns, often, to variations on the Tree of Life motif, playfully annotating its mythic presence with owls that stand on stilt-legs, timid snakes, and high-spirited elephants. Bhuri Bai demonstrates a lively and witty eye for observed detail, veining her observations with allegorical or parabolic intent. In one of her paintings, long-necked birds with elegant beaks and crests like cockades dip into a stream to pluck fish from the shallow waters; instead, they risk being bitten by an irate crab. Her experience of the metropolis informs some of her works, in which airplanes frolic like river dolphins. In one of her finest works, Bhuri Bai dwells on a turtle that has just laid her eggs. She is threatened by crocodiles that swim around her; one of them snatches an egg from her glowing yellow cache. This aquatic mandala, dominated by the conflict between female creators and male predators, speaks directly of nature while proposing an allegory of the despoliation of the hinterlands by the forces of industrial and mercantile exploitation.
  • 6. Bhuri Bai Untitled Acrylic on canvas 148 x 85.5 cm. 8
  • 7. Bhuri Bai Untitled Acrylic on canvas 122 x 151 cm. 9
  • 8. Bhuri Bai Untitled Acrylic on canvas 118 x 153 cm. 10
  • 9. Bhuri Bai Untitled Acrylic on canvas 147 x 84.5 cm. 11
  • 10. ladoo bai ladoo bai Ladoo Bai, who is in her late 50s, was identified as a potential artist by J Swaminathan during his research tours through the tribal districts of Madhya Pradesh. She packs her paintings densely, encrypting them with trees and animals, some of which have a symbolic significance. Among these, she fits in occasional human beings who have been scaled down in relation to nature, although they are hunters and cultivators who could bring down the edifice of the natural with a few cataclysmic gestures. The effect of her orchestration of image-density is to communicate a bursting fullness of regenerative power. Ladoo Bai develops her figures as if through layers of embroidery: sometimes, she allows the trailing branches of a tree to form a partial border around her ensemble of motifs. She revels in a dynamic asymmetry between details that are refined to completion, and details deliberately left brushy and unfinished. Many of her paintings are composed around a dance of stags and antelopes, tree goddesses and herons, snakes and hunters, turtles and riders. Certain forms that fascinate her, including the stylised standing hero, the rayed or wheel-like sun, and the dance of the animals, may be traced back to the Late Stone Age. Such images are to be found, for instance, in the Bhimbetka caves in Central India. Their persistence in Ladoo Bai’s work may spring from a genealogical or ascribed continuity of ritual imagery, but may also come from the exposure of such artists to archaeological studies and historical exhibitions.
  • 11. Ladoo Bai Untitled Acrylic on canvas 145 x 175 cm. 14
  • 12. Ladoo Bai Untitled Acrylic on canvas 141.5 x 170 cm. 15
  • 13. Ladoo Bai Untitled Acrylic on canvas 142 x 174 cm. 16
  • 14. Ladoo Bai Untitled Acrylic on canvas 142 x 173.5 cm. 17
  • 15. nankushiya shyam NANKUSHIYA SHYAM Blah blah
  • 16. Nankushiya Shyam Untitled Acrylic on canvas 112 x 168 cm. 20
  • 17. Nankushiya Shyam Untitled Acrylic on canvas 171 x 117 cm. 21
  • 18. Nankushiya Shyam Untitled Acrylic on canvas 110 x 168 cm. 22
  • 19. Nankushiya Shyam Untitled Acrylic on canvas 167 x 123 cm. 23
  • 20. narmada prasad tekam narmada prasad tekam Narmada Prasad Tekam, who is in his 30s, weaves his paintings from the interrelationships among animals, birds and trees. His art does not invoke an idyllic past so much as it proposes fables of mutuality. In Tekam’s paintings, the gestures of war and the gestures of peace are difficult to tell apart. Peacocks, tigers and birds coexist, wary but accommodating. He presents deer and boars at play or in mock combat, their fur replaced by scalloped scales. Elsewhere, Tekam focuses on a dance or duel between a boar and a bird: incandescent against a teal field, these are not animals but actors in a shamanic drama. More amusingly, a regal serpent that has encircled a bird and is about to eat it, is distracted from its meal by a gaggle of pesky birds. Tekam, like many of his colleagues, is devoted to the Tree of Life: this axis mundi is by turns alive with songbirds, heavy with houses in place of fruit, and transformed into an abacus of human heads, a Speaking Tree from the legends. Like many of his colleagues, also, Tekam is fascinated by stags whose antlers grow into trees, flower into forests. This image recalls to mind the Hungarian poet Ferenc Juhász’ celebrated poem, ‘The Boy Changed into a Stag Clamours at the Gate of Secrets’. A not wholly fortuitous association: Juhász attended the World Poetry Festival held at Bharat Bhavan in 1989, and his poem had a profound effect on many who read and heard it.
  • 21. Narmada Prasad Tekam Untitled Acrylic on canvas 112 x 76 cm. 26
  • 22. Narmada Prasad Tekam Untitled Acrylic on canvas 122 x 77 cm. 27
  • 23. Narmada Prasad Tekam Untitled Acrylic on canvas 163 x 107 cm. 28
  • 24. Narmada Prasad Tekam Untitled Acrylic on canvas xxx x xxx cm. 29
  • 25. ram singh urveti Ram Singh Urveti Ram Singh Urveti, now in his 40s, divides his artistic practice between paintings and drawings rendered in ink, both on canvas and paper. Urveti is an inspired and meticulous poet of the tree. The tree trunk is his chosen signature: he modulates it into symbol, icon, parable, and mythic architecture. In one of his ink drawings on canvas, the bow of a stringed instrument has snagged on a tree: what music will it tease from the trunk, which has already turned into the body of the instrument? Elsewhere, two figures have been tied to the base of a great tree: they serve as handles, while the tree churns the ocean of reality. Urveti also transmutes the tree trunk into a snaking trident that emerges from a tree-god’s head; in similar vein, the trident-trunk offers a theatrical backdrop for an assembly of village deities. Sometimes, Urveti blurs the distinction between the tree trunk and the river: in some of his drawings, he invokes the tree as a flow of village memory and everyday life; this conception is revisited in a resplendent painting dominated by a spreading red tree, encompassing human life in the agricultural zone and animal life in the forest, and two rivers that meet in a basin, bursting with aquatic life, suggesting a man with his arms flung wide. In another hymn to the communion of red tree, blue river and green flames of grass, Urveti produces the sense of the universe as a branching, fruiting, endlessly self-extending energy.
  • 26. Ram Singh Urveti Untiled Acrylic on canvas 112 x 76 cm. 32
  • 27. Ram Singh Urveti Untiled Acrylic on canvas 125 x 68 cm. 33
  • 28. Ram Singh Urveti Untiled Acrylic on canvas 164 x 87 cm. 34
  • 29. Ram Singh Urveti Untiled Acrylic on canvas SIZE Image to Follow 35