Native Art, Lalitakala Akademi's residential workshop, showcased the work of 38 artists whose artistry is closely linked to their way of life.

In the midst of the massive growth of high investment art in the metros, the presence of tribal-folk arts of the country continues to be a living legend. Recently, the College of Fine Arts, Thrissur was the venue to watch several such native art practices.

The programmes began with the degree show of the student talents along with the presentation of Mumbai-based artists Atul Dodia, Riyas Komu, Bose Krishnamachari and Jothibasu.

Then came the Kerala Lalitakala Akademi with a mega residential workshop of 38 artists (called Native Art) drawn from India's heritage zones such as Pithora (Gujarat- Madhya Pradesh) Nimari, Malvi (Madhya Pradesh), Phad (Rajasthan), Saura (Andhra Pradesh) Put (West Bengal), Devan-gouda (Rajangaon) and Chhattisgarh.

The art expressions of the ‘natives' did grow upon radical changes during the past 30 years, especially after the Bhopal Bharat Bhavan event in which the artisan-artist transformation was initiated by the celebrated artist J. Swaminathan. Many of the artists of rural India started practising in acrylic, oil, plastic emulsion and other modern media but they continued in their stylistic lineage.

It is with the same hands that they plough the soil, sow seeds, harvest the field, and create the images of art. Thus it is a lineage that persists with the struggle for life.

Latest among 20 residential workshops conducted by the Akademi, the Native Art camp is significant in two aspects. First, it is being hosted in an art school that teaches modern art practices. Secondly, it is taking place at a crucial juncture when these practitioner communities are becoming extinct owing to large scale migrations to urban slums.

The moment you ask Gurupat Chithrakar (pat painting) about his work he arranges his paintings and starts singing in rustic Bengali. Though there is an element of narrative in the lyrics, we realise that it is not a separate medium of communication adopted by the painter to interpret the pictorial form.

Multiple expressions

The song as well as the visual move from image to story, from allegory to specific references, to contemporary politics, and from female suppression to deforestation. By singing, dancing, questioning, and telling stories, they create an environment of total integration of multiple expressions.

The Dogra metal casting session led by senior sculptor Govind Jhera of Chathisgargh lit up the evenings with the flames of his craft. This, truly, was a rare experience. The magic of pouring the liquid metal into the cast mould and its reconstructed image still remains a closely guarded method among the ‘Musaris.' The process of pouring the metal is an exclusively masculine exercise in Kerala. Contrary to this kind of taboos, the Dogra casting is witnessed by women and children.

Among the sculptors in wood, Devilal Tikaram Basant Singh Uikey and Pyarelal Uylm from Duidoli district of Madhya Pradesh chiselled out their images with exceptional speed.

The finest and original of all traditional art forms of Kerala – wood carving – has been extinct since a century. The presence of Pavithram K. (Kannur) was a surprise as he recharged the ancient tradition with his exuberance and carving devises.

Architectonic devices were created to assemble their cut metal sheets by the Chhattisgarh artists that resembled small gopurams. Painted in black enamel, these welded simple images of animals and human forms travel all over the world as they are popular among collectors.

The three sculptures of this genre that Hiralal Bhagal and Suray Bathi Bhagal of Basthar made were ideal examples for those who seek alternatives in a postmodern investment-centered art.

Wastage of every single small piece is used and worked out with utmost care, by using minimum material for the maximum aesthetic function.

Dogra casting

The thin layers of the Dogra casting has always been a wonder for art researchers. The incomparable thinness of the Dogra casting and its fineness in the world of cast metal are not just technological miracles, but an aesthetic technology born out of the deep hardship and struggle of a society that experiences scarcity of materials. It is the art and skill of poverty and uncertainty of life.

Though Gurupath Chithrakar or Govind Thera and others are frequently taken abroad to demonstrate and exhibit their work, their living conditions do not reflect the demand for their skills. Seasonal peasant workers as they are, the reward they get for a day is not more than a daily bata of Rs.100, even from the big institutions that hire them.

Says Satyapal, secretary of Lalitakala Akademi: “We treat them like any other artist participating in a national art camp of the Akademi.”

There is hope for these artists in future. As their works are collected all over the world and they become aware of the fact that they are exploited, there is a growing demand among them to tell the organisers to provide a dignified space.