An impressive exhibition of Gond art.

Indian art lives in its villages. Be it Bihar's Madhubani, Madhya Pradesh's tribal art called Gond, Orissa and West Bengal's Patachitra, Chhattisgarh's iron handicrafts and so on.

Enter Academy of Fine Arts and Literature in New Delhi and you can have a one-to-one with some spectacular works from the Gond tribe of Madhya Pradesh. The show, with over 50 works, not only chronologies the growth of Gond Art but also presents a wide variety of it with themes that stretches from traditional to contemporary.

Gond art has an interesting history behind it. Most Gond artists were wandering construction labourers who would barely survive on a meagre income of Rs.100 per day and make art as a cathartic and entertainment exercise. Being close to nature, trees, animals, fish, river and legendary tales of the forests find expression in their works. They used to sketch them on the walls of their houses.

Mostly, women used to make such art works but it was Jangarh, a man who made Gond art popular outside MP. He learnt this art from his mother. Veteran artist J. Swaminathan invited him to do a mural at Bharat Bhawan in Bhopal. Happy with his creation, Bharat Bhawan provided him with poster colours, papers and even a small house to live and produce art. Jangarh started helping other tribals too. Soon, his fame reached Japan and a Japanese citizen took him there on a contract of four months. But Jangarh's art became so popular that he was forced by his host to stay back. Being alien to the language, and because of the absence of family and friends, Jangarh longed to come back. His only source of link with his family was to write letters to his wife in which he extensively expressed his longing to return home, he also mentioned that his Japanese host had confisticated his passport. About 10 years ago, a 32-year-old depressed Jangarh reportedly committed suicide in Japan.

This story also finds mention in “The Magic Makers, The Folk and Tribal Art” by Professor P. C. Jain. The book is based on the museum of tribal art at the Academy. “Till today, people from Gond go to the same Japanese man as he pays them very well,” says artist Arpana Caur from the Academy. Gond artist Bhajjushyamhas made it to London through him and a Scottish lady has even made an animation film based on his works, informs Arpana. Since no one knew that Jangarh would commit suicide, Arpana could only procure two of his works, which are a part of the exhibition.

She explains that early Gond art was made mostly with dots. But a young artist, Suresh Kumar Dhruvey, has innovated a new style in which he avoids dots and uses fish scales. He also shades his creations.

Dhurvey, whose works are also on show, gets a scholarship of Rs.3000 per month from the Academy to further his art.

(The show concludes on August 22.)