Spotlight | Art

Like her father, Gond artist Japani Shyam narrates nature’s stories, but in her own style

Painting by Japani Shyam.

Painting by Japani Shyam.   | Photo Credit: Gallerie Ganesha

She continues to work in the tradition handed down to her by the celebrated Jangarh Singh Shyam, and her first solo exhibition opened recently at Gallerie Ganesha in New Delhi

Bara Deo in Gondi means god and the Gonds of Madhya Pradesh believe that Bara deo can take many forms. His favourite form though, according to artist Japani Shyam, is the tree. “Trees are very important as they provide sustenance to all living beings; which is why trees are a constant presence in my paintings,” says Japani. She continues to work in the tradition handed down to her by the celebrated Gond artist, Jangarh Singh Shyam, and her first solo exhibition opened recently at Gallerie Ganesha in New Delhi. The show features over 20 works done in acrylic on canvas, giving a modern twist to the traditional Gond lines done with natural colours on handmade paper.

The 31-year-old artist began painting at the age of seven. “I became serious about painting when I won the Kamla Devi Award at the Crafts Museum in Delhi. I was 11 then. My father has always encouraged me to tell folktales through art. He named me after his first trip to Japan, which is when I was born,” she recalls. Instead of allowing her father’s tragic death in Japan when she was just 13 to derail her life, she took it upon herself to further Jangarh’s legacy.

Over the years, Japani has evolved artistically to balance the formidable Jangarh Kalam legacy she inherited with her own distinctive style, and has been recognised for this. The Kamla Devi Award was followed by the FICCI Young Achiever’s Award in 2018. She started painting using the brushes and colours her father gave her, watching his style as he worked and accompanying him to galleries and exhibitions. She used to assist him as well.

Japani Shyam at work

Japani Shyam at work   | Photo Credit: Gallerie Ganesha

“I like to delve into the meaning and significance of flora and fauna in Gond art. Animals and rituals make up my world and I integrate nature into my work by painting the forests in which these animals live,” she says. Like her father, Japani too narrates stories of nature, but in a style identifiably her own. While Jangarh’s works have a complex linearity and vigorous themes, like the tiger dance, the swirling Nag devata, Bara Deo in an anthropomorphic avatar, or the pig sacrifice, Japani uses straighter lines with a more serene colour palette and themes.

Meditative art

With their darker and subtler shades, Japani’s work is cleaner, quieter, almost meditative. “That is the beauty of Gond art,” she says, “Every artist has their own unique language. My work is nature-based, but my designs are purely a product of imagination. None of the forest creatures is a copy of their counterparts in real life. I sketch freehand and whatever shape the creature takes in my mind, I go with it. It should appeal only to me and please my eyes,” she says.

Over the years, Japani has evolved a trademark white-on-black style of painting. “I want to start working in natural colours once again even though they are very tough to get now,” she says. She wants Gond art to flourish and receive wider recognition. But for that to happen, it is necessary that the artists secure good patrons or galleries. “Every household in Patangarh, my father’s village in Madhya Pradesh, has an artist who continues to make quality art, but so many of them are not recognised, not able to communicate with the mainstream market, and often fall prey to middlemen and dealers,” says Japani. Crediting her success to her father, who took Gond art to the world for the first time, Japani agrees that the struggle for artists like her is much less now than it was for Jangarh.

Painting by Japani Shyam.

Painting by Japani Shyam.   | Photo Credit: Gallerie Ganesha

“My father worked so hard to make Gond art a well-known name and this paved the way for me. Now galleries have started showing Jangarh Kalam art, but there’s still a long way to go. I want to showcase abroad as well,” says Japani, who has already had shows in Korea, Japan and France.

On Show: Tribal Traditions at Gallerie Ganesha, Delhi, till September 22

The writer is a critic-curator by day, and a creative writer and visual artist by night.

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Printable version | Feb 23, 2020 5:36:38 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/entertainment/art/like-her-father-gond-artist-japani-shyam-narrates-natures-stories-but-in-her-own-style/article29352437.ece

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