The beauty of Sohrai and Khovar paintings

Virasat Trsut organised an exhibition of Sohrai and Khovar paintings at India International Centre, New Dehi  

Sparrows, peacocks, squirrels and cows inhabit the world of Sohrai and Khovar paintings. Popular in Hazaribagh region of Jharkhand, the folk art draws heavily from the forest life. The clean lines reflect a naivety that came alive on canvasses that were exhibited last month at the India International Centre, New Delhi. Though all the paintings appear similar, on close observation one can see the distinct beauty of each.

The exhibition was organised by Virasat Trust, founded by Justin Imam and his wife Alka in 2008. Justin, the son of Bulu Imam, INTACH Convener, Hazaribagh, was the first to bring to light these paintings. He has been the force behind the conservation and preservation of this style of painting from the early 1990s.

It is an art form practised by women at home, usually the mother-in-law and daughter-in-law combine. The exhibition aimed to create awareness about this painting style even while making the practitioners proud of their heritage.

The beauty of Sohrai and Khovar paintings

The story of the discovery of the paintings and getting them on to a canvas is interesting. “In Hazaribagh you can see around 10 painted villages within a 50 km radius. Each village belongs to a different community or tribe. Hence their motifs and style of drawing is different,” says Justin.

Khovar refers to the decoration of the marriage chambers and Sohrai is the harvest painting on the mud houses, repairing it after the rains and offering a thanksgiving to the forces of Nature.

The region has about 11 communities including, Oraon, Munda, Santhal, Prajapati and Khurmi. When the painted villages were discovered, it was a challenge to get these paintings on to a canvas, so that they could be exhibited. Getting visitors there to tell this story to the outside world was the first step. This was done initially through a cooperative called Tribal Women’s Artist’s Cooperative, (TWAC) founded in 1995.

The next big challenge was to translate the huge paintings onto handmade papers and canvasses. Brush or broken comb is used to paint. Natural ochre colours make up the palette — dhudhi mitti (white in colour), lal mitti or red oxide from the local mines, kaali mitti or manganese black and peeli mitti or yellow ochre. These colours are collected in the form of lumps and powdered. They are then mixed with water and glue and applied on the canvas or handmade paper.

The beauty of Sohrai and Khovar paintings

“There are two major stylistic divisions based on the marriage and harvest seasons, while the four major painting techniques include scraping with four fingers, scraping with broken pieces of combs, twig-brush and cloth swab,” says Justin.

He explains about the efforts to preserve the wall art and keep alive the tradition. “In recent years, the Khovar and Sohrai art seem to be vanishing in the villages since mud walls are being replaced by brick and cement plaster. Also, young girls are reluctant to undertake the strenuous work of painting alongside their studies. Increasing migration to cities is another major reason. Displacement of agricultural settlements because of mining activities and large thermal power projects constitute a major threat to the continuance of the age-old practices of Jharkhand’s rural communities.

“Virasat Trust supplies free red oxide and yellow ochre to the villagersThey are also given blankets, sarees, led bulbs and wall clocks every year as gifts for keeping this art alive. The Trust is now working with 260 women . Since it is not an income generating exercise, most of these women sell vegetables or work on farms. These women then act as change leaders within their community and enthuse others to keep alive the art,” says Justin.

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Printable version | Jul 25, 2021 9:44:58 PM |

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