Vernacular expressions

‘Prakriti: The Creative Feminine’ celebrates the depiction of women in folk art

March 10, 2017 02:11 pm | Updated 02:11 pm IST



In ‘Ardhanarisvara’, 49X43 inches, Manisha Jha depicts the androgynous god form of Ardhanarisvara, the composite figure of Shiva along with his consort goddess Parvati, in Madhubani art. In this acrylic on canvas composition, recognisable attributes of Shiva and Parvati like the trishul, lotus, drum, rosary and the river Ganga erupting from Shiva’s top knot are detailed intricately. This form represents the synthesis of the masculine and feminine energy of the universe and creation. And paying an ode to ‘mother nature’, who is always personified as a woman, or ‘prakriti, is an ongoing exhibition ‘Prakriti: The Creative Feminine’ that celebrates the feminine aspects of indigenous art forms.

Tulika Kedia, founder and director of Must Art Gallery, who is at the forefront of preserving and promoting indigenous art forms in India, had conceptualised this idea, along with the curator of the show, Alka Pande, almost a year ago. The thought was to celebrate the depiction of women in the vernacular art. “My experience as an art collector and gallerist has revealed how inclusive and persuasive female iconography and woman-centric themes are in indigenous art produced in the subcontinent. The spectrum of styles and plethora of themes that engage with the feminine form is truly astounding,” says Tulika, who has been collecting folk art for over two decades.

“Eternal Gaze”

“Eternal Gaze”

The show, which features over 150 works in several folk art forms, has been divided into four sections: the Divine Feminine; One World, Many Incarnations; Contemporary Expressions in the Vernacular and; The Other Gaze, and each section stitches together a narrative that shows the variations and variety of different art forms, and features works by artists like Naresh Shyam, Baua Devi, Kalam Patua, Geeta Bariya, and Prakash Jogi, among others.

For instance, One World, Many Incarnations section offers visual representations of earliest rock paintings that are known to have displayed images of women. These depictions are rendered in forms like Madhubani art, Kalighat paintings, Phad painting, Gond art and Jadu Pata. Similarly, in Contemporary Expressions in the Vernacular, viewers will see how these folk artists have picked up societal themes like dowry and have responded to natural calamity like Tsunami in their paintings. These expressions have found a voice in forms like Warli, contemporary Kalighat style and Jogi art.

Tulika Kedia

Tulika Kedia

According to Alka, tribal art bears the unmistakable stamp of an achievement that is not only ancient and indigenous but also creative. “Unlike the high art of the princely courts and temples of orthodox religions, the art produced by the people — tribal or peasant craftsman — has been largely ephemeral. But, the present day tribal artists work with material that is non-perishable and can be preserved for many years,” she says.

Pointing at a fibreglass sculpture in the gallery, Tulika says that folk artists need to be encouraged to use their craft on different mediums. This sculpture, she says, has been painted by Japani Shyam, daughter of the famous Gond artist Jangarh Singh Shyam. “These artists have understood the importance of painting contemporary themes to stay relevant in the market, but now they also need to experiment when it comes to different mediums. I am just supporting them to bring out the best in them,” she says.

Indigenous art

Born in Kolkata, Tulika was exposed to Kalighat paintings at a young age. However, when she got married at the age of 19 then she, along with her husband, who is an industrialist, started travelling to the interiors of Madhya Pradesh. While he was at work, she discovered the indigenous art form like Gond and likewise, when she accompanied him to Mumbai, she was enraptured by Warli art. This is how her tryst with collecting indigenous art began.

“But collecting was not enough,” she recalls, adding, “I realised there was no gallery supporting these artists. They needed support and encouragement. They needed some form of security to continue. This is the reason why I opened my gallery in 2011,” she adds.

After receiving an overwhelming response from art collectors from around the globe, Tulika realised the need for the gallery to go digital. And that is why at the opening of the show on Wednesday evening she also launched the website for the buyers to buy online.

“We give a fair deal to our artists and believe in selling their works at a good price. Since everything is going digital, we thought it was a good idea to go online and improve our business prospects. That way we can reach out to more buyers which in turn will be good for my artists. They will get more work,” she says.

(The exhibition is on till March 12, at Visual Art Gallery, India Habitat Centre)

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