Art

Tradition lost and found

A Gond painting by Kala Bai Shyam. Photos: Savitha Gautam  

Her striking jewellery catches your attention at once. Chunky yet beautifully crafted, Kala Bai Shyam’s armbands, necklaces, anklets and bangles bespeak a tradition that is rooted in tribal art. For, Kala Bai belongs to one of the largest Adivasi tribes of Central India, the Gondis or Gonds, and along with husband Anand Singh Shyam, is among the prominent Gond painting artists today.

The first Gond pardhan woman to use canvas, brush and acrylic paint, Kala Bai hails from the Mandala village in Dindori zilla of Madhya Pradesh. She and Anand made Bhopal their home nearly three decades ago when their art took them out of the confines of their farm lands and rural surroundings to more profitable cityscapes.

On her second visit to Chennai in connection with SPIC MACAY’s Second International Convention at IIT Madras, Kala Bai is happy to share her art with all those who evince interest, as was evident during her intensives.

Sitting pretty among her paintings, she says in Hindi, “It was Jagdish Swaminathan (artist and painter who set up Bharat Bhawan in Bhopal) who discovered us when he visited our village in search of new talent. Till then, our paintings, what we call bhittichitra, adorned the walls and floor of our homes. Ours is a decorative art form. Yes, it has religious connotations but it is more about adding colour to our lives.” For Kala Bai, inspiration comes from every corner, be it a bird or a flower or just a tree near her home. “We draw what we see and experience.”

While the artist says the themes of her canvases have remained unchanged, it is the medium that’s different. “The Gonds used natural colours obtained from tree barks, leaves, flowers and the earth. And our walls were our canvas. Now, we use acrylic and canvas.”

Do they cater for modern tastes? “Not really, for people buy our paintings for what they are.”

Asked if the tribal art tradition is waning today, Kala Bai has some wise words, “For any art to survive, there has to be pride in practising it and the interest to share your knowledge. We conduct workshops for school children and even older students periodically at Bharat Bhawan in Bhopal and elsewhere. The interest is there but how long it will remain, is anybody’s guess!” For now, Kala Bai is happy painting and educating her two children. “We never had the opportunity to educate ourselves. So my priority was to ensure my children could read and write.” Luckily for her, son Sambhav has completed his Matric and assists his parents in the business. And daughter Anita is all set to register for her Ph.D in Fine Arts.

Kala Bai signs off by saying, “We are grateful for whatever we have got today, thanks to Government support and help from organisations such as SPIC MACAY. Our only wish is that Gond art lives for a long time to come.”

Amen to that!

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Printable version | Mar 2, 2021 1:57:11 PM | https://www.thehindu.com/features/friday-review/art/Tradition-lost-and-found/article11644015.ece

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