Life through geometry in Warli

Warli Whisperers, an exhibition by the Inherited Arts Forum, traces the artistic journey of the celebrated Mashe family from Maharashtra

Updated - December 29, 2023 11:14 am IST

Published - December 29, 2023 12:18 am IST

Warli art work Railway by late Jivya Soma Mashe.

Warli art work Railway by late Jivya Soma Mashe. | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

The triangles, circles and lines in austere white against a mud brown background align to tell stories of village life and the customs and traditions there on walls and canvasses.

Warli represents the daily routine of rural life, the relationship of the tribal people with nature, their gods, myths, traditions, customs, and festivities. “Warli is our life and our life is Warli,” says Vijay Soma Mashe, a third- generation artist, who is in Delhi to showcase the artistic work of his family at an exhibition organised by Inherited Arts Forum (IAF).

Warli art work by Vijay Sada Shiv Mashe.

Warli art work by Vijay Sada Shiv Mashe. | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

The exhibits include some rare paintings by the late Jivya Soma Mashe, his sons Balu Jivya Mashe and Sada Shiv Jivya Mashe, and grandson Vijay. “Warli flows in our DNA”, says Vijay, talking of his grandfather Jivya who not only introduced varied themes in the art form but also took it from the walls of mud houses to the canvas.

The Mashe family belongs to Ganjad village in the Palghar district of Maharashtra. Jivya Soma Mashe is known as the father of Warli art because he pulled it out of the traditional domain to popularise Warli art beyond the Sahyadri Mountains in Thane district, Maharashtra, where the ritualistic tribal art form originated.

Till the Seventies, the art form remained confined to depiction of joy and happiness that surrounds marriages. It was traditionally practised bywomen of the Warli tribe called Suvasinis, who decorated the Lagn Chowk or the wedding square. Layers of cow dung slapped on the walls of village homes formed the canvas. When the dung dried, they were painted in mud brown to create a background, and bamboo-stick paint brushes were used to meticulously craft scenes, figures, and objects.

Warli art works on display at Inherited Arts Forum.

Warli art works on display at Inherited Arts Forum. | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

But it was not recognised as an artform even though it was in practice for centuries.

Jivya Soma Mashe was the first male artist to enter the female-dominated bastion of Warli art. Known as the master of movement and geometry, he gave a new meaning to the minimalistic strokes and introduced highly imaginative compositions capturing the constant cyclical movement of life. Inspired by folklore and other stories narrated to children, he and his sons began showcasing Warli on art paper in galleries across the world

“Our aim is to bring the tribal art forms to the consciousness of people living in cities, increase visibility, and highlight masters of the form who are yet to receive their due,” says Mandira Lamba, co-founder at Blueprint 12, which has tied up with Exhibit 320 to form the IAF. “The idea is to present it in a way that makes its presence, relevant and relatable for a living room in a metropolitan city like Delhi,” she adds.

Warli art work by Vijay Sada Shiv Mashe.

Warli art work by Vijay Sada Shiv Mashe. | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

A close look at a fish net reveals the intricacy with which each circle and stitch is painted. Images of Dhaan Katayi (rice cutting), ant march, the parikrama of the migratory Aasara birds that are believed to fly around every temple they cross in their journey, and so on leave visitors enthused not just about the art form but village life as well.

The three generations of Mashe family preserve the authenticity of the Warli form while keeping abreast with evolving realities. “We are not averse to the idea of change or including modern elements and techniques in Warli art, but in that pursuit we should not lose what our ancestors passed on to us,” says Vijay.

Fish net by Balu Jivya Mashe, cow dung and acrylic on raw canvas.

Fish net by Balu Jivya Mashe, cow dung and acrylic on raw canvas. | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

Folk and ritual arts scholar and historian Jyotindra Jain says the access to paper sheets in the 1970s enabled “contemporary vernacular artists”such as Jivya Soma Mashe (Warli), Ganga Devi (Madhubani) and Jangarh Singh Shyam (Gond) to make a transition. “From inherited ritual paintings, they shifted to secular picturisation of their mythology, personal, and social predicaments; from religious imagery to narratives of their own stories leading to self-expression and construction of new visual vocabulary, charged by inner subjectivities,” he says.

“This also helped them to reflect upon social injustices caused by the systems of power imbalances,” he adds.

Mashe’s Warli art performs the social function of recording important events and transmitting local stories pictorially. The exuberant, swirling geometric patterns inspired by nature, like circles for the sun and the moon, triangles for trees and mountains, and squares for sacred enclosures are among the striking features.

Warli art work by Vijay Sada Shiv mashe

Warli art work by Vijay Sada Shiv mashe | Photo Credit: SPECIAL ARRANGEMENT

“Warli is our voice and we want to be heard. It is an expression of our experiences,” says Vijay.

(At F320, First Floor, Lado Sarai; Till January 6; 10.30am to 6.30pm)

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