Getting into the tribal spirit

Artist Venkatraman Singh Shyam has made it his life’s mission to popularise tribal Gond paintings. He gives Nirali Dixit-Hathi his reasons

Their forefathers depicted jungles and tribal life on the inner and outer walls and windows of their homes in tribal villages. Today, it’s the modern day canvas that Gond painters use as their medium. However, what has remained intact are the age old hues and simplicity of the folk art form, which newage Gond painter Venkatraman Singh Shyam is currently showcasing at the Jamaat Art Gallery.

A self-trained artist, Venkatraman started painting at the age of 10, when his uncle, legendary Gond artist Jangarh Singh Shyam, inspired him. Twenty-five years since, he has dedicated himself to Gond paintings and is working towards saving and publicising the art form. “Folk art needs to be preserved and encouraged as it is among the richest forms of art. It also educates people about different cultures,” says the artist.

Gond paintings are living expressions of tribals and their day to day activities in the villages. “Traditionally, we drew on the walls of our homes, echoing our religious sentiments and devotions. Our myths are what we drew inspiration from. So, things that we saw around us — horses, elephants, birds, images of Gods and other objects of daily life — was what our paintings narrated,” Venkatraman states. With time, though their subjects have remained unchanged, the tools have acquired a modern day touch. “Earlier, we used mice hair in place of a brush, while limestone or charcoal were our colour mediums. Now, we use thin brushes and special pens to draw, and water, oil and acrylic mediums as colours,” he informs.

Venkatraman Singh Shyam and (inset) his Gond tribal art

Venkatraman Singh Shyam and (inset) his Gond tribal art

One of the most striking features of Gond paintings is its detailing. And Venkatraman springs another surprise — this intricate work is done without using a pencil or eraser! “Gond paintings are usually textured using strokes and dots. Shades of red, blue and yellow and black and white are our colours of expression. Often, natural material is used in place of artificial colours to give these paintings a more original look and feel,” explains Venkatraman. These tribal paintings also have an edge over other art forms like Warli paintings. “It is difficult to associate a Warli painting with a particular artist, since there is no flexibility in the art form. However, Gond paintings originate from cave paintings and so, we do not seek perfection. Each painting has a different story to narrate. In fact, even in the same painting, two birds will not look similar,” Venkatraman smiles.

But he gets serious as he ponders the future of this art form. “Gond art will be able to survive only if it is encouraged and promoted. It is essential to raise awareness about it. Popularising the art form is the duty of artists like me,” the 39-year-old artist says. And it’s not just a blanket statement he is making, for Venkatraman has been showcasing his works not just in India but in Spain and UK as well. He eats, drinks, breathes and lives for his passion.


~ by niralidixithathi on October 22, 2009.

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