With its eye-catching motifs and compositions, colours and detailing, Gond art presents a unique expression that speaks of traditional beliefs and the creativity of artists.
The deity Bagaisur dev painted with one face and body of multiple tigers to convey his power. A peacock with its resplendent train fanned cross its body as if it is admiring its beauty. A peacock and peahen standing with their long sinuous necks entwined and lost in love. A deer with large spreading antlers, branching and re-branching like a tree, with birds perched within them. A tortoise effortlessly, carrying a large tree symbolic of the earth, on its tough shell.
The down-to-earth, fantastic, harmonious and synergistic world of a Gond painter senses life, legend and reverence in every form. These beliefs, in turn, find expression in their paintings distinguished by their imagery manifest in large motifs of deities, animals, birds, trees, rivers and other elements. These elements are often depicted overlapping or conjoined to one another through a myth or historical event and thus physically. Filled in with bright, eye-catching colours and mesmerising patterns, they merge to form unique compositions that captivate the viewer with their distinctive energy and the stories they hold.
From Walls to Paper
Gond art is a precious expression that has traversed time and place. “The origins of Gond painting can be traced to the digna, a geometric pattern made on the floor and walls of our homes and courtyard, through the year. Within the digna are paintings- such as a pair of birds – that are regarded as auspicious,” says Dilip Shyam, a Gond artist from Dindori district, Madhya Pradesh. “The digna inspired my uncle Jangarh Singh Shyam to create different compositions set within it. He went on to create very striking, colourful and unique compositions, and took Gond art to cities in India and abroad.”
Jangarh Singh Shyam: The Gifted Mentor In the early 1980s, J Swaminathan, the Director of Bharat Bhavan, Bhopal, sent teams of young painters to different parts of Madhya Pradesh to find local talent. One team leader came across Jangarh’s work of a vivid Hanuman carrying the Sanjivani mountain in his palm, at Patangarh village, Dindori district. The rest as they say is history! Swaminathan encouraged him to paint in his own style. Jangarh painted myths and legends of the Gond community that his ancestors had sung for generations – in his signature style, on paper and canvas! He filled the compositions with dots, dashes and patterns; this expression went on to establish his style and set the foundation for a Gond idiom of painting.
The change of medium (from walls to paper and canvas, and natural colours and mud to ink and acrylic paint) freed the art and artists from being restricted to a particular physical space as work could now be easily transported for the world to experience their beauty. And in this way, Jangarh inspired a generation of Gond artists to find their own expression.
From Myths to Reality
Traditional subjects of Gond paintings centre around Bara Dev, the deity who created the world; the tiger, revered as a protector; the beautiful peacock (created by Bara Dev after he had completed making the world in three days and had three and a half days to spare); Dharti Devi, the earth goddess; the Bana, the sacred string instrument; the grain storage container; trees and the tree of life filled with creatures; animals; birds and fish. The figures are filled in with bright colours (except the pen and ink drawings) and embellished with dots, dashes, V-shaped lines, straight lines, semi-circles akin fish scales, small circles, and other patterns; these fillers identify the artist of a particular work.
Gond artists are admirable for their senses enable them to express things skillfully and wondrously through the vocabulary of their unique visual language of motifs and compositions. “In recent years, several Gond artists have become involved in adapting their visual depictions for new media, including both book illustrations and animated films. The representation of traditional themes in modern media has led to new interpretations and access to new audiences that has brought recognition and income to an expanding group of artists. In this way, contemporary Gond art stands out from many other folk art forms,” says Tara Douglas, animator and Secretary, Adivasi Arts Trust, an organisation that promotes awareness of Indian tribal culture. These expressions for new media along with traditional-style paintings speak of the creativity, versatility and potential of the Gond artists and their unique art.
Written by Brinda Gill