The Dravidian term Gond comes from Kond, which means green mountains. The community is naturally focused on the preservation of nature. Without green mountains, wildlife habitats and water tables die out. And without the bees and the birds, plant cycles are affected. The Gonds understood it.
How do rural artists create such vivid colours in their wall paintings? They dip into nature.
WATCH A GOND LANDSCAPE COME TO LIFE
This compelling—and adorable!—video was created by Roots Studio, an organisation founded by Rebecca Hui. A Fulbright Scholar, National Geographic Young Explorer and MIT-Tata Fellow, Hui uses technology to bring recognition and sustainable incomes for rural artisans in India, Indonesia, Panama and Jordan. Pro tip: Visit the Roots Studio website to shop for lifestyle goodies from Gond artists.
Each Gond artist has a specific pattern they use to fill in shapes, almost a signature of sorts. Here’s a handy guide matching a few masters to their motifs
JANGARH SINGH SHYAM The best known and most influential of tribal Indian artists, Jangarh favoured a dotted fan-like pattern that he used to animate lizards, birds and this fearsome tiger.
DURGA BAI Another gifted and feted artist from the Gond Pardhan tribe, Durga brings folk stories to life using a series of short lines to great effect.
KAUSHAL PRASAD TEKAM Using deceptively simple, evenly spaced lines as a fill-in, Kaushal Prasad creates texture while keeping the focus on the vivid hues of his paintings.
RAJKUMAR SHYAM A protégé of Jangarh (as indeed many contemporary Gond artists are), Rajkumar fills his otherworldly drawings with intricate circular motifs that somehow manage to give the impression of a harmonious whole.
THE BALLAD OF JANGARH
L to R: Nankusiya Shyam, Jangarh Singh Shyam, J Swaminathan; Courtesy: Jyoti Bhatt/The Crites Collection
Despite the appreciation he received in Delhi’s art circles, there were not enough buyers for [Jangarh Singh] Shyam’s work. [Art scholar and collector Mitchell Abdul Karim] Crites remembers a day when Shyam showed up at his home insisting that he buy a certain number of paintings. He writes about the experience in the preface of the book.
“I asked why? He replied in a soft voice, ‘My buffalo has died.’ I put in front of him the drawings we liked and said show us which ones will ‘do the needful’ as they say in India. I had no idea what a buffalo cost, so Jangarh slowly counted them one by one and when he reached the total he needed, he stopped and solemnly handed them to me saying, ‘Mitch Sahib, THIS is a buffalo.”