Bhil painting, traditionally made on walls, is practised  today on canvas by one of the oldest tribal communities of India – the Bhils. Residing in the states of Gujarat, Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh, etc, they live lives that are intricately connected with nature. This aspect is clearly evident in their art. The Bhils use dashes and dots to create forms on canvas, much like the artistic practice of the neighbouring Gond- Pardhan community.

This painting by Bhuri Bai shows various human and animal figures together. Even though the thematic focus here is on the natural world, the artistic styles used are far from naturalistic. The artist draws on the bright yellow canvas in simple, two-dimensional forms with hints of abstraction within. For instance, the four-legged animal – probably a cow as indicated by the udders – could easily be mistaken for a large crab at first glance. The black human figures on the left and intermixed with the cattle are also portrayed in an abstract manner, with all four limbs splayed out as if they are swimming over the grass field. This play with colours, dots and forms make the canvas simple yet visually intriguing.

Bhuri Bai is a Bhil painter, born in Pitol village, Madhya Pradesh. She was the first artist of her community to start painting on paper. Her typically colourful canvases usually depict mythological themes and man-animal interactions. Like her contemporary Jangarh Singh Shyam, Bhuri Bai was encouraged by J Swaminathan of Bhopal’s Bharat Bhavan to start using acrylic colours and paper to make paintings. Before this, she was a mural artist, decorating the walls of her house. Bhuri Bai is also adept at hut-making, which she learnt from her mother Jhabbu Bai. She contributed to the construction of the Bhil hut in the Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Manav Sangrahalaya or Museum of Man in Bhopal, where she resides. She has won many awards including the highest state honour accorded to artists by the Madhya Pradesh government, the Shikhar Samman. She was awarded India’s fourth-highest civilian award, the Padma Shri, in 2021.

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Untitled (Bhil Painting)
Bhuri Bai
Acrylic on Canvas
Accession No.