The theme of this Madhubani painting is religious. Right in the centre, it showcases a large greyish face of Goddess Kali. Her eyes wide, are outlined with red and black, her tongue protruded and teeth showing, her jet black, long hair flowing unruly, are features usually associated with the Goddess, evoking her ferocity. Yet the artist has portrayed a smile and an innocence on her face, perhaps to touch upon Kali’s benevolence. The two arms of the Goddesses are held up and flank her face. The right hand holds a cup while the left holds a doll-sized woman, who in turn holds a fly whisk. Inside the fly whisk, a single eye is drawn. To fill up the empty spaces, bales of leaves and flowers are painted, a decorative signature of the more recent paintings of artist Baua Devi. The painting is bordered with a red and orange flowing pattern.
Baua Devi was only a teenager in the sixties, when a Mumbai artist called Bhaskar Kulkarni visited her village, Jitwarpur. Encouraged by him, the women and girls of the community learned how to transfer their artistry from the walls to paper. Baua was part of a pioneering generation of Madhubani artists who would make that shift. Baua Devi uses modern motifs (notice the red hearts in the painting above) and topical issues to make her canvases brim with urgency and life. There is a strong feminist perspective to Baua Devi’s work, whether she’s depicting the raw power of Kali’s roar (below) or articulating the interior life of the Nag Kanya, a creature with the head and torso of a woman and the lower body of a snake.
Baua Devi won the National Award in 1984 and became the sole Mithila artist—and sole Indian woman—to show at the seminal 1989 show, Magiciens de la Terre. Today, every serious collection of indigenous Indian art carries her work and her paintings have travelled to shows in the USA, Spain, France and Japan. In 2017, she brought home to her village its third Padma Shri—Jitwarpur now holds a record in the country for most Padma awards won. At 75, Baua Devi is no longer as prolific as she once was but like her mother-in-law before her, she’s passed the baton on to her daughter-in-law and many of Bihar’s young aspiring artists.
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TitleUntitled (Goddes Kali)
MediumAcrylic on paper posted on mountboard
DimensionsH: 56 x W: 75.5 cm
Genre: Indigenous & Tribal Art