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Indians under spotlight- Other Masters of India

Indians under spotlight- Other Masters of India

Where exactly does the fine line demarcate the world of art to the folk and tribal art produced everyday by artists in countless communities in India ?


Artist Jivya Soma Mashe of Warli, Maharastra
© Vikas Harish


These artists never sign their work as a stamp of ownership of personal style or expression. They are masters, yes in their own right, but without any 'standard' tools such as an education in art, exposure to other artists, community affiliations or representations in the world of art etc.


Yet a few members of this 'community' in a broader sense, have managed to carve their own niche where their personal styles can easily be identified in what may otherwise be a particular community's expression of their religious, ritual, cultural or traditional beliefs. These 'masters' stand out not just for themselves but also for putting their fellowship on the world art map. Two of these artists are Jivya Soma Mashe (around 1930- present) and, Jangarh Singh Shyam (1962-2001).

Musician and the dancers

© Aditya Arya


Jivya took up the ritual painting of his village walls in what was then a largely women's domain. Orphaned at a tender age, Jivya searched for his self identity and expression. From painting with traditional rice paste on the walls made of cow dung and clay, as would have done his village women, to evolving with time and available tools to translate his work to paper and canvas, Jivya has taken this tribal craft through a paradigm shift. This transition was felt not just in the medium but also in his subjective expression- going from ritual objects to more narrative scenes depicting everyday life in the village as he perceives it- from the tableaux of penetration of a railway through a village in a symbolic expression of modernity taking its toll to the simple agrarian, fishing or hunting interpretations. Today, his work is recognized in the international art scene and is valued as his personal expression.



Antelope by Jangarh Singh Shyam

© G.V.Gireesh
  Jangarh Shyam was what may be described as the destiny's own child or an aberration. In the Gond Pradhan community of Madhya Pradesh and Chattisgardh where he belonged, there was no particular art expression related to the tribe other than the vernacular paintings with coloured clay and relief work on the walls. His art training started at the young age of 16 at the invitation of famous Indian artist J.Swamitnathan. He explored newer mediums and colours while retaining the sense of expression to depict the legends of his community. His individuality can also be seen in the way he viewed modernity. Tragically and ironically, the story of Jangarh's life ended at an art museum in Japan, as it is said that he could not cope up with the pressure of the art world.



Speaking of self-identities and their place in the society, the tribal 'adivasi' folk have always lived in a dilemma in an India where their communities were marginalized to live in the forests or hills since ancient times- a fact that permitted only a limited interaction with the higher caste Hindus, and others in general. British occupation of India hardly did anything to improve their lot, other than to feature them as 'tribes and castes' of India in the eight volumes of 'People of India' survey during Raj. The same tribes and castes became a target of exoticism of an indigenous India with new found means of contact and communication from the time of India's independence.

Bollywood has had its own share in building up a stereotype of images by presenting a glamorised version of forest folks and tribes with semi-clad men and women. Photographers and calendar artists used the clichés of scantily clad tribal women to titillate the masses in an otherwise prudish Indian society.where déshabillé as a form of self expression is severely chastised. The imagery thus created by various means has been so strong that often people have difficulties placing 'adivasis' in a modern context. 

Tribal dance from a Bollywood Film

© DR


This predicament is faced by 'adivasis' themselves who have used their isolation, anguish, frustration, joy, pain and wonder at modernity knocking at their doors, to assimilate their ritual and cultural traditions into a new form of self expression. This self expression is what has raised some of these individuals to the level of masters of art despite not having had any 'classical' art training and exposure. Here's to the spirit of the tribal India !



Photo details (in order of appearance):

'Jivya Soma Mashe'. Photo © Vikas Harish.
Tarpa- dancers around a musician'. Jivya Soma Mashe. Gouache ocre and cow dung on canvas. National Handicrafts & Handlooms Museum, New Delhi. Photo © Aditya Arya. Courtesy MQB
Jangarh Singh Shyam. Pigment on paper with impressions of palm of the hand. Collection: Abhishek & Radhika Poddar. Photo © G.V.Gireesh. Courtesy MQB
'Tribal dance in a Bollywood film'.
Printed image. Collection: Jutta & Jyotindra Jain. Photo © DR. Courtesy MQB


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