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2015: Worldwide popularity
The Times of India, Nov 01 2015
Gond Art goes global
The emergence of individual artists who draw on the collective ideas of the community has led to an explosion of demand for Gond, Mithila & Warli art
In the 1990s when he finished a 22x30-inch work, Gond artist Venkat Raman Singh Shyam, 45, found it hard to convince someone to pay him Rs 250 for it. “They'd say there's nothing special in it. Now, a similar work fetches about Rs 50,000,“ says Venkat, who is just back from a show in Virginia, US, and is headed to Queensland, Australia, in November. While Gond art stalls are a fixture at craft fairs, there's a crop of artists who show their work in galleries across the world, drawing the attention of critics and scholars. In 2010, work by Jangarh Singh Shyam, the progenitor of Gond art as it is practised today, was auctioned at Sotheby's for about $32,000 -a far cry from the $2 million that Australian aboriginal artist Clifford Possum fetched in the same hall three years earlier -but it was still an indicator of the slow rise of the art. Large canvases today command Rs 2 lakh-Rs 4 lakh in India and three to five times that abroad. Art historian and curator Jyotindra Jain explains that Gond art as we see it today in galleries and on the pages of books is a relatively new phenomenon. The Gonds of Madhya Pradesh traditionally did clay relief work on the walls of their homes.“What we see now was created by Jangarh after he was brought to Bhopal as a 16-year-old by artist J Swaminathan in the early 1980s,“ he says. Jangarh, who practically grew up in Bhopal's Bharat Bhavan, did not imbibe the influence of contemporary artists, but illustrated the myths and stories of his community in an entirely different form of dots, dashes, patterns and fine lines, and thereby created what is now known as the Gond idiom. “He inspired several young boys of his community to paint. Works of these individual artists gradually entered the gallery space.It is in this idiom that contemporary Gonds like Venkat and Bhajju Shyam are painting,“ says Jain, who was one of the first to curate the work of Jangarh and other individual artists stemming from their respective collective traditions in an exhibition titled `Other Masters' in the late 1990s.
These exhibitions showed that there can be individual artists with unique vision and talent within the collective of a community or tribe. “Mithila art had Ganga Devi, Warli had Jivya Soma Mashe, Gond had Jangarh,“ he says. Art historian Annapurna Garimella, adds that the right kind of support, as well as being in the right place at the right time, helps. “The artists we see getting attention are just a handful,“ she says, pointing out that there are probably more than 200 million practitioners of arts, crafts and other handmade activities in India. “We need to do more to promote Gond, Mithila and others forms in this category . It is shocking that an artist like Bhajju has not had a solo show in India,“ says Anubhav Nath of Delhibased Ojas Art. “Even 30-year-old contemporary artists have two or three solo shows to their name.“ The artists themselves are unruffled by this attention though they are glad for it. Says Venkat: “What we need to do is to raise our art to the level of contemporary art. Ours is no less distinctive or contemporary than MF Husain.“