Rural Art Gets Respect at Two Mumbai Exhibits
Pundole Art GalleryWorks by the Indian artists Ladoo Bai, left, and Narmada Prasad Tekam are part of an exhibit showcasing rural art.
MUMBAI | Art lovers in Mumbai can get a glimpse of a rarely seen contemporary art form at two galleries this month: work from rural or tribal areas of the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh.
In the exhibit “Now That the Trees Have Spoken,” the Pundole Art Gallery (369 Dr Dadabhai Naoroji Road; 91-22-2284-1837; www.pundoleartgallery.in) is displaying the colorful work of the artists Bhuri Bai, Ladoo Bai, Ram Singh Urveti and Narmada Prasad Tekam. The nearby Chemould gallery (Queens Mansion, third floor, G. Talwatkar Marg; 91-22-2200-0211; www.gallerychemould.com) is showing the works of the celebrated painter Jangarh Singh Shyam and his family.
In addition to showcasing these artists, the exhibits raise an interesting debate: some resent the easy labeling of rural artists as” folk” or “tribal,” arguing that such categories pigeonhole artists and prevent them from getting the respect they deserve.
“We have to look beyond the tribal label,” said Khorshed Pundole of the Pundole Art Gallery, who has been collecting these artists along with her husband and co-owner Dadiba Pundole over the last five years, said. “Their concerns are the same as ours: global warming, pollution, the destruction of ecosystems.”
In recent years, contemporary non-metropolitan artists (the clumsy but preferred term for the artists formerly known as “folk”) have attracted interest at art fairs, though art critics say they are still immensely undervalued. A painting by Jangarh Singh Shyam sold for 2500 euros (about $3500) at a recent Paris auction, while a Bhuri Bai work sold at Sotheby’s for $5000.
The works do tend to draw on common images. At the Pundole show, the tree of life is a common motif. Playful turtles, crocodiles, herons, tigers, snakes and boars are stippled in brilliant colors and intricate patterns. Many paintings seem to be inspired by the clash between man and nature; others draw on traditional embroidery techniques and folk tales.
The Chemould exhibit concentrates on the work of Jangarh Singh Shyam, a hugely influential figure for many artists of tribal origin. Born in the Gond tribe, Shyam is credited with inspiring other artists to shift from wall murals to painting on canvas. His finely detailed, pointillist paintings of gods, birds and leaping tigers use both traditional themes and modern symbols like airplanes and cars.
Shyam committed suicide under mysterious circumstances in 2001, while working in Japan. His family — including his wife, Nankhusia, son, Mayank, and daughter, Japani — continue to paint in a similar style, with flourishes of their own.