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5 Striking Examples Where Traditional Indian Art Portrayed Bold, Modern Concepts

The traditional Indian art forms are a rich repository of heritage and regional culture. However, as time passes, it is inevitable that the traditional art forms evolve to encompass modern concepts and contemporary artistic renditions. In fact, unsurprisingly, the traditional Indian art forms have become as much vehicles for modern expression as they are vessels of the past.

The Traditional Indian Art Forms

What is traditional Indian art? There are several traditional arts that have been around for centuries and have been passed from one generation to another. Some of these include:

  • Warli Art
  • Tanjore Paintings
  • Madhubani Paintings
  • Kalamkari Art
  • Kalighat Paintings
  • Bhil Art
  • Gond Art
  • Miniature Paintings and more. 

Hence, the traditional Indian art forms have been traditionally practised in particular geographic regions of the country. They are a reflection of the culture, beliefs and lifestyle of these areas, using natural ingredients and canvases for expression. 

The Modern Concepts

However, not many artists today practice the traditional arts on the walls and floors of huts. Instead, paper and cloth canvasses are used and so are chemical paints and colours. But the modern touch is not so much about the methodology as it is about the incorporation of contemporary concepts in the paintings. 

Historically, most of the traditional paintings revolved around religious and spiritual themes. Some of them expressed the royalty, nature and basic social cultural celebrations of the community. However, in the last few decades, many artists are breaking stereotypical themes to paint ideas that are current and relevant. 

Modern art took baby steps in the late 1800s and internationally renowned artists emerged as stalwarts expressing modern concepts through colour, lines, styles and themes. The modern concepts of painting include a more experimental and abstract style of creation. Traditional Indian art forms have also found a place in the expression of modern concepts. 

Here is taking a look at 5 striking examples where traditional Indian art portrayed bold, modern concepts.

1. Jivya Some Mhase’s Untitled Painting (Fish Net) – Warli Art

Jivya Some Mashe’s Untilted Painting (Fish Net) - Warli Art
Image Credits:

Jivya Some Mhase is known as the ‘Father of Contemporary Warli Art.’ He shines bright as one of the finest Warli artists of all time for various reasons. He is the first artist to paint on paper and canvas. Also, in an art form that was heavily dominated by the women of the community, Jivya Soma Mhase is often regarded as the pioneer who brought the art to all.

He introduced modern concepts in his paintings that were beyond the traditional methods and themes of Warli art. Though he is credited with a number of paintings, one of his popular works includes the ‘Untitled Fish Net’ or ‘Fisherman’s Net’. This unique painting is depicted like a mirror image. The fish net is cast in a conical shape upwards and then downwards again. The artist has signed his name on both sides, making the painting accessible and understandable from either of the end. The painting depicts fabulous detailing, as well as deeper concepts. For instance, the community believes in not wasting and taking from the sea only what is required. The painting reflects these traditional values, however, it also insinuates modern and abstract concepts of showcasing depth and insight. 

2. Untitled Kalighat Painting (Babu And The Courtesan)

Untitled Kalighat Painting (Babu And The Courtesan)
Image Credits: Swayamkatha

The Kalighat paintings can be traced back to the early 19th century. The Kalighat Pat or Patachitra was a localized art that was practised first outside the Kalighat Kali temple in Kolkata. The themes of the pats or paintings were concentrated on Gods and Goddesses. However, over time the paintings took up a contemporary form and the Kalighat paintings evolved into documentaries that were satirical of the times in which they were created. 

From portraying Gods and epical tales, the Kalighat paintings began to adopt modern concepts, such as colonial politics, corruption, change in the cosmopolitan culture and more. Most of these paintings were made by a group of artists. And hence though there are renowned artists such as Jamini Roy, there are also paintings that are not credited to any one single artists. One of the bold modern concepts highlighted in these paintings is the series of paintings that depict a dhoti-clad man along with his courtesan, a woman who he is seen getting intimate with clad in a white sari and jewellery. This painting is a take on the rich babus of the time who copied the British in culture and style. 

3. Bhuri Bai’s 70 Feet Mural On Her Life Story – Bhil Art

Bhil paintings are characteristic of bright colours and dotted fillings. The paintings revolve around nature and animals, though their shapes are often not life-like. A largely agricultural community, the Bhils depict people, festivals, animals, insects, deities, and other everyday happenings in their paintings. Also, male priests and family members were often associated with painting this art form on the walls of the huts. However, Bhuri Bai became the first woman to take the Bhil art outside the walls of homes and put it on paper and canvas with the help of brush and paints.

Though many of her works are also centred on natural objects, her paintings do not shy away from introducing modern and contemporary concepts. One such painting is her 70-foot mural that depicts her very own life story. The painting is located in the Madhya Pradesh Tribal Museum in Bhopal and is a bold endeavour that highlights abstract and meaningful anecdotes in the course of the painting. 

4. Neelkanth Chowdhury’s Feminine Divine – Madhubani Art

Neelkanth Chowdhury’s Feminine Divine - Madhubani Art
Image Credits: Delhi Events

Madhubani art has been rooted in Hindu culture and mythology. Also, traditionally, it is the women of the community who were associated with the art form. Again, this art form was constricted within the confines of walls of huts. But artists, such as Ganga Devi, Sita Devi, and Jamuna Devi became pioneers of transferring this art from walls onto paper.

Neelkanth Chowdhury has often tried to bring a modern touch to the Madhubani style of painting. He uses subtle shades and colours and some of his paintings are also in black and white. His bold modern paintings depict women from different strata of society. Human figures of a charwoman, fruit sellers and even opera singers give his paintings a bold modern touch. His series called ‘Feminine Divine’ was a collection of Madhubani-styled paintings that used soft colours and portrayed women not as Goddesses, but as real energetic individuals.

5. Shammi Bannu Sharma’s Radha – Miniature Paintings

Miniature paintings have been the pride of the Mughal and Rajput eras. These tiny, detailed paintings were often a depiction of tales and events from the epics. They also portrayed the royal families and the gods and goddesses. However, modern miniature painters are adopting contemporary concepts to take forward the story-telling ability of this art form.

Shammi Bannu Sharma is a miniature painting artist who is a 7th generation artist in his family. He is known for bringing forth a modern touch to the traditional techniques. One of his modern works is ‘Radha’ which has been made using natural stone pigment on canvas. The artist blends the ancient role model of Radha along with the medieval iconism of Bani Thani into the Kishangarh style of miniature art besides using bold modern symbolic styles and strokes. The side close-up of the quintessential Radha is a modern artistic take on womanhood but is still fastidiously attached to traditional aesthetics. 

Traditional art forms are still thriving, thanks to the efforts of their artists and patrons. However, without compromising on the traditional elements, many of these art forms are forming contemporary visions and modern voices. These are in the form of the usage of colours, methods, figures and abstract concepts that are in keeping with the requirements of modern times. 

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