Tribal Indian art is the foundation and heritage of India’s art forms. They originate from the grass root level and are handed down from one generation to another. These arts truly reflect the ethnic and traditional values, lifestyles, and spiritual understanding of a community. However, they are also excellent examples of skilful artistic representations and usage of natural and local ingredients. Besides, tribal Indian art, more than any other art form, are intrinsically woven into the social and cultural life of the community, especially its women.
What are the tribal Indian art forms?
The different tribal arts of India include Warli Paintings, Tanjore Paintings, Bhil Art, Madhubani Paintings, Gond Art, Saura Paintings, Kalamazethu Art, Pattachitra Paintings, Kavad Art, and Khovar Art.
Tribal arts win you over with their pure simplicity of taste and themes. And so do their artists. Interestingly, tribal arts are almost a family and village affair. Also, traditionally women have been practising these arts either on the walls and floors of their huts or creating them for special social and religious occasions. Thus, the tribal Indian art has been almost a way of life for its community members. But post-Independence, these arts have gained more recognition. People are now incorporating them into the mainstream artist economy.
Women Tribal Artist
There are several nameless women artists, who create tribal art on a regular basis for their personal and family affairs. Also, there are NGOs and organizations that encourage artists and help in the spread of tribal art forms. For instance, the Tribal Women Artists Cooperative (TWAC) promotes Sohrai and Khovar paintings and involves hundreds of women in rural India. Yet, each art form has stalwart iconic legends that chart their own path and who bring local and global recognition to that particular art. And though both men and women artists practice tribal arts, one can say that women have been an irreplaceable backbone of tribal Indian art in India.
So, here is a look at the top 5 women tribal artists of India.
1. Sita Devi – Madhubani Paintings
Sita Devi was born in 1914 in a village close to Saharsa in Bihar. She learned painting as a child by using leftover paints from potters. She used these to paint her house walls in the traditional Madhubani painting style. With encouragement from the government, she nourished her talent and became one of the most innovative and known faces of Madhubani paintings. She is credited with popularizing the ‘bharni’ form of Madhubani paintings and bringing it out of homes to be displayed in exhibitions across the country and the world. She used the traditional Madhubani/Mithila motifs, such as mythological figures and natural beauty.
Later her paintings also included places that she travelled to, such as New York and the World Trade Center. She was awarded the Padma Shri in 1981 and her paintings are exhibited in museums in India, France, the US, the UK, and more. She died in 2005 leaving a rich legacy and revival of Madhubani art.
2. Godawari Dutta – Madhubani Paintings
Another prominent woman artist in Madhubani paintings is Godawari Dutta. She was born in the 1920s in Bahadurpur village in Bihar. She learned the art from her mother Subhadra Devi who was also an artist herself. Godawari Dutta encouraged the Kayashta style in the Madhubani paintings, a style that likes using white and black colouring contrasts. Her themes include portraying events from the epics, as well as depicting the events of daily life, such as marriages, dance, etc. She also established the Mithila Kala Vikas Samiti which promotes and trains artists in Madhubani art forms. Indian government recognized her work with the Padma Shri award in 2019 when she was at the age of 93 years.
3. Bhuri Bai – Bhil Art
Bhuri Bai was born in Pitol village which borders Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat. She belongs to the Bhil community and started painting Bhil art, like other members of her community on the walls of her house. However, she was motivated by Jagdish Swaminathan (a key member of the Bhopal Bharat Bhavan) to start painting on paper using acrylics. She is known for her paintings and was awarded the Padma Shri in 2021. Her story is truly inspiring. She started out as a construction laborer at the Bharat Bhavan before her talent was spotted. She was also the first from her community who started painting the Bhil art on paper. Her paintings depict mythological events, human-animal interactions, and recently, modern elements such as mobiles and aeroplanes.
4. Durga Bai – Gond Art
Durga Bai Vyam was born in 1973 in Burbaspur in Madhya Pradesh. She is one of the leading female artists of Gond art. Durga Bai learned the art from her mother and started with painting ‘digna’ or geometric patterns on the walls and floor of her house. She attended an artistic camp and later with the support and encouragement of her sculptor husband Subhash Vyam and cousin, artist Jangarh Singh Shyam she truly came into her own. She enjoys painting natural landscapes and elements, such as rivers, trees, animals, birds, etc. Her paintings exude optimism and beauty, using vivid soothing colours. Indian government recognized her work with the Padma Shri award in 2022.
5. Swarna Raja Kochi – Tanjore Paintings
Swarna Raja Kochi was born in Madurai. For her art was a hobby that she continued pursuing even while she worked as a lecturer. However, in 2004 she seriously started her research on Tanjore paintings and realized that most current artists use synthetic colours and adhesives. Her quest for keeping alive the traditional form of Thanjavur paintings took her 4 years to create natural paints and colours that were perfect for the art form. Today she is amongst the few Tanjore artists who create 100% hand-painted art. She uses completely natural ingredients and colours through the Temple Art or Fresco Secco technique. She also started the Tanjore Art Studio in Bangalore in 2008 which continues to train and spread this art form.
There are countless other women who have contributed to the sustenance and continuity of tribal arts in India. It is imperative, to acknowledge women artists to preserve the heritage of tribal art. It is vital to train them, and encourage them to showcase their art forms not only in their homes but also on a world platform.
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