Gond tribal community, which is the largest ancestral community in India and is native to Madhya Pradesh, has a unique painting style. The absence of a written script has worked in favor of the tribal community because their paintings have become a way of perpetuating their culture through generations. If you visit a Gond village in central India, you can see beautiful and colorful paintings on the floors and walls of houses. The beauty of these paintings lies in their simplicity.
Among the many charming theories of the Gond community, there is a belief that if you see a good picture, it means that you are going to have good luck. So, the Gonds put a lot of effort into making their paintings beautiful. These paintings narrate stories about their dogmas, gods, festivals, demons and everything else related to Gond way of life. Gonds don’t paint a picture; they paint a story, a folklore. They describe humankind’s relationship with nature in the most simplistic yet in a profound manner. Interestingly, Gond paintings bear very strong resemblance to the art of the aborigines of Australia.
What makes Gond painting unique is the extensive use of dots, fine lines, dashes and other geometric shapes which add depth and texture to the painting. Well defined figures are embellished with such clear cut fillings to give them a very unique appeal. Bold pictures of gods, horses, tigers, birds, stags, spirits and humans are painted in many bright colors. The variety and diversity of these Gond paintings is unlimited.
Gonds use natural colors and painting accessories. Colors used for painting are made from different kinds of soils and other organic things which are available in the village. For example, charred wood or wood coal is used for black color, chui soil or lime is used for white, red color comes from a red colored soil called geru, dark red comes from the sap of tinsak plant, yellow is from ramraj soil, dark green is obtained from sem leaves and for light green, Gonds use cow dung. Flowers are used for other colors as well. Certain colors have special significance and are used to depict specific emotions and elements. For example, red is associated with fear, orange is associated with religious thoughts and green is associated with nature. Several Gond paintings are also seen in black and white.
The brush used for painting is made by crushing particular tree barks and scraping their ends into a fibrous form. The brush is locally called koochi. For detailing such as drawing thin lines and dotting the painting, thin twigs are used. With such simple paints and tools, Gonds create magic. The beautifully patterned pictures bring alive the Gond culture.
Before painting, the wall and floor are thoroughly cleaned and prepared for the art. A paste made up of straw, cow dung and soil is applied on the walls or floors which are to be painted. Once the paste dries, a special kind of soil known as pidor is made wet and applied on the entire painting surface. Pidor soil is white in color and provides a nice and smooth white colored background for painting. Once the soil dries, the Gonds go to work with their paints and brushes. Pidor is naturally and extensively available in the Gond regions.
After the painting is done, it is allowed to dry undisturbed. The paintings on the outer walls of the house have shorter life spans because of the rain and sun which they are exposed to. However, the paintings done on walls inside the house can last more than two decades if they are well preserved.
For centuries, rest of the world was oblivious to the beauty of Gond paintings. Also, as the tribals gradually began adapting to modern lifestyle and education, Gond painting was steadily declining. However, Gond painting exhibitions are now held in many international locations including Paris. It all began three decades ago when J. Swaminathan, the renowned artist of India, happened to see Jangarh Singh Shyam making Gond paintings in a little shop in Bhopal. So enamored was he when he saw the unique paintings that he made Jangarh his protégée. Jangarh got enormous exposure and his paintings were showcased in Paris, Japan and many other parts of the world. The revival of Gond art began with Jangarh Singh Shyam and now, there are many tribal artists who create beautiful Gond paintings for a livelihood. From walls and floors, Gond art has now travelled to paper and canvas. Nevertheless, the beauty of the art remains undiminished.
Gond paintings feature in several handicraft and art exhibitions across the country. Art galleries, especially the ones dedicated to tribal arts also feature these paintings done by famous Gond artists. Besides, there are a number of online stores where these paintings can be bought.
The cost of Gond paintings varied depending on the work and the artist. While paintings are available for as less as INR 500, paintings by renowned artists can cost up to INR 80,000 or more. Recently, a painting by Jangarh Singh Shyam was bought in a Sotheby auction for $31,250.
Jangarh Singh Shyam is the father of the new age Gond art. He travelled the world and spread message about his culture and tribe. In 2001, when he was on an art tour to Japan, he committed suicide. The reason is attributed to inability of the tribe to adjust to modern lifestyle. His death was mourned by artists throughout the world. Nevertheless, he has left his legacy. His daughter, Japani Shyam is also a reputed Gond artist.
Heeraman Urveti is an upcoming artist who has his own style of creating Gond paintings, although he does not waver from his dots, lines and dashes. Deer and stags are his trademark motifs. His themes are inspired by his everyday experiences. The stark simplicity of Urveti’s paintings stands out beautifully.
Bujju Shyam, who is the nephew of Jangarh Singh Shyam is making his mark felt among the Gond painting enthusiasts. His paintings have been exhibited in Russia, Holland, Germany and UK.
Durga Bai, Venkat Shyam, Ram Singh Urveti and many other artists are very popular and internationally renowned.