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A Gond artist displaying a recently finished painting.

A peacock and other birds as depicted by a Gond artist.

A Gond painting portraying a scene in the forest.

Gond canvas depicting a bird feeding her offspring.

Artist, Ram Kumar painting on paper.

A mural inspired by the Gond style on the interior wall of a home.

Cover and inside pages from ‘I Saw a Peacock with a Fiery Tail.’

A spread from ‘The London Jungle Book.’

Empress made with handmade paper and Madras zari-cotton.

Mixing different styles of Gond art for a contemporary look.

Teak furniture with Gond art accents by Aditi Prakash.

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Showcase 31 Jan 2014

Painted songs of Gond

Gaatha explores the nuances of the traditional Indian artform – Gond.

In its inaugural story, craft research and development initiative, Gaatha, tells the story of Gond art. Backed with extensive documentation and a deep understanding from their sojourns in the field, Gaatha explores the nuances of the art form. Combining craft research with technology to create a rich online experience which places craft artefacts in the context of their makers’ lives, culture, and historical traditions. Moving beyond the motivation of sales, Gaatha’s efforts lie in opening up a dialogue between the craftsmen and their patrons, encouraging sustainable, collective growth. 

A Gond artist displaying a recently finished painting.

Origins and Evolution

While the Gondi culture has existed for many centuries, Gond art itself was discovered only recently, in the mid-20th century. The relative newness of the art form, combined with vivid colours and distinctive forms, attracted the international art and design community to the Gond style. Leading practitioners have been invited to showcase their work at museums and galleries around the world, while the distinct style has inspired many interpretations, from motifs on fabric and textile design to the decoration of interior spaces. The Gond art form saw a decline in the late 20th century as members of the community migrated to nearby towns and cities. However, the tradition has recently been revived with the growing popularity of Gond artworks and the success of its leading practitioners, which has attracted younger generations to the art form. 

Gond is a decorative art form, practiced by the Gondi people of Madhya Pradesh.  The Gonds are one of the largest adivasi communities in India, with a written history that can be traced to the 14th century. Their name is derived from the word kond which means ‘green mountains’ in the Dravidian dialect spoken by the Gondi people. Gond art’s origins lie within a unique relationship between oral and visual storytelling systems. The pardhans were priests in the Gondi culture, entrusted with the task of keeping the history and traditions of Gond culture alive through an oral storytelling tradition, which included songs and music. Gond art evolved from this ritual storytelling, where members of the community would decorate walls with their art to commemorate special occasions and bring good luck. The pardhans would then perform before these decorated walls.

The Gond style has received a lot of attention in both local and international circles since its discovery in the early 1980s. Leading Gond practitioners have been featured in galleries and museums around the world and the art form is a source of inspiration for artists and designers alike.  The first Gond artist to gain international acclaim was Jangarh Singh Shyam, who was spotted by renowned artist and writer Jagdish Swaminathan in 1981. Swaminathan encouraged Jangarh Shyam to display his work and helped create avenues for him to do so. Jangarh’s work received rave reviews and has since been displayed at museums and art galleries around the world. His work has become synonymous with Gond art and Jangarh Kala is now another name for the art form. Another artist to have gained acclaim is Ram Kumar, whose artworks in modern mediums such as acrylic have garnered praise in India as well as internationally.

Aesthetics and Technique 

Gond paintings are traditionally done on the mud walls of village houses, using colours derived from naturally available materials. The artworks are inspired by the surroundings of and objects from the daily lives of the artists, and depict plants and animals, special occasions such as weddings and festivals, or religious subjects, such as scenes from mythology and various deities. 

The paintings are intricate, with detailed patterns of dots, stripes, and simple shapes used along with colour to create the various forms. The forms themselves are psychedelic in character, with plant, animal, and human forms intertwining and flowing together. Individual plant or animal forms are often depicted with distorted perspectives and exaggerated proportions. 

The artworks are traditionally created with simple and easily available materials, ranging from plant leaves and sap to cow dung and charcoal and painted on the mud walls of village houses. More recently, Gond artisans have begun to paint on paper, canvas, and wooden boards, using materials such as acrylic and poster paints. The brushes and tools used vary according to individual artists’ preferences and the materials being used. A special surface treatment, called pidor, which is readily available in the region is used to prepare the surface of the wall for painting. Pidor is a mixture of clay, cow dung, hay, and water that is made locally and sold from village to village on bullock carts.

Gond canvas depicting a bird feeding her offspring.

The artworks are created using colours derived from natural materials, especially the mineral rich soils available in the region. The colour black is made from charcoal, white from chui soil, red and dark red from geru soil and the sap of the tinsak plant respectively, yellow from ramraj soil and light green and dark green from cow dung and sem leaves respectively. While Gond artists traditionally painted with locally-made grass brushes called kuchi, most contemporary artisans have adopted modern brushes made from synthetic materials.

Artist, Ram Kumar painting on paper.

Relevance and Appeal 

The individualistic approach has also contributed to the revival of Gond art, with renewed success for and popularity of its practitioners. Designers in particular are attracted to the Gond style, because of the bold colours and striking patterns. The stippling, stripes, and shapes that go into the Gond patterns create stunning visual textures, which can have a range of applications. Interior designers in particular have found compelling inspiration in the Gond style. The nature-inspired forms and motifs help create a peaceful and calming atmosphere in the home, while the bright colour palettes create a lively and playful ambience. Designers of decorative objects and artefacts for the home have also sought inspiration in this art form, with Gond inspired designs adorning everything from door frames and lamps to upholstery, wallpapers, and floor tiles.

Glimpses of Gond Art in the work of contemporary practitioners, curated by Colour Quotient: 

TARA BOOKS

Tara Books is an independent publisher of picture books, based in Chennai. Their list of published titles offer rare and unique voices in art and literature.

Cover and inside pages from ‘I Saw a Peacock with a Fiery Tail.’

These titles from Tara Books showcase the beauty and versatility of the Gond art style. In ‘I Saw a Peacock with a Fiery Tail’, renowned Gond artist, Ram Singh Urveti illustrates a classic 17th century English poem of the same name, using dynamic forms and meticulous detail to mirror the shifting ways in which poetry can create meaning. ‘The London Jungle Book’, illustrated by Bhajju Shyam is another example of the use of Gond art in print.  In this case, the psychedelic, intermingling forms of animals and plants are the lens through which the artist sees the historic city.

ADITI PRAKASH

Industrial designer Aditi Prakash has extensive experience working together with craftspeople in India. A lover of the handmade, she explores ways to integrate crafts in modern living through her work. 

Samode Lodge 

A signature trait of Gond art is its use of animal and plant forms. Aditi Prakash uses this nature-inspired aesthetic in her murals for Samode Safari Lodge in Bandhavgarh, creating an ambience that reflects the natural setting of the lodge.

Empress made with handmade paper and Madras zari-cotton.

Furniture 

Furniture Designing gives Aditi a third dimension with which to explore the Gond art style. This exploration is evident in her teak furniture collection, decorated with animals and floral forms painted in the Gond style. Moving away from flat surfaces creates room for experimentation with the ‘inside’ and ‘outside’ of the forms. Her designs also incorporate the texture of the teak board, enhancing the natural feel of the collection.

Teak furniture with Gond art accents by Aditi Prakash.

 
IMAGES

• All images courtesy Gaatha, unless specified.
Tara Books
• All images courtesy Tara Books.
Aditi Prakash
• All images courtesy Aditi Prakash.