Celebrating Gond Art

Published: 10th December 2014 06:01 AM  |   Last Updated: 10th December 2014 06:01 AM   |  A+A-


Jangarh Singh Shyam was one of the most celebrated folk artists of our country. He showed his works at the prestigious Magicians of the Earth exhibition at Pompidou Centre in Paris alongside leading western artists such as Francesco Clemente.

He painted the interiors of the Madhya Pradesh Vidhan Sabha and the dome at Bhopal’s Bharat Bhavan that is one of the most prominent museums of tribal and contemporary Indian art. Even after his tragic death in Tokyo at the young age of 39, the artist continued to leave a permanent impression on the minds of the discerning art audience. No wonder then, Sotheby’s auction of South Asian Art in New York in 2010 featured a canvas by him — the first for any folk artist from India. In Saffronart’s auction of folk and tribal art in 2012, his work was the most expensive, priced at `9 lakh.

To honour the memory of this talented tribal artist, Delhi-based Gallerie Ganesha is hosting a show of his works along with those of Shyam’s daughter Japani Shyam in a two-person show starting on December 18.

Shyam, born in 1962, belonged to the Gond tribe of Madhya Pradesh. As a boy who lived in the jungles of Mandla in Madhya Pradesh, he was discovered by the legendary artist J Swaminathan.

Says Shobha Bhatia, director, Gallerie Ganesha, “From his home town where he created mural paintings to his last works before his death in 2001, he continued to evolve and his creativity matched that of the greatest names in contemporary art.”

From his early work that exhibited a raw and expressive touch to his latest refined artworks replete with a fabulous graphic mastery, Shyam’s career demonstrates exceptional creativity. Whether at the Surajkund Mela or the Pompidou Centre, he left a blazing trail of colours and form. His works were collected among others by Pompidou Art Centre, Paris; Saitagawa Museum, Tokyo and Municipal Museum, Arnhem, Holland. The Madhya Pradesh government bestowed on him the highest State award, the Shikhar Samman, in 1986.

His daughter Japani started painting at a very early age and she says her father would always encourage her to paint the way she wanted and never criticised her work. She feels that is the reason why she began to paint with confidence and in 1999, at the age of 11, she was presented with the Kamala Devi Award.

Japani’s main motif is the world of animals and birds — their struggle for food, their sense of camaraderie, their different mood. Another motif is the world of rituals, beliefs among the Gonds which she was exposed to when she went to the villages of Pantangarh and Sonpur, where her parents came from. Being a city bred girl, she looks at them from a distance and at the same time she feels she is a part of them.

Like her brother Mayankh, she has also painted on the world of Baigas, who are still very much an integral part of nature. She has imbibed the use of colours and form from her father and continues to experiment and express through her creations.

(Poonam Goel is a freelance journalist who contributes articles on visual arts for


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