Madhubani paintings go from mud walls to world museums

Delhi's new exhibition Likhiya, divided into five sections, features mythological tales and contemporary themes.

Published: 22nd September 2019 08:35 AM  |   Last Updated: 22nd September 2019 08:35 AM   |  A+A-

Madhubani paintings

Madhubani paintings

Express News Service

“For a Madhubani painter, to paint is to write. The artist will never refer to his creative process as painting but writing,” says Manisha Jha, one of the leading Madhubani artists in India. Jha, for the same reason, has titled her new Delhi exhibition Likhiya. As a curator, Jha brought over a 100 leading Madhubani artists together for the show. And as an artist, she has contributed to all of these paintings. The Madhubani art emerging from Mithila region of Bihar is popular as a community art form.

The show, divided into five sections, features mythological tales and contemporary themes. The artworks depict folk songs from ancient texts such as the Ramayana, Mahabharata to portraits of Mother Teresa and Indira Gandhi, among other geometrical flora and fauna elements on the canvas. These paintings using vivid and natural pigments feature strong compositions. Even as a canvas includes  many designs, their arrangement just appears rhythmic. 

Jha says, “Overall, it took 10-14 years to complete these artworks, especially the paintings featured in the Madhushravani section which refers to the folk songs sung during the monsoons. For the very first time we have documented  these songs from the oral tradition to the written form on the canvas.” According to her, Madhushravani folk songs hold special importance to the newly-married woman where she is blessed through the songs and also told about many aspects of a married life. A video in the exhibition also offers a view of this custom.

Madhubani paintings were traditionally done by women on the mud walls of their house. As one of the finest examples of women empowerment, the paintings gained world fame after artists Godavari Dutt, Urmila Devi, Baua Devi and Mahasundari Devi among others elevated its status. “A number of leading artists have their paintings in the permanent collection section at various museums of the world. Many women have uplifted their economic status when they were not formally educated.

Some of these women were abandoned by their husbands and had no source of income. Now, whenever I see labels such as National Awardee, State Awardee, Padma Shri along with the names of women artists’ written in front of their houses, I am filled with a sense of pride,” says Jha, herself the recipient of the National Award in Mithila Painting (2014).

For Mithila women, paintings are not merely a work of art but a holistic approach to life. Imagine a group of women, both young and old, singing folk songs while applying vivid colours onto the walls, or in the recent times, to the paper, “that’s often the scene in Mithila,” says Jha, adding, “I want to project that art showcased here is not limited to an individual’s work but a community where creating such artworks becomes a celebration in itself. Here women come together to preserve both culture and tradition.”

Till: September 22

At: Twin Art Gallery, IGNCA

About Likhiya

Artworks at the show Likhiya, depict folk songs from ancient texts such as the Ramayana, Mahabharata to portraits of Mother Teresa and Indira Gandhi, among geometrical flora and fauna elements 

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