Saura artists canvass to save dying tribal art

Twenty-five Saura artists are adapting to new techniques to keep the Odia tribal art alive

Published: 25th September 2022 05:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 26th September 2022 03:27 PM   |  A+A-

Saura artist Indira Gamango

Saura artist Indira Gamango

Seated in a tiny verandah in Nuagaon village in the Rayagada district of Odisha, Jogi Sabar is giving final touches to a painting. The artwork depicts a scene from mythology, with people, animals, sun, moon and tree of life as recurring motifs. Sabar is making sure all these find a place on a canvas, but with a contemporary touch with the use of myriad colours. He is ably assisted by other 21-year-old amiable artists, Indira Gamango, Subhadra Karoa, Mohini Sabar, all giving their creative inputs for the artwork.

Gamango is one of the 25 Saura artists, mostly in their 20s, canvassing to save the dying tribal art. The works they are giving final touches to are for an exhibition-cum-sale for the 11-day camp in Bihar, just a few days before Dusshera. Last month, the youngsters, under the aegis of Odisha Lalit Kala Akademi, displayed their creations at an exhibition-cum-sale in Bengaluru. Gamango, who actively participates in art camps, says, “I love to paint, but am not sure I can earn a livelihood yet.” 

The Saura artists, whose total number is unofficially pegged at 150, are a shy lot. They speak Mundari, an Odia dialect and are not comfortable mingling with strangers. Not surprisingly, the articulate few among the lot, such as Gamango and Sabar, who finished high school, are the unofficial spokesperson 
of the clan. 

The Saura murals, like Warli art, have been traditionally painted on the terracotta walls of the huts of the tribals, or restricted to jhoti, the designs on the floors with rice paste. The designs now adorn laptop bags, file holders, coffee mugs and bedspreads. Gamango says, “Each medium––canvas, clothing or ceramic––needs a separate preparation of mixing colours based on what the medium absorbs. Add to it the backbreaking detailing.”

Sabar, 33, one of the few artists who has experimented with 3D art says, “We adapt to suit the evolving tastes of people. But our art mostly remains confined to melas and exhibitions organised twice or thrice a year.” While a dupatta with Saura painting fetches Rs 400, his lucky day has been earning Rs 10,000 at the Bengaluru camp. “Such windfalls are a flash in the pan,” he says.

Sabar informs most of the artists have converted to Christianity and have left the practice for cultural reasons. In the absence of exposure and marketing, Saura art seems to be in the throes of extinction. Enterprising artisans such as Tapaswini Majhi are blending  Saura and Bhatra, also a tribal art of Koraput, to increase its value. The Sauras know that adaptability is the name of the game.


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