Must Art – The Revival of Gond & Bhil Art

The Lifestyle Portal is a big fan of indigenous art forms. We’ve featured many artists and entrepreneurs who have taken the initiative to keep the traditional art forms of India alive. ACRYLIC ON CANVAS BY DURGA BAI VYAM

Here’s one such initiative by Director of Must Art Gallery – Tulika Kedia who through dedicated personal efforts has strived to keep some of the most gorgeous art works of Gond alive.

We talk to her about her love for art and her journey through life as she unravelled the beauties of the mystical Gond art.

How did it all begin?

“I belong to a traditional Marwari family and grew up in one of India’s most culturally rich cities Kolkata. In our home books, music and art was a way of life. As I was growing up painting, sculpture and beautiful objects were a part and parcel of my   external and internal landscape,” recalls Tulika.

When she got married Tulika felt the need to bring along some of her personal art pieces to make her feel equally at home in her new abode; and as she puts it, she was lucky that her husband shared a common aesthetics.

Tulika Kedia Director Must Art GalleryGetting introduced to Gond Art

“My husband Naveen Kedia had business interests in Madhya Pradesh and on my frequent trips with him led me   to another culturally rich state of India which was in some ways a very different experience,” says Tulika.

She adds it is her love for art that propelled her to the world of Gonds, the artists and their art forms as she had never seen work like this before; and the more she saw the more enchanted it became.

The shift from Bengal school of art

Tulika explains that she was more used to the Bengal School of art form with its sensitive water colours, traditional painting and sculpture which was dominated by the human figure. But on the other hand the art of the Bhils and   Gonds featuring animals, totemic deities, flora and geometric patterns had their own attractive charm.

“A completely different imagination , more primal, more intense, vivid in its colour palette, I was smitten. I could not get enough. Year after year I visited the homes of the artists and struck a friendship with the legendary Jangarh Singh Shyam’s wife Nanksia Shyam. The journey continued as I started entering the world of artists like Bhuri Bai, Durga Bai, Dilip Shyam, Japani Shyam, Ramsingh Urveti, Rajender Shyam, Nankusia Shyam, Suresh Dhrube, Subhash Vyam, Venkat Raman Singh Shyam,” adds Tulika.

The world of Gond Art Art work by Rajendra Kumar Shyam

This new world that she was charmed with appeared so far removed from the more formal art practice. Tulika had been collecting modern and contemporary Indian art for many years, but somehow the naïve intensity of the Gond art completely enraptured her.

She further adds, “I started reading and researching continuously. Verrier Elwin (an English self-trained anthropologist, ethnologist and tribal activist) had done some path breaking work which gave me insights into the world of the Gonds.”

As she explains, “the Gonds or the Koiture as they are known lived in the central province of Gondwana in Madhya Pradesh. But over time the community was devoid of its land and today they are more in a state of crisis than ever before. There is strife and political unrest with many young men from the Gond community leaving in large numbers for the cities in search of work.

Their very rich cultural heritage too is being threated in the face of such social anxieties. In The Folk Songs of Chhattisgarh, (1946), translated by Verrier Elwin and Shamrao Hivale, one song goes:

In this kingdom of the English

How hard it is to live

To pay the cattle tax

We have sell a cow

To pay the forest tax

We have to sell a bullock

How are we to get our food?

Tulika was very moved by this folk song, and so she decided to dedicate a part of her life for the preservation and promotion of such a vibrant art tradition.

Padamshree Jivya Soma Mashe_MustArtShe decided to open an art gallery to support art and artists of this region, which she has grown to love and cherish.

“Must Art Gallery was the outcome and for the last couple of years I think I have managed to support a large group of artists who need constant nurturing. It is my constant   endeavour and long term dream to be in a position to nurture the creativity and in some ways help preserve a cultural tradition which is so linked to environment and a civil society.”


What makes Must Art Gallery so unique?

According to Tulika, “The gallery promotes traditional art practices and has an extensive collection of Gond Art. What makes the idea of the gallery so potent in its commitment to these captivating conceptions is not only the unique visual language of these images, but the fact that they preserve and perpetuate an entire way of life, enshrining the wit and wisdom of generations, as also the cultural and aesthetic traditions of a people.”

She further adds, “Must Art gallery has strived to provide a sustainable platform to these artists, encouraging them to transcend cultural barriers and present an alternative way of perceiving the world. The gallery has, in a way, endeavoured to protect the artists from the demands of the lucrative art market, which not only renders their style rigid, leaving little space for experimentation and innovation, but also transforms the natural lifestyle that in the very first place inspired these images. Indeed, through its enterprising zeal, Must Arts has provided the artists a stable and sustainable niche for their works, enabling them to continue creating and conceiving the world through their surreal dream-like imagination, independent of economic pressures.”

Artists and their art forms Warli Painting by Jivya Soma Mashe_Must Art Gallery

Tulika tells us, that “In its wide-ranging collection, the gallery features works of internationally-renowned artists like Jangarh Singh Shyam, Bhajju Shyam, Durga Bai, Ram Singh Urveti, Bhuri Bai, and Dilip Shyam, amongst others, but also new and emerging artists like Nankusiya Shyam and Manoj Tekam. These artists draw from a vast repertoire of oral narratives, working with acrylic on canvas and pen-and-ink on paper, and transform an oral tradition into a modern art form, with a unique visual vocabulary—richly expressive in its imagery and rooted in the local tradition.”

Glimpses from her personal art collection

Tulika very kindly let us a preview of her personal collection of this traditional art form.

Starting with this artist with the name Jivya Soma Mashe a central figure in Indian tribal art, who turned the Warli tribal art from a predominantly ritual-centered art form to an everyday painting activity.

Jivya Soma Mashe lost his mother at a tender age of seven and out of shock he stopped speaking for several years and only communicated by drawing pictures in the dust. He was brought up by his sister and has depicted his childhood memories on this canvas.

A legacy of his introspective period Jivya’s artistic abilities were first noticed nationally and later, internationally. The apex of his career was probably the inclusion in the “Magiciens de la terre” exhibition at the Centre Pompidou and the Grande Halle de la Villette in 1989, which brought him unprecedented recognition.

Those of you who’re interested in this art form and want to see the exhibits can go through their websites – www.mustarts.com and www.gallerieak.com.

Tulika and her son AranyaYou can contact Tulika on the following email Id : mustartgallery@gmail.com and follow their latest news on their official MustArt Facebook page as well.

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