Folk Frames

With a separate booth on Pichvai art at India Art Fair 2016 and several private galleries showcasing tribal artworks as part of mainstream discourse, indigenous art forms are finally getting their due, says Poonam Goel

There was a time when Manisha Jha, an artist now known for putting Madhubani art on the global map, could not find a private gallery to showcase her work. Today Jha receives invitations from galleries across the world and has held, apart from several exhibitions, workshops on the modern nuances of Madhubani art. While private galleries are promoting folk art like never before, indigenous art forms are also finding their way into homes of young collectors

01Growing relevance

“A lot of the mainstream contemporary art we see has emergedfrom folk and tribal art,” says Anubhav Nath, director, Ojas Art, NewDelhi. The Ojas Art Award – declared during the Jaipur LiteratureFestival – focuses on one genre of traditional art every year. “It wasGond art in 2015 and Madhubani this year,” Nath says.
Tulika Kedia, director of Must Art Gallery in Delhi, believes that withmainstream  galleries showcasing folk art forms, collector interest inthese works will increase. “It is finally getting visibility in art fairs  andliterature festivals,” she says. Kedia recently organised Aranyakas:The Enchanted Landscape, an exhibition at Visual Arts Gallery inDelhi, where artist Usman Tirandaz deftly bridged the gap betweenindigenous and contemporary art by combining the naturalisticthemes of flora and fauna so prevalent in tribal art, with the style ofthe Mughal miniatures.

International platform
Perhaps the biggest boost to traditional art was the India Art Fair inDelhi, where a dedicated booth for Pichvai paintings, hosted by Pooja Singhal, was one of the busiest. With its roots in the Nathdwara village near Udaipur, this delicate miniature art form originated as the decorative backdrop to the temple idol. Singhal, in her organisation Pichwai Tradition and Beyond, has taken on the responsibility of reviving this dying art form, making it more accessible to an international audience. “The reason these art forms are being accepted widely today is because we all go back to our roots at some point. Pichvais are timeless and will always find buyers,” she says.

Attracting young collectors 

It’s not only the touch of contemporary in traditional art that appeals to the young collector. It is also the reconstruction of an older style in newer colours and sizes. Another Madhubani artist Neelkant Choudhary, for instance, infuses his paintings with modern motifs and monotone hues that are so popular with the young. And it’s affordable too — some of the best can be bought at even Rs. 10,000. Shobha Bhatia, director of Delhi’s Gallerie Ganesha, which recently showcased the works of Japani Shyam, daughter of the celebrated Gond artist Jangarh Singh Shyam, says, “Young collectors, who may not necessarily have a trained eye for modern art, can connect with these forms easily.” Singhal agrees: “A Spanish couple bought an artwork worth Rs. 26,000. Though it may not seem like much to us, it was a piece of Indian culture for them.”

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