Traditional Indian art is witnessing a contemporary change. And the art market is loving it | Catch My Job


Tribal and traditional artists explore novel ways of telling stories, experiment with color, technique and contemporary themes, connecting with young, mainstream audiences.

Tribal and traditional artists explore novel ways of telling stories, experiment with color, technique and contemporary themes, connecting with young, mainstream audiences.

An unusually brisk September and a busy makeshift stall, Roopsona doesn’t stop. A folk singer-artist from the Pattachitra tradition of West Bengal’s Pingla district, he narrates his scrolls through songs laced with a powerful voice. Discouraged by onlookers trying to capture his art on camera, he points to his canvas and sings of the love shared by Radha and Krishna. Lately, his canvases also tell some socially relevant stories: female infanticide, the 2004 tsunami and even the life of Mother Teresa.

At another stall by the Craft Council’s recently concluded Artisan Collective in Chennai, a peachy cow adorned with formal jewelery dominates a stretched canvas against an unexpectedly trendy monochrome grid background. Warli artists hold canvases in contrast where traditional tarpa The dance and geometric figures are now replaced by the Tree of Life painted in acrylic. Nearby, Bhil artists display Hindi alphabets painted in their traditional style to introduce children to tribal art.

Exhibition of a Worli painting Tree of Life

Exhibition of a Worli painting Tree of Life Photo credit: Special Arrangements

The traditional Indian artform, a treasure rooted in the deepest trenches of culture, is thus adapting to the changing sensibilities of domestic and international art buyers: contemporary themes, social messages and experimental mediums. The reasons are many: greater reach and visibility, changing demands of changing clients, and artists’ personal desire to grow and evolve as a brand. “All this, without compromising the ethos of the industry,” reminds Mala Dhawan of A Hundred Hands, a Bengaluru-based firm that bridges the gap between clients and artisans.

Although Hindu mythology and nature characters remain primary subjects of centuries-old traditional and tribal art. , conscious Innovations by third, fourth and fifth generation artists are introducing novel ways of storytelling.

Now pitchy cow or Kamdhenus — Faithful companion of Radha and Srinathji, usually a silent witness to all of her Leela – Can be a hero. Navin Soni, a third-generation pichwai artist from Nathdwara, Rajasthan, portrays the cow as an omnipresent character: a scene unfolds inside its ornate body, while Krishna and Radha reappear. It is abstract to an extent, and would easily fit into a home with contemporary decor.

Peachy artist Navin Soni with his work 'Optical Illusions'

Peachy artist Navin Soni with his work ‘Optical Illusions’ Photo credit: Ravindra R

“We have incorporated some modern elements in these pitches, while sticking to the traditional style of painting,” says Naveen. Modernization, according to Navin, meant the marriage of elements from different schools of the same traditional art that emerged in the 17th century, which revolved around the central figure of Srinathji. “Here, you can see trees from different schools of Indian miniature painting such as the Kishangarh school and a painting from the Pahari school,” he explains, pointing to a canvas. Traditionally, a peachy inspired by a flora and fauna theme is unheard of, but Naveen has innovated with birds, trees and some animals – beyond that. Kamdhenu – To keep pace with the changing needs of its clients.

It has been just four months since he launched his ‘Optical Illusion Works’ in the market. “At the exhibition, most optical illusion works sell out on the first day!” And most are bought for office buildings and workplaces, more than homes. “It’s time-consuming, and it’s a different skill.”

“As much as we want to modernize, it’s important to keep the essence of the art intact,” says Gond artist Vajju Shyam, from Patnagarh in Madhya Pradesh, home to the main tribal Gond tribe. There is no greater authority on the evolution of traditional art than Bhajju: over the past decade he has reimagined Gond art, which relies heavily on animal motifs, from murals in Delhi and Singapore to hard-hitting children’s books, e.g. London Jungle Book They are by the book where Big Ben is a cocky chicken. Nature-directed symbols, themes and legends remain the same in his works.

Roopsona, a painter, with her scroll

Roopsona, a cartoonist, with her scroll Photo credit: Ravindra R

The Padma Shri awardee’s sole objective is to popularize the artform so that it enters mainstream galleries. Speaking from Delhi, where he is showing with contemporary artist Manjunath Kamath, Vajju says, “It’s the kind of collaboration that makes us think in a contemporary way.” At Singapore’s Little India, Vajju’s collaboration with Singaporean contemporary artist Sam Low resulted in a facade (Broadway Hotel) that celebrates nature.

Translating a form rooted in tradition onto the wall required a lot of learning, says Vajju: It took him a while to get used to the idea of ​​stencils and spray paint. But he sees the change as a gateway to mainstream audiences. “It serves as a form of preserving the deities we worship, and the stories and practices of our indigenous people,” says Vajju.

Gond artist Vajju Shyam experiments with stencils

Gond artist Vajju Shyam experiments with a stencil Photo credit: Special Arrangements

The market and its many moods

Adapting to today’s market did not happen overnight. “For example,” says Mala, “this year, we took five symbols, led by nature, and created a mood board that looks at patterns and colors more than motifs. Most of our traditional artforms don’t have a background in design. This forces an artisan to think differently.” Consumer insight plays an important role in understanding what to collect from the artform. “People come into the market and ask, ‘What’s new?'” New customers don’t want to see the same elephant churning out work for every job. They’re also looking for exclusivity, and they’re looking for that. sees value,” says Mala. “It’s also emotionally stimulating for artists.”

Peachy motifs and elements set against a monochromatic, 'optical illusion' grid

Peachy motifs and elements set against a monochrome, ‘optical illusion’ grid. Photo credit: Special Arrangements

Today’s artists have moved from re-creation to expressing personal thoughts and idioms, says curator Tulika Kedia, whose Delhi-based Mast Art Gallery works closely with traditional arts such as Madhubani, Judali, Kalighat, Phad, Gond, Kerala murals and Pattachitra. , over the past two decades. “Now, we see social discourse, political trends, scenes of contemporary life, fantasy, adversity, all depicted in art,” says Tulika.

Bhajju dates this pivot to the last decade, albeit at a slower pace. “People want our art in their homes and personal collections, which is encouraging,” he says. And they are willing to spend. “While at an exhibition in Delhi before the pandemic,” says Naveen, “many people said they did not want to buy works with ‘cows’. Many were not even interested in the religious scene. That’s when we realized that if we have to stay in the market, we have to come up with something new that can be put anywhere.”

More recently, there has been a hearty movement among young art fans in their 20s and 30s, who make up a large portion of their clientele. Tulika says, “There is a sincere appreciation and respect for folk art. They visit galleries, go on heritage walks, participate in workshops and even invest.”

Miniature art, known for its painstaking detailing

Miniature art, known for its painstaking detailing Photo credit: Special Arrangements

Young buyers, like the IT-entrepreneur crowd, are certainly keen to invest in traditional industries, says Mala. “We have seen Gond artists who used to sell art for ₹5000 10 years ago, are now selling for around ₹1 to 1.5 lakh. It only comes with appreciation,” adds Mala.

Having said that, the pandemic has forced industrial markets and manufacturers to price themselves competitively. “People have become a little more aware. If someone spends ₹20,000 or ₹30,000 on art, they won’t think twice about going up to ₹35,000 or 50,000. But if I’m looking for a piece of art between ₹600 and 800, I probably won’t go beyond ₹1500. There is a big market for the latter,” says Mala Innovative and modern industries also fall into the latter category, since their clientele is younger.

As they move towards the mainstream, young traditional artists are optimistic about this change. After all, this is what keeps the industry relevant through time. But they are also aware of the sanctity of the artform, and are not willing to compromise on skill and effort. Concludes Naveen, “Being relatable is important. At the end of the day, that’s what art is about, right?”


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