The following article on Gond Art is by no means exhaustive. Information I have read has been varied and I have not exactly been able to verify every fact or detail. But I will continue to update this article with each piece of information I receive that will help represent this art form authentically and in all its astounding richness.
In 2010, I made a shift from working with the creamy colourful medium of acrylics on canvas to mostly creating drawings using black gel pen on paper. For a couple of years after that, I made whole drawings filled with a mosaic-like pattern of closely packed quadrangles and triangles and sometimes circles and scallop like shapes. These were simple shapes drawn spontaneously‘as I went along’ resulting in dense and intricate drawings.
Speaking about these patterns, Gita Wolf, academic, writer, publisher Tara Books and editor of Signature says, “Each artist (…) has a very considered idea behind their choice of pattern, and knowing what this is deepens the allusive quality of the art”. In the image above, one can see an example of a Gond painting of a fisherman catching fish on the right and the detailed pattern used to fill up the painting on the left. This painting is by artist Suresh Kumar who said he thought of fish scales and drops of water while making this painting.
Below are a few more examples of patterns that artists have used to pack their paintings with; patterns that personally resonated with them.
Artist Mansingh Vyam who chose the pattern of the plow’s path in the field:
Artist Pradeep Marani’s painting has a pattern like cow’s wet hooves on earth:
The finished painting by Pradeep Marani (Below)
Artist Kala Bai Shyam was inspired by the tightly woven rope to pattern her painting with
Kala Bai Shyam’s finished painting
Gond art, especially the decoration of huts and homes with Bhittichitras (wall paintings) and Digna paintings (geometrical patterns) springs from the community belief that “viewing a good image begets good luck”. Not only are their beliefs, traditions, history, folklore richly expressed through their paintings, they are also rife with mystical and imaginative themes. Trees, along with animals, birds and other flora fauna form important themes of Gond paintings. In the Gond pantheon, Badadev, the greatest of all Gods, is represented by the Shaja tree. Thakur Dev , another God in the pantheon, is associated with the Pakri tree and trees find a very prominent place in Gond paintings. [The Gond or Koiture Cultural Roots. IGNCA. [Website]]
In the book, “The nightlife of trees”, published by Tara Books, Gond artists pay tribute to trees who they believe “stand in the middle of life, and the spirit of many things lie in them. They are busy all day, giving shade and support and shelter and food to all. Only when night falls can they find rest for themselves, and then, under quiet dark skies, the spirits that live in them are revealed”. [Tara Books. [Website]]
Below are some examples of the various ways in which trees are beautifully, intricately rendered by Gond artists in their unique style:
The songs, dance forms, myths and legends, folk tales, customs and rituals and the paintings of the Gonds reflect a close bond with nature. After all the word Gond itself comes from Kond, meaning ‘green mountains’. The Gond called themselves Koi or Koiture, but they are more commonly known as the Gond since they lived in the ‘green mountains’ [The Gond or Koiture Cultural Roots. IGNCA. [Website]]
The Gonds paint the inner and outer walls and floors of their homes with Digna (geometric patterns) and Bhittichitra (a composition of animals, flora-fauna and human beings). Like many a folk art traditions, Gonds use natural resources to make art with. Vegetable and mineral dyes made out of locally available flowers, leaves, clay, stones, rice, turmeric etc. are used for colour. Brushes are handmade and are usually made out of twigs of Neem or Babul plant covered with a rag on its tip. [The Gond or Koiture Cultural Roots. IGNCA, [Website]]. Coloured clay in shades of yellow (Ramraj Mitti, obtained from the Narmada River) ,White (Chuhi Mitti), Brick Red(Geroo), Black (charcoal) was also used traditionally to create paintings [Indian Tribal Zone, March 2013 [Blog Post]].
Gond paintings started to be rendered on paper and canvas as recently as 1981. It was only then that Jangarh Singh Shyam, the renowned Gond artist, used paper and poster colours to make a Gond painting on the request of J Swaminathan. Swaminathan was the then Director of Bharat Bhawan in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh. Wishing to make space for tribal and urban art to be displayed in Bharat Bhawan, he sent his students into the neighboring villages to search for tribal artists. It is said that that is when they came across an image of Lord Hanuman, the monkey God, painted on the wall of a house. It was by none other than Jangarh Singh Shyam. This incident has been highlighted as one that helped Gond art reach the larger public, not just in India but the world over.
Even today, the Gond tribal community is one of central India’s largest indigenous communities numbering 13,256,928 (as per 2011 census). Gonds are said to have habitation in Bihar, West Bengal, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Odisha, Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Gujarat [Ministry of Tribal Affairs, Govt. of India. [Website]]. The Gonds predominantly inhabit parts of Madhya Pradesh, especially the dense forests of the Vindhyas, Satpuras and Mandla in the Narmada region of the Amarkantak range. [The Gond or Koiture Cultural Roots. IGNCA. [Website]].
1] The Indira Gandhi National Centre for the Arts (IGNCA) has a collection of videos that can help one understand the Gond community and its culture. (*The IGNCA videos are in Hindi. I will be happy to help if anyone would wish to have a transcript of the same in English)
- The Gonds: http://ignca.nic.in/tav041.htm
- Gond Paintings: http://ignca.nic.in/tav043.htm
- On Artist Jangarh Singh Shyam: http://ignca.nic.in/tav042.htm
- A Gond artist explaining the origin myth through Gond paintings: http://ignca.nic.in/tav005.htm
- A comprehensive list of Gond artists along with samples of their work: http://ignca.nic.in/tribal_art_artist_gond_mp_bhajju.htm
- Several other videos on Gond culture (music, dance, folklore): http://ignca.nic.in/tribal_art_intro_gonds_koiture.htm
2] An interesting resource on Gond paintings is Padmaja Srivastava’s blog http://indiantribalzone.blogspot.in/
3] Watch this video here https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KXFqaqHJ8Xk (Part I) and https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7AK0Lp51j0c (Part II)
4] A video on selected images of Gond paintings: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IZzIBHfpCQs
5] A video on Gond paintings, coupled with simple and soulful Gond singing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BSfkEUeuQP8
6] A source that I haven’t been able to personally access but am on the look out for is Verrier Elwin’s book Tribal Art forms of middle India.
1] The Gond or Koiture Cultural Roots. Retrieved from http://ignca.nic.in/tribal_art_intro_gonds_koiture.htm
2] The Gond of Madhya Pradesh. Retrieved from http://ignca.nic.in/tribal_art_intro_gonds_mp.htm
3] Women’s Art of the Everyday (2011, June 23rd). Retrieved from http://www.tarabooks.com/blog/womens-art-of-the-everyday/
4] Padmaja Srivastava (2013, March 16th) Behind the Gond Paintings – A Trip into the heart of Patangarh March 2013. Retrieved from http://indiantribalzone.blogspot.in/search?updated-min=2013-01-01T00:00:00-08:00&updated-max=2014-01-01T00:00:00-08:00&max-results=3
5] Wolf, G. (2011), Signature: Patterns in Gond Art. Tara Books.