Talking in tribal tones

Friday, 13 July 2007 - 11:59pm IST

A show of Warli paintings at the Jehangir Art Gallery tells stories of a culture that is unfamiliar and unique. Reema Banerjee takes a look.

A show of Warli paintings tells stories of a culture that is unfamiliar and unique. Reema Banerjee takes a look

A farewell exhibition hosted by Gallery Chemould is a walk through a brilliant sunset into a brand new day. The landmark art space will soon move out of Jehangir Art Gallery to Chemould Prescott Road. And to announce both these occasions, it will showcase Warli, paintings by famed Warli painter, Jivya Soma Mashe and his son Balu.

The exhibition-sale will display Jivya’s and Balu’s recent works. Some of the paintings depart from the popularly known Warli style, combining vibrant colours with unconventional themes. Each work tells a story, with people, animals, plants and scenes of village life drawn with simple lines and graphic picturisation.

Gallery Chemould put Warli paintings on the art scene in Mumbai when it showcased Jivya’s first exhibition in 1975. Jivya, then an overseer of grasslands, was groomed to be a master craftsman by the late Bhaskar Kulkarni, who discovered this art form and brought it to public notice.

“Bhaskar had discovered Madhubani paintings and he then told us that he had found these beautiful paintings of an unknown art form in the villages of Maharashtra as well. Warli paintings were done on walls by the womenfolk on occasions like marriages and it wasn’t easy to get these crafts persons to use paper as a medium instead.

Bhaskar then discovered that Jivya was good at painting on varied media and trained him. We went with him and met Jivya and agreed to do a show for him at Gallery Chemould,” explains Khurshed, wife of Kekoo Gandhy, former owner of Gallery Chemould.

Jivya’s first international exhibition was at the Palais de Menton in France in 1976. He showed his works at the Pompidou Centre, Paris, in 1989. And a few years later, in 1985, Chemould Publications produced a book called The Warlis:  Tribal Paintings and Legends, which made Jivya’s work internationally known. But that hasn’t turned Jivya into a celebrity with airs.

The artist is still a humble village artist who lives with his family in Dahanu district. “He won’t attend the opening. I have a feeling that the media glare may overwhelm him so we are trying to bring him during the show instead,” says Khurshed.

Warli, paintings by Jivya Soma Mashe and Balu, Gallery Chemould, Jehangir Art Gallery, July 17-28

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