Curated by acclaimed art critic and curator Uma Nair, Van Katha is set to showcase 30 works of indigenous Gonds art.
Padma Shri Bhajju Shyam’s work stands as a practitioner of the Pardhan Gond art, characterized by a uniqueness that embodies the full range of human emotions through animal imagery. For the uninitiated, Pardhan Gond is an ancient tribe whose work and way of life is defined by a community of bards (singers) or Pardhan who invoke their Great God, Bada Deo, while playing the Bana instrument. Through the incantation, they are able to perform the crucial task of keeping the legendary tales of the ancient Gond kings alive. Every story, song, dance and painting brings the community together in a shared celebration of nature and the universe. Bhajju Shyam has carved a place for himself in the country’s artistic landscape by combining tradition and simple beliefs with learned expressive techniques, often using folk motifs as urban metaphors. His work has been exhibited in galleries and museums around the world, including the Musée des Arts Décoratifs in Paris, the Galleria Arteutopia in Milan and the Museum of London. He has also published several books.
The Aakriti Art Gallery in Kolkata presents a solo exhibition by the famous artist Gond titled “Van Katha”. The exhibition opens on July 30, 2022 and will run until August 20, 2022. Curated by renowned art critic and curator Uma Nair, the exhibition is expected to feature 30 works of indigenous Gonds art. “Bhajju Shyam is significant in terms of the work he has done in the pursuit of the Jangarh Singh Shyam school. I have followed his work since 2015. In curating the exhibition, I wanted works created in the medium and larger format of 7×7 feet. Bhajju has a lot of experience in painting large walls for companies and real estate agencies. So in the exhibition we have smaller canvases as well as works on imperial size paper and 3 works of 7ft x 7ft. Its scope and vision in creation are imperative. I have always believed that a curator is a bridge between art lovers and artists. A curator adds the backbone of historical documentation to a series of works,” says Nair.
In this series of works, Bhajju Shyam creates many animals and birds. The elephant, the fish, the deer, the pigs/pigs, the aquatic creatures each have their place in the firmament. Bhajju states that their foundation is built on a forest of stories that speak of the beauty and bounty of the earth. “My uncle, Jangarh, encouraged the members of our community in the village of Patangarh to adopt the art form which he had experimented with at the instigation of Swaminathanji and it was called ‘Jangarh Kalam.’ My uncle illustrated the natural theme of Pardhan’s painting, he taught me that on the forest floor, snakes and birds, tigers and deer all come together in creative visualization,” Bhajju reveals.
Interestingly, all of the works that are part of “Van Katha” were actually created by famous artist Gond during the pandemic. “I told Bhajju Shyam to send me images as he continued to create. This show took 3 years to come together. As an artist, he is diligent, dedicated and scrupulous in discipline I gave him complete freedom to create his entire jungle menagerie. I also thought about his title and asked him if he liked it. I think ‘Van Katha’ embodies the oldest principle in the books. saints of India, from manushya aur prakriti, man and nature. It speaks of acceptance of the universe and the power and eternal impact of nature in the world,” reveals Nair.
The Dravidian term Gond comes from Kond, which means verdant mountains. The community is naturally oriented towards the preservation of nature. Without Green Mountains, wildlife habitats and water tables disappear. And without bees and birds, plant cycles are affected. The Gonds have understood this, as has Bhajju. “The notion of animals and birds and their importance in our culture and our community have been transmitted verbally by our ancestors. It is on this basis that we make our artworks/designs. Tigers, for example, have been an important part of our culture. We belong to the Pardhan Gond tribe/community and are from the Kushram clan. And so, our deity is Bagh Van Devi, to whom we pray for protection before we (our Adivasi friends) enter the forests to hunt/acquire fodder. And so a representation of the same is seen in our designs/art pieces. Moreover, during weddings too, special offerings are made to the Bagh Van Devi,” says Bhajju.
Of the 30 works exhibited, 20 paintings on canvas and 10 works are on paper. “These works of art are unique expressions of the spirit and imagination of Bhajju and encapsulate the regions history and contemporary times. Works of art are important for their historical and academic relevance as well as for their aesthetic value,” says Nair. Sharing her thoughts on traditions around trees, she adds, “The world of Bhajju forest tales stems from traditionally inspired tales that have spanned the ages, transforming mere subjects into sacred beings. The themes of tradition and simple beliefs… are clearly understood in all the works and sketches on display. But through it all, we glimpse a love of trees and nature. Bhajju is significant for the many stories he tells as well as his finesse in creating Darwinian dialogues in native Indian intuition. The birds, the horses, the pigs, the elephant all vibrate to the rhythm of the forest.
Nair believes that Kolkata-based Aakriti Art Gallery is ideal for an exhibition such as “Van Katha”, which is essentially a celebration of Gond art. “I knew it was going to Aakriti Art in Kolkata. Hungerford Street is an upscale neighborhood with beautiful trees. I’ve always liked Aakriti’s bones in design internships. Vikram Bhachawat is a distinguished name in artistic circles. I wanted a show that was both inviting and filled the senses with a love for nature. After all, no one loved nature more than Rabindranath Tagore and Satyajit Ray, the two icons of Bengal,” rejoices Nair whose next show is Muzaffar Ali’s 50th birthday retrospective at Bikaner House in Delhi in January 2023.