Friday, October 24, 2014

Indian folk art: Bhil

Bhil art is possibly the oldest form of tribal expression in India. On the contemporary art scene, though, it's been a late starter, having been overshadowed by other forms which, perhaps, got promoted better. Renowned Bhil artists like Bhuri Devi were discovered a few decades ago but despite them being hailed by aficionados internationally, their popularity was restricted to a small audience. The reason the art remains delightfully folkish even as it now begins enjoying the spotlight.

For the record
To an untrained eye Bhil can be confused for Gond, both art forms using near-similar metaphor. But look a little keenly — you don’t need to peer too hard — and you'll realise the marked differences between the two figurative styles.  
With the sort of urban exposure it's received, Gond has refined itself. What’s clearly visible at first glance are the contours in Gond paintings, which are very well defined. For instance, if the paws of a cat are to be shown, these will resemble the actual shape. In a Bhil painting, on the other hand, they will be just an impression.
In-filling the motif is a very prominent aspect of both forms. Bhils use only dots in all colours and these can be scattered or drawn in neat formation, almost similar to aborigine art. In contrast each Gond artist has evolved a signature filling pattern — dot, dash, round etc — and these are almost-always in the colour black. Furthermore, the art of the Gonds is usually proportionate while the Bhils have an unrestrictive, almost naïve, style.

Continental connection
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“Bhil, Gond, Rathwa are tribes found in the neighbourhood of western Madhya Pradesh and Eastern Gujarat. Their culture and customs have similar basis which gets reflected in the paintings of each of these communities. It's the approach that differs,” says Mamta Sharma, senior manager, Tribal Cooperative Marketing Development Federation of India Limited (Trifed), Ministry of Tribal Affairs. "Quite intriguingly, the similarity of form found in these tribal paintings is noticeable in aboriginal art too. A few seasons back we had held an exhibition of Gond and aborigine art from Australia; it was hard to tell them apart," she avers, bringing the focus back once again to the ongoing debate on how best to explain the parallel connection between two art forms indigenous to two separate continents. Throwing light on this a recent anthropological research suggests that during the great migration particular genetic groups reached Australia via the Gond region in India. It is probable these groups picked up the art form here and took it with them to where they finally settled and developed it into what's today known as aborigine art.

Published in Deccan Herald, Oct 2014 

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