Folk & Tribal Arts

The Folk & Tribal section of the collection displays a wide range of India’s regional communal artistic practices. Its extensive holdings include both already canonised forms and relatively underappreciated traditions such as patua scrolls from Bengal and religious terracottas from Tamil Nadu. It also holds some of India’s most well-known contemporary artists in the form of Warli paintings by Jivya Soma Mashe, Gond paintings by Jangarh Singh Shyam and Mithila paintings by Baua Devi.

India has long been seen as an exotic and colourful destination, an image promoted by the tourist industry. Most tourist packages in India involve a stopover, either at government state emporiums or private stores, that proudly display regional crafts, folk and tribal traditions. Attempting to move away from this stereotype of ‘folk and tribal’, this section of MAP’s collection uses these contested labels to reexamine the nature of these traditions, from the viewpoints of both history and the present.

Historically, India has always had a rich array of regional artistic and artisanal traditions, that in contrast to the courtly arts patronised by the ruling or aristocratic elite, were often patronised and produced within communities that practiced them. Largely, these art forms were, and continue to be, unique creative expressions of these specific communities, forming an integral part of the social, cultural and religious lives of their members. Illustrating varied themes, these localised arts use an interplay of form and colour, and are usually intrinsically associated with the belief systems of their practitioners. Demonstrating how vocabularies of themes and motifs, and conventions evolve over time, they are rich sources in a measure of cultural diversity in India.

The MAP collection comprises a wide range of these diverse traditions: from South Indian shadow puppets to Bhuta idols from Karnataka; stencils from Shekhawati to Patachitra scroll paintings from Odisha; the pata scrolls and Santhal jadu patua paintings of Bengal; a gamut of religious terracottas from Tamil Nadu to mica paintings from Tanjore; and Kalamkari paintings. Objects of everyday use, connected with the manners, customs and beliefs of certain communities also form a significant part of this section.

Although the notion of the individual ‘artist’ as defined in the modern period largely runs counter to the framework within which such communal traditions are practiced, there have been individual practitioners from these backgrounds who have made their ways into the spotlight of the mainstream art market; creating in many ways therefore, a strong impression of what constitutes the artistic idiom of their ‘tribal  or folk’ traditions.

The MAP collection includes works primarily on canvas and paper and holds work by some of these incredibly sought after artists from India who are contemporary, as much as, ‘tribal’ artists; of particular merit are the Warli paintings by Jivya Soma Mashe, the Gond Paintings by Jangarh Singh Shyam and the Mithila Paintings by Baua Devi.

By bringing together these disparate artistic traditions under a single fold, MAP aims to counter conventional notions of ‘Folk’ and ‘Tribal’ art and shift the gaze from the formal, visual aspects of these art forms, to the social, cultural and economic contexts within which they have evolved.

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