Nidheesh Tyagi invokes the lesser known world of Gond tribal art to tell you about the bridge we are building
Back in my childhood spent in small hamlets of Chhattisgarh, Kishore Tigga was my classmate. His father was in the police force then, and he used to live in Police Lines in the town of Jashpur Nagar. Whilst most of us kids used to draw flowers, hills, sun — the usual stuff — Kishore used to draw firearms and people in uniform. We were very young then. As against urban spaces, the villages in those tribal regions were beautiful, with earthen huts amongst trees, painted walls, wood-carved gods and the use of natural colours. All that dissolved in the bigger picture of nature. Kishore was probably the first tribal child to see things differently. I have not kept in touch with him, but I remember the power of doodling a cartoonesque gun and a cop. And there was a thief, because how else does one justify a man in uniform and firearms.
As young bundles of raw energy, we are constantly decoding the world we are living in. We are processing it, trying to soak it in, understand and also document it somewhere. Sentences come easily, when it comes to describing what we witness. But to draw or sing, one needs more measure, discipline, space, calm, resilience and meditative inwardness. This makes art a balancing act. Not just to tilt the scales toward the inner universe, but also to help see visual storytelling streaming from there.
It is a different terrain. Of refuge and exile. Of journeys and camps. Of ideas and disruptions. Of interpretations and visualisations. Of jungles, deserts, hills, rivers and seas. Cities and villages. Slices of life. Things we missed out on. Things we should have seen. Things that were on the margins of our focus.
Like Kishore, much later in my life, I saw this amazing book of art, The London Book by Bhajju Singh Shyam. He is a gifted Gond tribal artist living in Bhopal now and this book is an interpretation of London from the eyes of a tribal. He saw the pubs as shades of a Mahua tree, and London Underground as Pataal Lok, full of serpents! You can read about the book here (https://www.brainpickings.org/2014/06/20/london-jungle-books-bhajju-shyam-tara-books/) in Brain Pickings.
Art continues to humanise, humour, heal and inspire us in so many ways, through so many times and spaces. And, it keeps us connecting as well. With each other and within our own self. Filling us with such wonder, reassurance and warmth sometimes. And sometimes, with some other emotions. As one of the last great portrait makers and grandson of Sigmund Freud, Lucian Freud, said, “What do I ask of a painting? I ask it to astonish, disturb, seduce, convince.”
Abir Space and Abir Pothi are two rooms. One is full of well-curated, hand-picked art for you to soak in, wonder at, experience and relate to. And another is bubbling with conversations around the world of art. Interpreting it. Enhancing the conversation. Helping us with getting the configuration. In connect with young, bright, creative minds, mostly from small towns, with some amazing ideas, energy and approaches. We are trying to connect the dots. To be the best medium. The bridge. Between the idea, the art, the creative force to become its best manifest through showcase, through conversations, through handholding and its outreach.
A beginning is just being made. Seems like a good one.