The Anxieties of Belonging: Dhavat Singh’s Gond Artwork Questions the idea of Home and Belongingness during the Pandemic time

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By Avani Solanki

Gallery Ragini’s exhibition for the India Art Fair 2022, titled “Conversations in My Own Language”, explores religion, folklore, and indigenous art traditions in contemporary contexts. The exhibition includes practitioners of Pichwai, Madhubani, Gond, Pattachitra, and Kalamkari art practices, along with some temple sculptures and photographs. As Nidhi Jyoti Jain writes, the endeavor of the gallery is “to recognize not just a ‘style’/type of art but individual artists”. Within the Gond tradition, the gallery has exhibited the works of Dhavat Singh. Of particular note is the series of paintings of the houses in Singh’s village, titled Dwellings.

In the artist’s own words, the homes of the Gond community are an important site for the practice of their art form. The houses, which are often built close to each other, are the place where people come together during times of sorrow or celebration. The aangan/courtyard and the kitchen are particularly significant, as they are the locations where the old and young come in frequent contact. During the pandemic, Dhavat Singh made Dwellings, a series of paintings depicting the Gond households. The paintings are informed by his understanding of the relevance of the houses for the community. Since Gond artwork is historically done on mud walls, the walls of the houses are also particularly relevant for his Gond art. 

The pandemic brought with it uncertainties about livelihood and society. With each individual left to fend for themselves against the virus (and the failing market), the idea of community was shaken for Singh. Along with this, the ongoing shift from mud houses to brick houses was already threatening the idea of what “home” meant and looked like. Within these contexts, then, the Dwellings series captures the anxieties of belonging of the community and the artist.

The collection of paintings is inspired by the houses of Singh’s companions. Each house is envisioned as a space for artistic rendition, as the series continues to redefine the vision of what ‘home’ means for people in the Gond community. Singh experiments with angles, colors, motifs, and architectural designs to render the individuality of the self into the creation of the house. It is also important to note that only a few human figures feature in the collection of paintings. The lack of human interaction during the last two years is, therefore, hinted at. However, the sparse figures that are included in the collection are shown to be engaged in communal activities like grinding food grains, or fetching water, or even talking to each other. 

The influence of the pandemic on artists and their creations is subtle, yet certainly present. Gallery Ragini’s support towards artists like Dhavat Singh has brought this influence to the limelight.