The painter who helped put Maharashtra’s Warli on the world map

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A Warli painting by Jivya Soma Mashe

May 19, On This Day  


Jivya Soma Mashe, 2009 | Via Wikipedia

If one is aware of the extraordinarily captivating and earthy art of Warli painting, one must know the name Jivya Soma Mashe, who was reportedly born on May 19, 1934 in the state of Maharashtra, and popularised the beautiful tribal art form. 

Mashe was born in Dhamangaon village in Talasari taluka of Thane district. It is said that he lost his mother at the early age of 7 and out of shock, stopped speaking for several years, communicating only by drawing pictures in the dust. This strange attitude soon won him a special status within his community. At the age of 11, he came to Kalambipada village in Dahanu taluka of Thane. In the 1970s the Warli Painting, which was a predominantly ritual art till that time, took a radical turn, when  Mashe started to paint not for any special ritual, but on an everyday basis. 

It is written that: “Mashe’s art was inspired by folklore and stories of celebration that are narrated to the children in his tribe from a very early age. His images were based on simple forms, such as the circle borrowed from the moon and sun, the triangle borrowed from mountains and trees, and the square, which has no natural equivalent and is therefore used to symbolize sacred enclosures. Human bodies are represented with two triangles, which are given an extraordinary quality of life and movement.” 

It is reported that Mashe showed “a heightened sensitivity and unusually powerful imagination — paper and canvas freed him from the constraints of working on rough, sheer walls and he transformed the brusque look of the ephemeral paintings into a free, deeply sensitive style…. His sensitivity emerges in every detail of his paintings. Strokes, lines and a mass of dots swarm and vibrate on the canvas, coming together to form clever compositions which reinforce the general impression of vibration. Details and the overall composition both contribute to a sense of life and movement. Recurring themes, from tribal life and Warli legends, are also a pretext for celebrating life and movement”. 

Jivya Soma Mashe, Untitled, 1997. Jivya Soma Mashe: A Collection. | Via Daily Art Magazine

Mashe was discovered by Bhaskar Kulkarni, a Mumbai based artist. Kulkarni mentored Mashe and convinced Kurshed and Kekoo Gandhy to hold a show of his works at Chemould Gallery in 1975. It was this exhibition that shot Mashe to fame and put Warli on the map of the art world.  

Mashe’s talent was rewarded by India’s senior political figures of the time, such as Jawaharlal Nehru and Indira Gandhi, and then internationally by the Magiciens de la terre at Centre Pompidou (Paris, France), bringing unprecedented recognition and prompting many other youngsters to follow suit and paint regularly for commercial purposes. 

Mashe is said to have summed up the deep feeling which animates the Warli people, saying: “There are human beings, birds, animals, insects, and so on. Everything moves, day and night. Life is movement.” 

In 1976, he received the National Award for the Tribal Art. In 2002, he received the Shilp Guru award. In 2009, he was the recipient of the Prince Claus Award for his Warli painting. In 2011, he received the Padma Shri for his contribution towards Warli painting. 

Mashe passed away on May 15, 2018. 

Jivya Soma Mashe at work. New Indian Express. | Via Daily Art Magazine

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