The paintings of iconic Indian artists such as MF Husain and VS Gaitonde may raise millions of dollars at global auctions, but there’s a whole world of tribal talent that remains largely unknown, even within India.
To change this, an upcoming online platform is putting these unsung artists front and centre, highlighting the unique paintings of the Gonds from Madhya Pradesh and the Warli in Maharashtra, among others. Tribal Art Forms, a collaboration between the contemporary art galleries Exhibit320 and BluePrint12, aims to raise awareness about India’s diverse tribal art forms, and give its master artists the recognition they deserve.
“…when you travel abroad, you realise a lot of this art is really appreciated abroad. They understand the value and that it’s not going to be here to stay for a very long time,” Rasika Kajaria, owner and chief operating officer of Exhibit320, told Quartz. “And in India the value is not understood. It seems to most that it’s here, it’s available, but the point is it’s not anymore, and the number of people making it is reducing every single day.”
For decades, India’s tribal communities have been creating unique paintings, featuring animal figures and nature-based themes, which document their distinct cultures and beliefs. The colourful Madhubani paintings of Bihar and the Kalighat paintings of Kolkata are relatively well-known, but in recent years it’s become harder to sustain India’s tribal art heritage. While the government has launched schemes and even cultural academies to promote tribal art, surviving on painting alone isn’t sustainable any more for the younger generations of these artists. Many are shifting to more commercially viable occupations, which could mark the end of age-old traditions.