Our Tribal collection includes paintings and murals from two main tribal communities of central India; Bhil and Gond. Both of these tribal communities reside in areas stretching from western to eastern India, but are mainly concentrated in central India. The works of all the tribal artists displayed in our collection represent a distinct perception in the Indian art world. They represent an urge to search for those art forms which are free from the influence of western or mechanistic industrial society. Following this ideal in his approach, Jagdish Swaminathan, legendary Indian artist and activist in the 1980s, discovered the work of these tribes in their remote forest abodes. Swaminathan is largely responsible for bringing tribal artists from these two communities into the domain of mainstream art.

Bhil Painting

The Bhil tribe mainly resides in the western and central part of India. Jhabua, a district place in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh, is their famous abode. Bhil Painting mainly consists of secular ornamental drawing, of floral and faunal life in the surrounding forest and hill areas as well as ritual painting of mythological themes found in Bhil religion and mythology. In our collection three female artists; Bhuri Bai, Lado Bai and Shanta Bhuria, represent the Bhil tribal art of painting. Bhil painting is famous for its mythological epic murals or Pithora, which is more a ritual than it is painting. Their themes and forms represent the Bhil tribe’s way of life, from their mythological tales, animistic gods and goddesses, magic and ritual to their deep and lively interaction with the natural world around them. Bhil folklore speaks about the importance of trees, plants and animals in human life.

Gond Art

Gond is an important tribal community residing in central and eastern portions of Madhya Pradesh. Although minimal, during their centuries old interaction with Hindus, the Gond tribe was greatly influenced by the adjoining Hindu civilization. This coalescing of communities has resulted in the popularity of some of the major Hindu festivals such as Diwali and Rakshabandhan. Gond painting’s main inspiration is derived from the natural scenes which surround them. In the Gond community, painting is traditionally done to decorate the home. Colorful drawings of tattoos, ritual motifs, animals, flowers and trees are all depicted to celebrate the joy of living and to appease the gods and goddesses who live around beautiful spaces and festive energy. When they used traditional implements such as tree bark and colors derived from natural sources, forms remain very simple and crude, but when combined with modern tools, like a Rotring ink pen or fine painting brushes, their forms acquire a most delicate internal design. Consisting of dots and fine lines images appear to float or drift and are weightless in their impression. Sutra Gallery’s collection contains the work of the following three Gond artists; husband and wife, Pradeep and Ghaneswari Marawi and Gangaram Vyam.

Bengal Scroll Painting

In India scroll painting is generally known as chitra patta; chitra means picture and patta means scroll. Geographically prevalent in all the major cultural zones of the country, scroll painting has a long history and stretches back to antiquity. Due to their fragile nature, in tropical climates scrolls cannot last long and we do not have very ancient examples of scroll painting. But there are references about these scroll paintings in ancient Indian literature. In Mudraraksha, an ancient drama, there is a reference about Yama patta depicting punishment for misdeeds in life after death. The Mānasollāsa or the Abhilasitārtha Cintāmani written by Chalukyan King Somesvara III discusses painting on cloth. In the Classical period there comes reference of scroll painting performers known as saubhikas who earned their living by putting up shows of scroll paintings. In these performances women of the family sang songs narrating the story depicted in the scroll painting.

Similar to all the scroll painting traditions in different parts of the country, Bengal scroll paintings possess a few of their own unique characteristics like the depiction of local goddesses, vegetation, animals and mythological stories. Bengal paintings can be divided into three varieties: Hindu, Islamic and tribal. Hindu scroll paintings have subjects like Krishnalila, Mangalmala, Sitala worship and Chaityanmala.

Bengal pattas are made on cloth but during the contemporary period there are examples of also using paper. For preparing the cloth for painting artists apply clay with organic product to make it smooth. The five primary colors used in Bengal scroll paintings are Sveta (white) Pita (yellow) Krishna (lamp black) Haritala (green brown) and Rakta (red). For fixing the colors artists use the pulp of boiled tamarind seeds.

Bengal Pattas or scroll paintings represent not merely visual art but also contain a strong tradition in which scroll painters known as pattuas (or chitrakars), sing songs related with the story depicted in the painting. In our collection we have included renowned scroll painter Monimala Chitrakar. Her work is well recognized not only in India but in other parts of the world. Monimala has traveled extensively sharing her art including a visit to Brown University in 2005 as part of the exhibit The Women Painters of Naya. Monimala paints stories of gods and goddesses, mythological tales of Bengal and ritual erotic scenes representing a strong tradition of fertility cult in eastern India.