Sunday, July 04, 2010

Warli Art

At first glance, Warli art may be reminiscent of the prehistoric cave paintings of Lascaux in France or Bhimbetka in Madhya Pradesh, India. However, Warli art is a living communicative tradition in the eponymous tribe that inhabits parts of Maharashtra and Gujarat.
Warli art is traditionally done on walls of dwellings. First a base coat of cow dung is applied to the wall, dried, then a coat of red soil called geru is applied, which is also dried. The designs are then drawn with a brush dipped in white rice paste.
Life in the predominantly agrarian Warli tribe, with its folktales and customs, is the overriding theme in Warli art. The Warlis' harmony with nature is evident in the profusion of trees, animals, water bodies and terrain in the picture. There are human stick figures in action - working in fields, grinding rice in huts, playing musical instruments etc. The male and female figures are clearly differentiated by the presence of a dot at the back of the head spot, symbolising a knot of hair to denote the female.
One of the most joyous motifs that evokes a sense of movement in an otherwise two-dimensional form, is the dancing spiral. It denotes tarpa, a group dance that is common in the region.
A Warli wedding is an occasion for an elaborate Warli painting to be created on the wall of the venue, usually the bride's house. At one such wedding, we met Rajesh Mor, a young Warli artist who explained, “Once the wall is prepared, the married women of the tribe use paddy stalks as brushes to create an intricate square symbolic wedding motif known as a chauk. The rest of the painting is completed by others by drawing the image of Goddess Palghati and her symbols inside the chauk. Surrounding the chauk are scenes from the wedding like the nuptials on a horse, and guests dancing etc. It takes almost two days for the customary wedding painting to be completed."

Warli art is also rapidly becoming a contemporary art form thanks to Warli artists like Jivya Soma Mashe who interprets the modern world in Warli art. Mashe has garnered respect and appreciation for Warli art on exibitions in and outside India.
The motifs used by Warlis are now being rendered on a host of new media including wooden home d├ęcor items, canvas, silk panels, apparel and even walls of urban apartments. But not all are made by the Warlis. While non-Warli artists are able to easily replicate the Warli motifs, what is missing in these creations is the soul – the cultural ethos that emanates from the art form.
As Mor says, “Our representations are so intrinsically linked with our folklore, that if viewed in isolation, they are mere drawings.”
(An edited version appeared in Culturama's July 2010 Issue)

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