Nature Narratives: exploring the Gond tribal art form

I’m fortunate to have a dedicated group of kiddies in Bombay who are always enthusiastic and eager to join me for a workshop, every time the opportunity presents itself. This has meant that in the last 6 months, I have been able to consistently visit them with a new workshop module once every 6-ish weeks.

As a facilitator, this continuity has helped me see the growth not just in the work and the art we’ve produced together, but also their interests and keenness to explore new areas. It leads me on to make interesting connections and that in turn helps when I conceptualise and plan every progressive workshop.

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This is how I came to conduct a workshop on the Gond folk and tribal art form, that relies heavily on an illustrative style and language of dots and dashes. The style is heavy on storytelling and evolved as a way to narrate their history, culture and beliefs, and make sense of them. Through this workshop, I hoped to get the children to make and understand drawing through dots and dashes, depending on simple yet strong pictorial contexts. As I went into reading and designing this workshop, I realised how many stories we know, believe in and continue to tell are derived from nature. This was largely possible because of two lovely Tara Publications books in the most exquisite silk screen-printed art books with stories that introduce the tribe and this art form.

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I chose two of these books that tied the workshop together:

The Night life of Trees and Water Life both helped build an understanding of the illustrative language and motifs of the art form. Also it brought the idea of nature, forms of nature, seasons, elements and the environment to the centre of the workshop.

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Trees are central to the Gond tribal imagination: in addition to the stories that surround them, trees are important in a lived, everyday sense. There is a Gond belief that trees are busy during the day, giving shade and food to humans and animals. It is only during the night that their real spirit emerges. I used the books extensively, sharing these stories with the children. In keeping with the tribal form, we used natural pigment paint to render the drawings and worked on large scrolls. The primary activity involved each child making their own accordion-fold books based on their understanding of Waterlife and Trees as we know them today.

Each child went away having learned how to explore a drawing through dots and dashes, and how even the most complex of drawings and stories can be can be minimised and told through the simplicity of dots and dashes.

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Changing seasons

Goa welcomed me with its light, warm air and the various shades of green that carpeted over walls, streets and rooftops, as it happens every year once the rain has fallen. Everything comes alive; the smell of wet earth and new leaves, insects and animal life all set off to this new beginning. During my time in Goa, the seasons were a blur. The post-monsoon heat swung back into what felt like a never-ending monsoon.

Within the studio itself, a nature table became an unlikely centerpiece almost as an extension of all the action that we were experiencing outside. I adopted the idea of having a nature table in the studio from the Waldorf System. I constantly reintegrated the need and made it a priority for kids to notice the beauty in all aspects  nature. The idea was to begin to be aware of things around us, notice patterns, find a rhythm and bring parts of it into our space.

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Children would pick things on their walk to class, I’d add a thing or two and pretty soon we had a motley collection of beautiful things in various stages of life and decay. This collection of treasures from the outdoors set the tone. This space became a lab for some of the children who wanted to watch how various objects in nature transformed over time. They were keen to notice changes in colour, form, texture, smell etc., over the weeks. For some it was an excuse to go on walks outside of the class.

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Being in the lush settings of Goa, so close to nature, and being able to experience change as it was happening, I felt that celebrating that uniqueness in, and the process of transformation would be a good focal point.

I decided this would be the basis for my interaction with the children, and a starting point of sorts, for the month-long workshop session in Goa. It’s important to honor all that is growing and dying around and within you, I felt. And in surprising ways within and without the workshop setting, my time in Goa has really driven that truth home.

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We’re only layers of skin hiding bones

It almost seems impossible until its done!

On July 6th, 2012, the doors to my first show opened at False Ceiling — a quaint gallery in Bandra, Mumbai. Lots of friends and family and art enthusiasts strolled in that evening, and I watched expressions and reactions to the story that I had laid out before them.

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The series I was presenting: Cult of the Street started out as a self initiated photo essay, looking out for quirky old livelihoods, perennially teetering on the edge of extinction in the city of Bombay. And the bonesetter is one such profession.

Much like the minimality that characterises bones themselves, bone setters are creatures that belong to the space between the past and the present, of disrepute and grudging respect and, ever so slightly, between science and magic.

With this body of work, I’ve used various mediums to translate my story of the bone setters. And what started as a photoessay one year ago slowly transformed into a multi-disciplinary body of work, documenting the spaces in which the bone setters practice, looking at the anatomy as a form that holds the body together, and translating it into various mediums.

This experience has been one of new beginnings and discovery. It has been an overwhelming experiencing, of telling stories through my pictures, drawings and an installation.

Thank you to all the people who had to bare with my madness, and who were a part of making this dream a plan. Special Thanks to Kamayani Sharma, who very skillfully translated my visuals into words.

6th July 2012.

THANK YOU.

We all have stories to tell.

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                                                      The waves of the sea help me come back to me. 

Goa May 2012. 

We all have stories to tell.

I went back to Goa to spend a part of the summer there, this year. And in my time there I was lucky to be able to discover secrets of the sea, untouched beaches, and little towns filled with character.

 

 

The most memorable part of being in Panjim was an afternoon spent in Fontainhas — the Portuguese Quarter, which was like walking through a string of stories thorugh time.

A town where you’ll see people living life with total ease, sitting at the porch of there homes, feeding  fish, and fishing.

GOA 2012.