FEA­TURE

The Sunday Guardian - - Artbeat - PHOTO: JYOTI BHATT & ASIA ART AR­CHIVE.

Anew ret­ro­spec­tive of the late Gond artist Jan­garh Singh Shyam, en­ti­tled A Con­juror’s Ar­chive, is now on view at Delhi’s Ki­ran Nadar Mu­seum of Art. The show en­riches you, but also leaves you with a sink­ing feel­ing. It re­minds you of the artist’s death in 2001 in Ja­pan, re­port­edly a sui­cide. He was 40.

The last let­ters he wrote to his wife, Nankushiya, and to his mother, Ad­harabai, a few days be­fore his death, give us a sense of how dis­tressed he was in Ja­pan. The trans­lated let­ters, along with his paint­ings, are also on dis­play at the Delhi show. A few of the ex­cerpts read:

“Nankushiya, per­haps they will not let me re­turn till July or Au­gust be­cause they have given me large works [to com­plete] and have also put up an ex­hi­bi­tion.”

“I am try­ing to fin­ish the work—let’s see if I can man­age. … [ P] er­haps be­cause I could not come here the pre­vi­ous year, they are upset with me.”

“I am work­ing con­tin­u­ously, will try to fin­ish, let’s see till when it will be done.”

“They are say­ing that I can go by 27 July but I have no trust in when they will re­lieve me.”

The next re­port which came from the Far East was of his un­nat­u­ral death.

Jan­garh’s un­timely death cre­ated un­rest in the art com­mu­nity and many top artists cam­paigned for a probe in the mat­ter. “In the last let­ter writ­ten from Ja­pan just three days be­fore his death, he had sought my in­ter­ven­tion in get­ting him sent back home from Ja­pan,” writes Dr Jy­otin­dra Jain, a key au­thor­ity on folk and tribal arts, in his book on Jan­garh. “Un- for­tu­nately, the let­ter ar­rived in Bhopal only af­ter he had ended his life. To this day, the episode con­tin­ues to haunt me and this is what gave the im­pulse for writ­ing this book as a trib­ute to him,”

A Con­juror’s Ar­chive pays ho­mage to rich artis­tic imag­i­na­tion of Jan­garh and his 20-year ca­reer in the arts. As you step closer to view his art­works on dis­play, you are pulled into his imag­i­nary world that com­bines a num­ber of mytho­log­i­cal nar­ra­tives. You see an ele­phant-headed crab, a ser­pent hold­ing the earth on its hood and many other such fig­ures, from fa­bles and cre­ation myths. His world is lay­ered with rich colours and dot­ted pat­terns. His paint­ings evoke a sense of awe and you won­der whether such a world ex­ists some­where.

Jan­garh was truly a prodigy. He was mak­ing art since child­hood and dec­o­rated the walls of his hut with paint­ings. His im­ages have the ca­pac­ity to pull the viewer into the art, be­cause he him­self was com­pletely im­mersed in his works. He once said, “The first time I dipped my brush in bright poster colours in Bhopal, tremors went through my body.” This was the time he joined Bharat Bha­van at the in­vi­ta­tion of his men­tor Swami­nathan.

Jan­garh cre­ated a num­ber of art­works at Bhopal’s Bharat Bha­van, draw­ing fish, birds, deities on pa­per in his trade­mark style of dot­ted pat­terns. Bharat Bha­van added sub­stan­tially to his growth, but he suf­fered much men­tal agony for his fame. He started work­ing as an at­ten­dant at this place. Jain writes, “Jan­garh once told me that he was of­ten abused by some of the artists at Bharat Bha­van. He said that when he was ini­tially ap­pointed as an at­ten­dant at Bharat Bha­van, he was rudely asked by some of his mod­ern art col­leagues to serve them tea or clear away empty cups and plates, of­ten with a sar­cas­tic com­ment that ‘you have now be­come a big artist’.”

As Swami­nathan wrote about Jan­garh, “One thing read­ily no­tice­able in all of them is their con­cep­tual char­ac­ter: they are not nat­u­ral­is­ti­cally ren­dered. The deities be­come real by the truth of imag­i­na­tion.” “…[t]here is no doubt that he is an ex­cep­tion and herein lies our point: he is giv­ing pic­to­rial form to many of the Pard­han Gond deities… [I]t is the in­di­vid­ual artist who gives vis­ual, tac­tile ex­pres­sion to com­monly held be­liefs and it is only then that such ex­pres­sions be­come com­mu­nal prop­erty.”

His style came to be known as “Jan­garh Kalam” and his oeu­vre took in­spi­ra­tion from both the ur­ban and ru­ral sur­round­ings. In his short life, Jan­garh also cre­ated spec­tac­u­lar pen-and-ink draw­ings and con­trib­uted greatly with his rich mu­rals to Bhopal’s Vid­han Bha­van. The artist was also in­ter­ested in the­atre and mu­sic. He used to sing and play the flute.

One of his paint­ings is en­ti­tled Young Boy Play­ing the Flute in the For­est. Jain reads this as a self-por­trait where the artist has de­picted him­self as Kr­ishna among the graz­ing cows and for­est scenery. Ac­cord­ing to Jain, once Jan­garh had men­tioned to him that as a teenager he used to play the flute when he took cows for graz­ing to the San­puri vil­lage, where his fu­ture wife used to stay.

Jan­garh was si­t­u­ated in his

Jan­garh was si­t­u­ated in his roots but at the same time wanted to ex­plore his cre­ative strengths. He found his art in the myths and fa­bles, an­i­mals and birds and sto­ries of his child­hood, which re­mained with him till the very end. He was try­ing to re­turn to these in his fi­nal days, but, as Jain writes, “he was trapped in cross­ing”.

roots but at the same time wanted to ex­plore his cre­ative strengths. He found his art in the myths and fa­bles, an­i­mals and birds and sto­ries of his child­hood, which re­mained with him till the very end. He was try­ing to re­turn to these in his fi­nal days, but, as Jain writes, “he was trapped in cross­ing”. ‘A Con­juror’s Ar­chive’ is pub­lished by Ban­ga­lore’s Mu­seum of Art & Pho­tog­ra­phy; the ex­hi­bi­tion is on view till 12 Jan­uary

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from India

© PressReader. All rights reserved.