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The Mesmerizing world of Indian folk art

Updated: May 20, 2020

India is home to a rich culture of art and history and the exemplary architecture of the former royal families is proof. These palaces, forts and places of worships are characterised by the intricate designs and their artistic grandeur. What is often forgotten about Indian art is the presence of an equally enthralling folk and tribal art. These artforms are sometimes seen on textiles and other materials but do not receive the appreciation and admiration they deserve.

The most popular folk art that is familiar to many people is Kalamkari. Often present on kurtis and sarees, Kalamkari is an ancient form of hand painting done on silk fabric or cotton. The common motifs in this style of art range from flowers, peacocks and paisleys to divine characters inspired by Hindu mythology. The process of making Kalamkari involved twenty-three steps starting from bleaching the fabric to drying and washing it. Today this art is practiced by many artisans in Andhra Pradesh which has been their source of livelihood for many generations.

Tribal art is also very popular in India owing to the diverse number of tribes in India and Gond art is one of them. This artform is rooted in the strong storytelling culture prevalent in the Gond community. Gond artwork is characterised by the presence of carefully drawn lines which often convey motion even in still images. Dots and dashes are also added to make the painting more detailed. The colours often used are white, red, blue and yellow which are usually derived from nature like charcoal, coloured soil, flowers and even cow dung. But Gond artists have switched to artificial colours due to the lack of natural colours.

Madhubani is another folk art which originated from the Mithila region in India. Painted with various objects like twigs, brushes and even fingers using natural dyes, these paintings are popular for their intricate and elaborate geometric patterns. These paintings have been said to originate from the women of the various communities residing in Mithila and constitutes a major chunk in exports. The subject of these paintings are usually people and their relationship with nature and scenes from Indian epics and often leave no space empty in the walls or the canvas they are painted on.

Warli painting is a style of tribal art that originated in Maharashtra and is still practiced there. These paintings are not complicated in the sense that they use only three shapes – circle, triangle and square. The central theme of these paintings are activities like hunting, fishing and farming, followed by the presence of various animals and trees. Dances and festivals are also a common theme in these paintings. Warli painting uses only one colour – white, which is a mixture of rice paste and water.

Inspired by a deep historical and cultural heritage, today’s artists have been trying to translate traditional folk and tribal art into contemporary spaces – be it clothes or interior designing. The inspiration to create art is everywhere and in a country like India, it can be found even in the most remote corner of the country, standing testament to the fact the Indians have always appreciated art in its diverse forms and will continue to do so.

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