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Painting of an elephant by Gond artist Venkat Shyam

4 Gond Artists you should know

Jangarh Singh Shyam

The first Gond artist to use paper and canvas for Gond paintings, Jangarh Singh Shyam remains the most famous Gond artist. He is widely credited with bringing the art of Gond to global consciousness, creating what is widely known today as “Jangarh Kalam”. Born in extreme poverty, he quit school and tried his hand at farming at an early age. He was discovered by talent scouts of the art museum “Bharat Bhuvan” and was convinced to paint professionally.

He used lines of coloured dots, inspired by tattoos, to create shapes and patterns in his paintings. Tattoos form an integral part of Gond life. Jangarh also used other techniques like “fields of dense cross-hatching, tightly drawn comb-lines, rows of tiny ovals, bands of dots, sometimes accompanied by narrow squiggles and small irregular amoeba-like forms”.

Jangarh Singh Shyam Painting

Image credit: Foundation Cartier

His work has been exhibited widely in prominent art cities such as New York, Tokyo & Delhi. Even after his tragic death in 2001, his paintings are admired by people far and wide. He has schooled many of the established Gond Artists profiled here.

Bhajju Shyam

Born in 1971, in the village of Patangarh, central India, Bhajju Shyam started painting during his childhood to help his mother with decorating walls in their village. Later he came to the city of Bhopal to find work. He took up several odd jobs to survive, until he finally approached his uncle; Gond Artist – Jangarh Singh Shyam, who encouraged him to paint.

Bhajju Shyam is the author  of the much acclaimed book: London Jungle Book. It is a vivid characterization of London seen through the eyes of a tribal artist. He was invited to London to paint a mural on the walls of a restaurant. The best description of this book can be found here: https://www.brainpickings.org/2014/06/20/london-jungle-books-bhajju-shyam-tara-books/

Bhajju Shyam painting a wall mural

Image credit: The Hindu

He is a renowned illustrator and has been awarded the Italian Bologna Ragazzi (children’s book award) for his work on the book The Night Life of Trees. He has also been awarded the fourth highest civilian honour in India – Padmashri for his contribution to the arts.

Durgabai Vyam

Durgabai Vyam is the sister-in-law of Jangarh Singh Shyam and a very established Gond Artist. Currently living in Bhopal, she started painting since the age of six and apprenticed under Jangarh Singh Shyam. She creates patterns in her paintings with the motif of a paddy seed. This motif is prominent in Gond jewelry.  

The Night Life of trees

Image credit: Goodreads

She co-authored the children’s book The Night Life of Trees along with Bhajju Shyam & Ram Singh Urveti, which won the Bologna Ragazzi Award in 2008.

Venkat Singh Shyam

Venkat Singh Shyam is the nephew of Jangarh Singh Shyam. While he apprenticed under Jangarh Shyam, he is the most contemporary of Gond artists and has embraced modern mediums such as mixed media & animation in his work. Venkat Shyam is a second generation Gond artist and was already using pencil & charcoal to draw as a child. He still uses acrylic colours in his paintings. In 2008, Venkat was witness to the terrorist attack on the Taj Hotel in Colaba, Mumbai. His experiences led to a sixteen-painting series on the event.

Smoking Taj

Image credit: Saffron Art

His graphic autobiography, Finding my way is a captivating tale brought to life by his paintings. You can read a beautiful review of this book here: https://scroll.in/article/808502/how-a-gond-artists-work-can-really-help-you-find-your-way

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