Pandemic forces tribal artists to sell vegetables and paintings on streets
One of the largest and oldest tribes in India, found mainly in the center of the country, the Gonds, are well known for their vibrant works of art, through which they tell their stories traditional mythicals.
Selling vegetables at the Chouraha depot in Bhopal with his wife, Gond artist Ram Narayan Singh Maravi always carries a tote bag full of paints along with his brushes and colors. His heart races every time a customer shows up; fueling his hope of selling one of his paintings.
“I carry this bag… it’s my real identity. I must not forget that, ”says Maravi.
Maravi and his wife have been forced to sell vegetables for a living in the Madhya Pradesh capital since frequent COVID closures in April last year severely affected his sales of paintings.
“It is very tiring to stay in the sun all day selling vegetables for only two or three hundred rupees. It’s a question of survival because I haven’t won anything as an artist since last year. Sometimes the police chase us too. These days we barely earn half of what we normally get. It’s just enough to buy food for our children, ”he told Covid Response Watch.
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Once the day is over, along with his wife, Maravi continues to do Gond paintings at home with the intention of selling them when the situation improves. Due to the lack of money to buy canvas, they instead painted on paper and reduced the size of their artwork.
“Prior to last year’s lockdown, we secured work from local museums and art lovers who commissioned our work. But since the museum was closed a year and a half ago, we did not win thanks to our art, ”said Indu Bai, wife of Maravi, also an artist.
Maravi started painting in 2004 when his wife taught him how to do Gond paintings and since then their livelihood has depended on selling paintings at tribal exhibitions and festivals. One of the largest and oldest tribes in India, found mainly in the center of the country, the Gonds, are well known for their vibrant works of art, through which they tell their stories. traditional mythicals.
“My wife learned the art from her parents while they painted on the walls of their homes during festivals. They did ‘worthy’ tell the stories of their gods through their murals. We started to create the same patterns on paper and canvas and made it our job, following in the footsteps of Jangarh Singh Shyam and Bhajju Shyam, ”he said.
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Jangarh and Bhajju were both pioneer artists of Gond de Patangarh in the Dindori district of Madhya Pradesh whose work has received worldwide acclaim. Jangarh was one of the first Gond artists to use acrylic on paper and canvas and is credited with establishing a new school of contemporary Indian art called “Jangarh Kalam”.
Most of the Gond artists in Bhopal are also from Patangarh, who turned to art for a living. Although the region’s previous generations depended on farming, collecting and selling forest products, over the past two decades the younger generation has migrated to the cities in search of a better life.
There are around 70 Gond artists associated with the Madhya Pradesh Department of Culture. Many of them lost their only source of income during the pandemic and are struggling to get back on their feet and are trying to find ways to reach connoisseurs and art lovers.
One of them is Balmati Tikam, who lives with her husband and children in a slum in Bhopal. She decided to exhibit her paintings by the side of the road because she didn’t even have the money to buy groceries and pay the rent for her one-room apartment.
“The landlord says I should at least pay him a month’s rent, or he’ll have to give the room to someone else.” I don’t have money to buy food for my children, how can I pay the rent?
“We sit in the scorching sun with our paints on for hours, but we haven’t been lucky,” she said.
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Santoshi Shyam, another Gond artist from Patangarh, has also faced many difficulties during the lockdown as she has had to dip into her savings to buy food and medicine since the pandemic hit the country. Once her savings were exhausted, she had to rely on local NGOs to do her shopping.
“My eight year old son is disabled and needs regular therapy and medication. We had to borrow money from our friends because we didn’t have enough to pay for his medicine, ”said Shyam.
“I had saved money from the exhibitions where I sold my paintings, but now my bank account is empty,” she said. Before COVID hit, artists in Gond typically made between 10 and 30,000 selling their paintings at each art show or workshop, and attending 12 to 15 of these events each year was enough to support their families. The pandemic has resulted in the closure of all social events and public gatherings since April 2020.
“There are 12 members in my family, and we are all artists, so when the pandemic hit, all of a sudden we found ourselves out of work. We had to spend the money we saved, like on our children’s education, marriage and groceries. Now we have to start saving again, ”said Ravi Kumar Tikam, from Patangarh, Dhindori.
Many artists have decided to continue making paintings to increase their stock, to be ready for an exhibition as soon as it begins. They now hope that their work will not be wasted.
In the meantime, some social workers have made a special effort to help struggling Gond artists.
“When I asked Balmati why she was sitting by the side of the road trying to sell her paintings, she explained her plight to me. So I decided to share the photos of her paintings on social media and asked my friends to find buyers for them, ”said Pooja Iyengar, founder of Mahashakti, an NGO for the empowerment of women. Iyengar’s message touched many people and she was able to raise 35,000 for the artist.
A “Chitra-Shivir” art workshop, organized by the Bhopal Tribal Museum from July 7 to 11, also provided financial and financial support to around 62 artists from across the state. The artists each produced a painting for the museum and received 7,500 for it.
“Last year, we also provided financial assistance to performing artists by posting their videos, shot by them via their cell phones, to our YouTube channel,” said Ashok Mishra, curator at the Tribal Museum.
A workshop participant at the Tribal Museum in Bhopal, Santoshi was happy to have received the check for 7,500, after almost 15 long months.
“This is my first income in two years. I’m happy because it will help me pay my rent and get medicine for my son, ”she said, touching the check to her forehead and closing her eyes in gratitude.
Courtesy: Covid Response Watch