1st Feb 2011 - 13th Feb 2011

One Tribe - Tribute to Folk Art

Bharti Prajapati



We must recognize that craft is as much an expression of the human spirit in material form, which gives delight to mankind, as any of what are termed fine arts. Craft has always been a basic activity in human society; in fact it is considered more cohesive and permeating in human relationships than even language, for it can penetrate many barriers to communications.

Kamladevi  Chattopadhyaya


In the joyful process of creating objects of daily living, where utility and beauty co-exist, there is a oneness of the creator, the created and the participant.  These beautifully made creative objects enhance life and evocate the magnificence and meaning of gracious living, where the immediate and the ultimate are connected by the living reality of beautiful objects.

It is not without reason that the Indian linguistic tradition of Sanskrit does not have a specific word for art, art objects, art activity or even artists and neither does it set up a dichotomy within human creativity of the classical and the folk or art from craft or artists from artisans.

Art and creativity are a form of expression and not a conscious effort, touching every aspect and object in and around the tribal folk.  They are used for utility, rituals and adornment, throughout the region, right from the beginning of life to death.

Each tribe with their unique style have created an identity of their own, which is intimately related to their cultural background, forming a unique bond amongst the people of that community.

In India, adornment serves mankind in innumerable ways - attracting gods; protecting people and communities; identifying ethnic groups; revealing the history and daily life of those groups. Adornment gives men and women a creative outlet that supports society; it grants even those of the lowest classes a meaningful place in the social structure. Adornment and ornamentation are intricately intertwined with the whole fabric of Indian life, particularly in rural India.

Various myths and legends surround the origin of jewellery.  Most tribal ornaments have over time acquired a particular significance and meaning, thus symbolising the innumerable aspects of their spiritual and emotional life.

Tattooing is another adornment which has a lot of significance.  Tribals believe that they leave behind every material thing on earth, however their tattoo marks go with them to God. Tattoo motifs reflect not only the environment of the tribals; the flora and fauna they live with; their occupations and their tools. Motifs related to agriculture and cattle breeding abound in tattooing.

Wall paintings and floor painting, apart from serving ritualistic purposes, are believed to create a harmonious atmosphere in the house. Wall paintings though derive their inspiration from nature; depicting birds, animals, and plants; however do not render it in a naturalistic manner. Terms such as simple, naive, or childlike, have often been applied to tribal art; but the analogy is not apt, for, to quote Herbert Read, “The simplest of expression may indeed have profound implications”.      

Wood, metal and stone vary from region to region and so do their uses in various hand-crafted objects. Colour, shape, design and texture vary from tribe to tribe and every object is unique, with the creator adding a touch of emotion and belief to his creativity.

Textiles occupy a special place in folk art.  They form an integral part in creating a sense of belonging and community feeling amongst various tribes. Fabrics, garments, embroidery, prints, accessories, with forms and shapes unique to its own region, indeed form a wide spectrum of the most amazing collection in Indian art.

The making of these objects; whether a pot, door or garment, does not follow any prescribed method nor the dictates of a royal patron. It stems from that uninhibited joy of creation, spontaneous craftsmanship and the desire to cater to the needs of ordinary people amidst whom the creator lives, the freedom to follow the heart rather than the mind and a well-honed skill that has developed over many years by observation and practice, passed down orally and visually from father to son or mother to daughter. It is that joy and pleasure of creation that passes from the maker to the user through the object; it is the satisfaction that utility has not constrained creativity and a rejoicing from realization that form has exceeded function.

Folk art indeed is a celebration of the creativity of human hands and seems to resonate the primal thought that “creativity arises from joy and into joy leads us”.