The Baiga tribe from Umaria district of Madhya Pradesh found representation in Goa’s ‘Adi Rangam’ festival recently where a few members displayed their ancient art in the form of decorative products that speak of their rituals and connection with nature. Art Studio ‘Jundaiya Bai Baiga’ that promotes this art spoke to NT BUZZ and how they keep it alive.
SACHI NAIK | NT BUZZ
The Baiga are an ethnic group based in central India, primarily in the states of Madhya Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand. They are known for their tribal art. A member of the tribe, Amar Baiga from Umaria district of Madhya Pradesh was in Goa for the Adi Rang Mahotsav – ‘Adi Rangam’ held for three days from May 18 to May 20 at Government Primary School Ground, Shirlim Barcem, Quepem. The event was organised by the National School of Drama in collaboration with Directorate of Art and Culture, Government of Goa.
Amar has spent his growing years watching his elders practice the Baiga art form and thus it has become an integral part of his life “We cannot really estimate the number of years that we have been painting,” he says. In the earlier times, the art was not commercialised as it is now, rather it was not even a means of earning a livelihood. It is only now that they have begun to promote it as an art form.
Shivam Khandelwal, a fine art student who accompanied Amar shared that the Baiga tribe in Madhya Pradesh would extract natural colours to paint on the walls of their houses or on the cupboards. Their artistic patterns have a very distinct feel and look; hence, people who are well-versed in art and painting can quickly identify the unique art of Baiga.
Earlier the tribe would extract natural colours from trees, fruits, etc. Now, however they use fabric paints that offer a range of hues and shades and are comparatively durable. Tribals work on canvas, papier-mâché plates, vegetables like dry ridge gourd and dry bottle gourd, wooden blocks, and even on the dry bracket fungus developed on bark of the trees.
They use different styles as they work on each of them. To paint on vegetables such as ridge gourd and bottle gourd, they pluck the gourds that cannot be eaten or are half dried. They dry them further in the sun for a few days to further dry the inner pulp of these vegetables. Once the vegetable’s weight drops and you can hear the seeds move inside, the artists start painting on it. Canvas and papier-mâché plates are easy to work on however they take a lot of effort to create wooden blocks and masks. The Baiga are also carving artists. They also remove the dry bracket fungus that grows on the bark of the trees and create decorative showpieces out of it by attaching creatures like birds and animals made from papier-mâché.
At the fair, their products ranged from Rs100 to Rs7000. Wooden blocks, papier-mâché and decorative showpieces from fungi, apt to decorate the corner tables were on sale. Canvas and small frames were also seen. The decorative gourds add the tribal touch to a room when hung around from the ceiling.
“They will prefer drawing wild animals, birds of the jungle and trees in their paintings. Sometimes they simply draw patterns they are well-versed with. Sometimes, they paint the tribal rituals of Baiga telling a story about themselves, it could be a canvas painting on worshipping a tiger, a ritual they perform every year to mark a respect to tigers,” says Shivam.
Working for an art studio in Madhya Pradesh ‘Jundaiya Bai Baiga’ that is run by his fine art teacher since last ten years, Shivam and his team have been promoting the art of Baiga tribe for over the past few years.
Baiga art is perhaps centuries old. This tradition is now kept alive by the work the artists do on canvas, wooden blocks, etc. “Making products brings us money at home. We can earn something out of our art,” says Amar. Most of the Baiga artists are now in the autumn of their lives yet they continue to paint. They say they are generally very hard working but they also know to enjoy their life and celebrate their success and are content with what they receive for their art.
This art form was showcased in Goa for the first time. Unfortunately they had not received a great response for their products they expected but are hopeful in future endeavours.