Gond of all things

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By: Shailaja Tripathi


Photo: Reinterpreting tradition Roshni is deeply committed to her art. (Sudhakara Jain)


When she was five years old, Roshni Vyam would tell her uncle, Jangarh Singh Shyam, that one day she would paint canvases as big as the ones he did.

Jangarh would only be too happy. Currently her six by eight canvas hangs in a gallery in the US. The celebrated gond artist Jangarh is no more. Had he not died under mysterious circumstances in Japan, at Mithila Museum in Niigata, Jangarh would have been an international star and ecstatic at Roshni’s thirst to find a unique voice for herself.

Last year, the 22-year-old was chosen with Bhajju Shyam, Venkat Raman Singh Shyam as the winners of the Ojas Art Award. The award has been constituted by Ojas Art Gallery and Teamwork Arts of Jaipur Literature Festival.

Digging into her first meal of the day at the café in National Institute of Fashion Technology, Bengaluru, where she is studying textile design, Roshni says she is trying to find a balance between her practice as a professional Gond artist and her studies. Frequent travels to Delhi where she is interning with fashion designer Nitin Bal Chauhan as part of her course can’t be a deterrent for someone who is deeply committed to the tribal art form of Gond originating in Madhya Pradesh.

She grew up in Sunpuri, a village in Mandla district in Madhya Pradesh, which is supposed to be the hub for Gond art.

Inspired by her family, neighbours and relatives practise it day in an out, Roshni took to the art form when she was five.

Her parents, Durga (Jangarh’s sister) and Subhash Vyam, who are also well-known Gond artists motivated her wholeheartedly. “It is actually gond bhitti chitrakala. ‘Bhitti’ means wall and that is where it was painted on before it shifted to canvas and paper.

(Photo: Sudhakara Jain)

“Traditional gond art was essentially geometric in nature called dhigna but with time artists started to take inspiration from their surroundings. My mom does mahura style which is jewellery-inspired. I wanted to a fresh take on dhigna but on huge canvases,” says the young artist who is at present in Chennai conducting workshops in Dakshinachitra.

It was in Bhopal that the young mind started to understand the increasing significance of the indigenous visual traditions pushed by cultural institutions like Bharat Bhavan there. Travelling with her parents and seeing Jangarh’s rise in the world of art, Roshni had decided to pursue it full-throttle. “People advised me against joining an art school saying that in the name of ‘contemporarising’, I would end up ruining it. I joined NIFT to add value to my practice. I was so inspired by Nitin Bal Chauhan because he is an artist and fashion designer,” says Roshni.

But still the fear of losing a promising talent to the world of fashion remains. She with Mayank and Japani Shyam — Jangarh’s children — are amongst the most seminal contemporary gond artists of today. “No, I would never ever leave Gond. I am about to pass out and I didn’t take any job placement. I want to do my independent work.”

What has NIFT done for her? Her name was already in circulation. The galleries were already exhibiting her works which command prices between Rs.10,000 to Rs. 2.5 lakh. “NIFT was hectic and I kept participating in exhibitions even after joining the course. But it opened new vistas for me. I studied art forms of the world. I studied about textiles and these four years I have spent exploring the possibilities between various textiles and Gond.”

Her identity as gond artist was kept hidden in her initial years at the fashion institute. “Actually the first year was a pain. Language was a problem. I didn’t come from a very well-to-do background. So there were all these adjustment problems. I was very quiet but a few friends forced me to participate in a T-shirt competition and I won the first prize. And that’s when everybody came to know about me otherwise people wondered why my collections had certain kind of art. Nobody even knew what Gond is.”

Roshni wants to set up a gallery or a platform which will genuinely promote gond artists. “Now I am here and can see what’s happening around, I want to protect my fellow gond artists. I know how dealers go to our villages, buy it from the artists at such cheap prices and sell it at expensive prices.

What do these artists get? They are so naïve. I remember how my style was copied from the book “Bhimayana” because I had not got it copyrighted. I found exactly similar in Goa. I felt so cheated. I have lot of hopes pinned on me and I don’t want to disappoint.”


The article was earlier published in The Hindu, May 12, 2016.

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