14 Important Gond Artists Who Are Promoting the Tribal Art FormArt Wise
Among the largest tribes in India, the Gonds have a recorded history that goes back 1400 years. Predominantly from the state of Madhya Pradesh, Gonds can also be found in pockets of Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Chhattisgarh, and Odisha. Encapsulating the essence of tribal art in India, the Gonds are renowned for their beautiful paintings, which are characterized by vibrant hues and intriguing patterns. But Gond art wasn’t always so well-known; it has been brought into the mainstream by several Gond artists in the last 40 or so years. Here, we highlight 14 Gond artists who have played a critical role in keeping this distinctive artistic heritage alive.
1. Jangarh Singh Shyam
Though Gond art has been around for centuries, it was only in the 1980s that the art form gained recognition and fame, through Jangarh Singh Shyam, a Gond farmer and artist. He was the first Gond artist to use acrylic on paper and canvas for his paintings, creating the school which is now known as the ‘Jangarh Kalam’. He had an untimely death at the age of 39 in 2001, but not before he made a mark for himself in India and internationally. Today, the late artist’s immediate and extended family members are renowned Gond artists themselves, and his house in Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, is abuzz with creative activity. Jangarh is survived by his wife, Nankusia Bai and his two children, Mayank Shyam and Japani Shyam.
Jangarh Singh Shyam (Centre) with his wife Nankusia (Left) and mentor J. Swaminathan (Right) at Bharat Bhavan, Bhopal, in 1987 (Photo credit: Jyoti Bhatt/Asia Art Archive/scroll.in)
2. Nankusia Bai
Jangarh’s wife, Nankusia Bai is a dedicated practitioner of the Jangarh Kalam. Nankusia learnt the art from her husband Jangarh, and continued his work after his death, in all its vibrancy. She portrays nature in her artworks, along with the many animals that she saw while growing up in Sonpuri, Madhya Pradesh.
3. Mayank Shyam
Born in 1987 to Jangarh and Nankusia, Mayank Shyam is one of the youngest members of the Jangarh School. He has participated in multiple workshops and group shows and has also had his Gond artworks displayed by one of the world’s top auction houses, Sotheby’s, New York. In 2006, he was conferred with the state award by the Hasta Shilpa Evam Hathkargha Vikas Nigam, Bhopal. Mayank Shyam often depicts birds in his paintings. Many of his artworks are black and white compositions, because he feels it is easy to draw attention with colour, but challenging to do it with black alone, which is what he strives to do.
4. Japani Shyam
Named after her father’s first trip to Japan, which was also when she was born, Japani Shyam is Jangarh’s first-born and beloved daughter. Japani started painting at a very young age and won the Kamala Devi award at the age of eleven. A renowned Gond artist, her first solo exhibition opened at Gallerie Ganesha in New Delhi, in 2019. Japani’s artworks have been displayed internationally, and like her father, she also narrates stories from nature in her art, though in a distinct style of her own.
Artist Japani Shyam (Photo credit: indianexpress.com)
5. Subhash Vyam
Subhash Vyam is Jangarh’s brother-in-law and a very renowned Gond artist. After an initial stint with clay and wooden sculptures, Subhash forayed into practicing Gond art. Aquatic life is his favourite subject, but being inspired by his wife Durga Bai, who has a vast reservoir of folk tales, he has also started incorporating characters and scenes from these stories in his art. Subhash Vyam received the Rajya Hastha Shilpa Puraskar by the Government of Madhya Pradesh in 2002.
6. Durgabai Vyam
Subhash Vyam’s wife and Jangarh Singh Shyam’s sister-in-law, Durgabai Vyam is an acclaimed Gond artist. Painting from the age of six, she apprenticed under Jangarh and creates beautiful patterns in her paintings with the motif of a paddy seed, which is also common in Gond jewellery. She co-authored the book ‘The Night Life of Trees’ along with Bhajju Shyam and Ram Singh Urveti, which won the Italian Bologna Ragazzi (children’s book award) in 2008.
7. Dhavat Singh Uikey
Dhavat Singh Uikey did an M. Tech and was working a normal job, before he was exposed to the world of Gond paintings. When he got married to Jangarh Singh Shyam’s daughter, he was surrounded by art all around him, and decided to try his hand at painting himself. He had seen Jangarh’s art before and admired it, but never thought he would paint himself. Dhavat now pushes the boundaries of traditional Gond art by exploring and experimenting with the artform. The folk tales that the artist grew up listening to are beautifully translated into his vibrant paintings.
8. Bhajju Shyam
Bhajju Shyam is a Gond artist who was born in the village of Patangarh, Madhya Pradesh. While looking for work in Bhopal, Bhajju was encouraged to take up art by his uncle, Jangarh. His internationally acclaimed book, ‘London Jungle Book,’ is a Gond artist’s reflections on the cultural experience in the city of London. A renowned illustrator, he was awarded the Italian Bologna Ragazzi for his work on ‘The Night Life of Trees,’ along with Durgabai Vyam. He has also been conferred with the Padmashri – the fourth highest civilian honour in India – in 2018, for his contribution to the arts.
Artist Bhajju Shyam (Photo credit: indianexpress.com)
9. Venkat Raman Singh Shyam
Born into a Pardhan Gond family in the village of Sijhora, Madhya Pradesh, Venkat Raman Singh Shyam joined his uncle Jangarh at the age of sixteen, to train in Jangarh’s studio in Bhopal. The most contemporary of the Gond artists, Venkat has embraced mediums like mixed media and animation. Witnessing the 2008 terrorist attack on the Taj Hotel in Colaba, Mumbai, the artist produced a sixteen-painting series based on the event.
Venkat Raman Singh Shyam's 2009 painting, 'Smoking Taj' (Photo credit: Saffronart/Must Art Gallery)
10. Suresh Kumar Dhurve
A celebrated Gond artist, Suresh Kumar Dhurve is known for his beautiful artworks which often feature motifs of birds and fish. Having lost both his parents in his childhood, Suresh Dhurve was inspired to pursue a career in painting by his cousin, Jangarh. Suresh Dhurve’s works used to be vibrant with colour, but over time, they have progressed to mostly monochrome. He exhibited as a solo artist in Bharat Bhawan in 2007.
11. Narmada Prasad Tekam
Gond artist Narmada Prasad Tekam first came to Bharat Bhavan, Bhopal, from his village Patangarh, Madhya Pradesh, in 1983, and this was when a student of the leading Indian artist Jagdish Swaminathan, discovered his talent. Having started painting at the age of ten, his art reflects a deep understanding of the rhythm of nature and life. Narmada Prasad Tekam’s artworks feature human and animal figures, and draw inspiration from mythology and religion, as well. The artist has had his work displayed in many exhibitions, one of which was a group show in Los Angeles in 2010.
12. Kala Bai
The first Pardhan Gond woman to use acrylic and brush on canvas, Kala Bai depicts trees, birds, tigers and reindeer in her artworks. Kala Bai, whose mother is Jangarh’s half-sister, has fond memories of Jangarh from her childhood. Married to Anand Singh Shyam, who worked in the graphic department of Bharat Bhavan in Bhopal, Kala Bai started creating artworks there, which were met with much appreciation and encouragement. When the state of Chhattisgarh was carved out of Madhya Pradesh, Kala Bai and Anand Singh Shyam were roped in to draw the new map of Madhya Pradesh, which was released by the then President of India, Dr A. P. J. Abdul Kalam.
13. Gariba Singh Tekam
Narmada Prasad Tekam and Kala Bai’s younger brother, Gariba Singh Tekam, is another Gond artist who was inspired by Jangarh Singh Shyam to take up painting as a profession. Jangarh often marvelled at the beautifully finished forms and colours in Gariba’s artworks and encouraged him to pursue art. Gariba depicts figures from the Gond pantheon in his artworks, perhaps owing to his own roots in the priest community of the Pardhan Gond tribe.
Artist Gariba Singh Tekam (Photo credit: ignca.gov.in)
14. Rajendra Shyam
Rajendra Shyam is a Gond artist who initially worked for his uncle Jangarh Shyam, in Bhopal. Following this, he worked many jobs as a labourer, before he took up painting as his full-time profession in 2007. Rajendra’s canvases are filled with perfectly symmetric, dense compositions which narrate elaborate stories from Gond culture and depict scenes from rural life.