Tribal Art & Culture of Madhya Pradesh & Rajasthan
(Bhil & Gond Paintings)

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Rajendra Shyam, depicts the Gondi tales in great detail on his canvases. His paintings are dense in their treatment and there is perfect symmetry. His favourite colour is brown in all its shades. He has adopted banda, the rope used to bind sheaves of grain, as his motif to provide texture to his forms. “It is the banda which ties the crops so the farmer can sell them and feed his family.” In gratitude, Rajendra uses the symbol as his signature. 

As a child, Rajendra was drawn to digna and bhittichitra. With his sisters and their mother, Bera Bai, he would plaster walls with cow dung and then decorate them with digna patterns and floral designs. He was often taunted about this passion for decoration – as this was seen as “girls’ work”. But Rajendra believed in doing what he loved most – painting. Rajendra fondly remembers the love of his elder brother who never ever scolded him. He always encouraged him to study, saying: “You will get a good job in future if you concentrate on your studies now.” When Rajendra was in Class X, he lost his beloved brother and could not continue his studies, as he had to work to support his family. 

He and his companions would go deep into the forest to fetch firewood. Sometimes they spent the night in the forest, with people from other villages. As they sat around the fire they had built to keep wild animals away, an old man from the group would tell them stories. So gripping were his tales, that they sometimes stayed up all night, listening spellbound.

After Rajendra was married he went to Bhopal in search of work. For a time he worked for his uncle, Jangarh Shyam. He then worked as a labourer before he joined Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Manav Sangrahalaya (IGRMS), where for eight years he cleaned, plastered, or tended the lawns in the daytime and then went home in the evenings, to paint. While he was at work his wife, Sushila, would fill colour into his figures. No matter how hard up they were they found the money for canvas and paint, which were as essential to them as food and water.

One day Rajendra showed his paintings to Shampa Shah of IGRMS, who was so impressed, she told him: “You had better quit your job and take up painting full time.” It was not until 2007 that he was able to act on her advice. Rajendra is a full fledged artist now, determined to go on painting about village life and the enchanting tales he heard from the old storyteller around the fire, deep in the forest.


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