The Gond tribal community is one of India’s largest indigenous community. They are mainly found in Madhya Pradesh and its surrounding States. The word Gond comes from Kond, which means green mountains in the Dravidian idiom. The Gonds traditionally painted on mud walls of their houses. Their art is an expression of their everday quest for life. They believe that “viewing a good image begets good luck”. This inherent belief led the Gonds to decorating their houses and the floors with tradition tattoos and motifs. Starting in the early 1980s, certain talented Pardhan Gonds who traditionally serve as professional bardic priests began transforming their ritual performing arts into a new tradition of figurative and narrative visual art: using a variety of modern media (including acrylic paintings on canvas, ink drawings on paper, silkscreen prints, and animated film) they have created unprecedented depictions of their natural and mythological worlds, traditional songs and oral histories. Rich in detail, color, mystery and humor, these tribal artworks brilliantly employ modern means to evoke the pre-modern psyche. Jangarh Singh Shyam, uncle of Venkat Raman Singh Shyam was the first Gond artist to use paper and canvas for his art. Gond paintings bear a remarkable likeness aboriginal art from Australia as both styles use dots to create the painting.
Venkat Shyam, has been sketching and painting since he was seven years old. Every scrap of paper, even the blank spaces on the walls of his home were covered with his charcoal drawings. When Venkat’s uncle, Jangarh Singh Shyam, visited in 1983, his eye caught the image of Shridi Sai baba on the wall and the sketches of houses and insects in the margins of the newspaper. He asked Venkat to come to Bhopal to paint after he had completed his studies in the Sinjhona village school. His first painting was of the goddess Khero Mai, who protects the village from evil spirits and to whom he had prayed before he left for Bhopal. When Jangarh saw the painting and called him a “donkey”, Venkat knew his uncle was pleased with his work. Later, Venkat went to Delhi, where at various times he worked as a cook, a rickshaw puller, a mason, an electrician, putting most of his earnings into buying art materials. Here, he would often visit the well known contemporary artist, J. Swaminathan. Swamiji’s affectionate manner and the respect he showed, treating Venkat as a fellow artist, would always lift his spirits. Jangarh Shyam’s death in 2001, came as a severe blow to Venkat. He decided then and there that he would do nothing but paint. From culture specific painting to highly abstract themes, Venkat has done it all. He feels an artist must bring a freshness to the time honoured themes. “When one looks at my paintings, one must feel they are traditional but at the same time, there have to be new elements in them,” he says.
Through his artistic journey of three decades, Venkat has integrated both modern and traditional stylistic influences in his work. Venkat has travelled extensively in India and to many European Countries, where his works have been exhibited. He was awarded the Rajya Hasta Shilpa Puraskar by the Madhya Pradesh Government in 2002. He was also the coordinator for an animated film of a Gond folktale, made by Tara Douglas, which won an award in the Tallest Story Competition in Scotland. His book ‘Finding My Way’ has been much appreciated by John Berger, Gulam Mohammed Sheikh and others.
The show ‘A Patch of Blue’ is currently being shown at ArtZone, Pullman Hotel, Aerocity, New Delhi till 21st Feb, 2017.