A few years ago I started a small collection of paintings inspired by my long term love – folk arts and culture. One of the pieces was particularly inspired by the art work and culture of the Warli tribe.
Based in the Thane District, about 150 km north of Bombay, the Warli tribe numbers over 300,000 members. They have their own beliefs, life and customs which have nothing in common with Hinduism. The Warli speak an unwritten dialect mingling Sanskrit, Maharati and Gujarati words. The word ‘Warli’ comes from ‘Warla’ which means a piece of land or a field. The wall paintings that are so distinct of this community, are only produced for special occasions such as weddings or rice harvests. Only women would carry out this tradition of painting until the late 1960’s when men also began to get involved. This art work dates back several hundred years.
As an artist, I often find myself working across a number of fields as well as exploring writing and poetry as well. But what really fascinates me is how throughout history the lines between writing and drawing have been blurred and used as means of communication or a vocuabulary system in its own right. The vivid representation of the Warli vision of nature and culture in equilibrium, and the local forms of knowledge as well as developments taking place within the community, is exactly what inspires me and pushes me to take greater risks in how I convey the stories I am trying to tell through my art and the images that I am trying to exhibit through my writing. This juxtaposition of language, art and culture is what excites me most about the Warli tribe and their expression.
On a more aesthetic level, I love the simplicity of the colours used in Warli art. Stark white paint is set against the earthy hue of cow dung which is what the community use to make their houses. The art work has a sense of movement which I feel is created through repetition and very bold shapes and lines. Like code, it follows a set of patterns which the tribe have developed over the years. Many members of the community now sell their pieces for as little as £10 in Mumbai and Delhi, with some taking it abroad to exhibit through support from international galleries. Others have developed the craft and now include bamboo cut outs or paint on fabric to attract more tourists to the area who will be keen to take a piece of the Warli art work home with them. The extra money helps sustain the lives of the communities especially as harvest can be unpredictable. What I admire most is despite the efforts by some, a large majority of the tribe are dead against the commercialisation of the art work so as to preserve as much of the symbolism and integrity of this work and its history as possible.
Please find below a series of pieces I have gathered for you to admire. Wonderful expressions of life by a tribe I hope to meet one day in the near future. I also hope you like my little attempt – the onion. Haha
© 2014 Shroomantics ~ Rahima Begum