Jangarh Singh Shyam – The Enchanted Forest

Born in Patangarh village in the early 1960s, the late Jangarh Singh Shyam was a Pardhan-Gond tribal. The Madhya Pradesh-based artist gained prominence after participating in Centre Georges Pompidou’s seminal exhibition 100 Magiciens de la terre (Paris, 1989). His first solo exhibition at Dhoomimal Gallery (New Delhi, March 1984) was poorly attended and in India, indigenous people are routinely marginalised. Yet, by the time Jangarh committed suicide in 2001, while he was on an artist residency at Japan’s Mithila Museum in Niigata Prefecture, he had achieved success hitherto unprecedented for indigenous Indian artists.

Nankusia Shyam, Jangarh Singh Shyam and J. Swaminathan | Bhopal, 1987 Photograph: Jyoti Bhatt, courtesy Asia Art Archive and the photographer

The Pardhan are customarily minstrels to the Gond, so they lack a strong tradition of visual art. A skilled musician, Jangarh painted tribal deities who had previously not been visualised and the abundant flora, fauna and avifauna recalled from his childhood spent as an inmate of Madhya Pradesh’s forests, close to the majestic Narmada River.

Left: Phulwari Devi, The Goddess Phulwari, Poster Colour on Paper
Right: Ganesh, Poster Colour on Paper

His work was often animistic — and anthropomorphic or zoomorphic in turns, yet modern in many respects. Taking on apprentices, Jangarh established a — still thriving — contemporary style of painting among the Pardhan. While many Pardhan artists create beautiful, thought-provoking works that often provide insightful glimpses of an unfamiliar tribal culture, increasingly also offering views of the world at large, it could be argued that none of Jangarh’s legatee artists display his consistently high calibre and chameleon-like versatility. He switched from murals to acrylics on paper, clay reliefs to screen prints with an ease that astonished metropolitan artists at Bharat Bhavan (in Bhopal, the state capital), the institution that ‘discovered’ and nurtured Jangarh’s talent under J. Swaminathan’s direction. He tackled a wide array of subjects too, revealing knowledge of, and awe for, the deities of his tribe and the fellow creatures of our world.

Left: Raksa, Hiran, Raksa and Deer, Ink on Paper
Right: Untitled (Elephant or Ganesh Dancing on a Boulder), Ink on Paper

The idea behind the book –

The rare bond between a painter and a collector develops to the benefit of both, each making the other richer over time. Such was the bond between Jangarh Singh Shyam and Niloufar and Mitchell S. Crites, who were among Jangarh’s major patrons from the 1980s, when few were interested in the art form that Jangarh fathered, which generations of Gond artists would follow. Jangarh’s spark — which came from his artistic genius, his passion for Gond deities and his non-conformist approach — was kept alive by patrons like Crites, who nurtured these qualities with great care.

This book explores these and various other aspects in the career of an artist who died too early, before his spark could be fanned into a steady flame. Dr. Aurogeeta Das closely examines the huge body of work Jangarh left behind in The Crites Collection, enriching her study with references to works in other private and institutional collections, such as Bharat Bhavan’s in Bhopal. As such, she captures early practices of collecting contemporary folk and tribal art in India.

The Crites Collection, belonging to Mitchell S. Crites and his wife Niloufar, affords us with a unique opportunity, since it is the largest known private collection of Jangarh Singh Shyam’s oeuvres, comprising works purchased directly from Jangarh and where the works appear to have been created solely by Jangarh’s hands

Buy your copy of the book here.

Artworks from The Crites Collection | Created by Niloufar and Mitchell S. Crites from the 1980s onwards | Unless otherwise stated, all photographs of Jangarh’s works from the Crites Collection are by Robyn Beeche and Abhinav Goswami

6 days ago

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