Sunday, July 26, 2015

Warli Paintings

               Warli, an internationally recognized, popular, and appreciated art form is my next stop on my explorative journey of Indian arts and crafts. India has a rich tradition of folk arts and the custodians of which are the many tribes that live in the interiors of various states.

              Warli paintings take their name from the Warli tribe of east India. It is the beautiful folk art traditionally created by the Warli tribals of Maharashtra, including other tribes on the outskirts of the state.  The origin of Warli is unknown but it can be traced back to as early as the tenth century AD. Around 1970 Warli caught the attention of the urban world.

               The Warlis did not have a written language until recent times and their art was a way to carry forward their beliefs through the generations. Their drawings revolve around the traditions of their communities, the tools they use and their association with nature. Themes include community dances, the harvest, celebrations, animals and birds, and daily activities.

              Unlike some other traditional Indian cultural art paintings that are very detailed and centered around mythological stories, Warli paintings express everyday life and basic objects through a simplistic manner of drawing. The central motif in these ritual paintings is surrounded by scenes portraying hunting, fishing and farming, festivals and dances, trees and animals. 

           These rudimentary drawings show human and animal bodies represented by two triangles joined at the tip. Although amusing and practically simple, this way of drawing the bodies in a precarious equilibrium symbolizes the balance of the universe, and of the couple. 

             These paintings use a very basic graphic vocabulary: a circle, a triangle and a square. They have a very monosyllabic representation; for example, the circle and triangle come from their observation of nature, the circle representing the sun and the moon, the triangle derived from mountains and pointed trees. The square indicates a sacred enclosure or a piece of land.

               Warli paintings are typically painted as murals on the inside walls of the mud huts. They are repeatedly erased and new paintings are made during special rituals like weddings or the harvest. These basic stick figures are drawn using only white color on an austere mud base and the objects seldom overlap. These pictorial drawings are made using rudimentary techniques. The walls are made of a mixture of branches, earth and cow dung, making a red ochre background for the wall paintings. Their white pigment is a mixture of rice paste and water with gum as a binding. They use a bamboo stick chewed at the end to make it as supple as a paintbrush.

              For my project I chose a canvas pouch and canvas tote bag: 

              As you all know, I like to use traditional arts and crafts in a more contemporary manner. The canvas material lends a rusticity and the color of this pouch and tote bag is a funky and on-trend color that further helps in carrying this traditional art form into an updated and usable form. I wanted to go with a party/celebration theme. On the pouch you can see theme related motifs and patterns, people with different musical instruments and bodies in symbolic dance movements. 

Psst.... Did you notice the Warli print on the fabric under the pouch?!!

            On the tote bag I continued with the celebration theme. The loose rhythmically repeating pattern is representative of a celebratory tribal dance called the ‘Tarpa Dance’. Men and women alternate in a spiral formation and dance facing the people playing the musical instruments. Women are depicted with a single knot in the back of their head.

                 I intend to use this pouch and tote to carry my drawing and art supplies. Though I think this pouch would work well as an evening bag to a dance party too ;).     

            A few years ago, I had the delightful experience of participating in a tribal dance in a small town on the border of Vishakhapatnam and Orissa. I remember waiting for hours to watch this…and was thrilled to participate. Though not from the Warli region, it’s a typical tribal dance in which all the women interlace arms behind each other and move in rhythm with simple dance steps around in a circle. Sometimes the women break off in parts and the circle halves/parts overlap or intersect and continue the dance movements. All the women dancing and others of the tribe standing on the sidelines sing together to the beat of drums. The songs have a rustic chant sort of quality to them. It was such an awesome experience!

           Art does not need to be complex, the simplicity in the reflection of life in this art form is very appealing. In Warli, it is interesting to see how a monochromatic composition with rudimentary forms can be so appealing.

Some relevant links and further reading material on this art form:

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