Indian Folk Artists Who Brought their Folk Art to the World Stage


India is culturally diverse and has always portrayed cultural and traditional liveliness through its conventional art forms. Each state of India has its own cultural and traditional identity and is unique in its style. India has a rich legacy of folk and tribal arts that we have even reached the international market. Some of India’s most famous folk art forms of India are Warli, MadhubaniChittara, Pata Chitra, Mandana and Gond art. Let’s take a look at some of the great Indian folk artists who have mad big impact in the art world:

1. Jamini Roy

Image – Wikimedia

Jamini Roy was one of the most significant modernists of Indian art. Born on 11 April 1887, he was a world-renowned Indian painter. He studied at the Government College of Art, Kolkata where the vice principal was Abanindranath Tagore, the founder of Bengal school. He became one of the most famous pupils. Jamini Roy received his Diploma in Fine Arts in the year 1908. He was taught to paint in oils and classical nudes. For inspiration, he looked at animals and was most influenced by the Howler Monkeys. He started paintings random monkeys but none seemed to like them so he started as a commissioned portrait painter and later changed his style to Bengali folk traditions. He took up simple forms and flat colors.

Jamini Roy rejected the modern style and stuck to his roots and painted in Bengali folk style. His work included scenes from rural life and featured Santal women, a tribal community originating in India. He produced 20,000 paintings in his lifetime because of which he was also known as an ‘art machine’. He preferred to not sell his work if he doubted that the buyer would not take care of it and he would even buy back his work if he found out that it was maintained poorly. He only wanted his paintings to be well-preserved which is why he did not even care about the price.

Jamini Roy was awarded the Viceroy’s Gold Medal in 1935 and the Padma Bhushan in 1954. He was made the first Fellow of the Lalit Kala Akademi in 1955. In 1976, his works were declared among the “Nine Masters” whose works were then considered national treasures. Jamini Roy passed away in 1972.

2. Baua Devi

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Baua Devi is a Mithila or Madhubani painting artist born in Jitwarpur village of Madhubani district in Bihar. The Mithila or Madhubani style of Indian painting originated there. It is done with a variety of tools like fingers, nib-pens, twigs, brushes, matchsticks and natural dye is used. It is known for its complex geometric and linear patterns on the walls of the inner chambers of a house. Later, it was done on handmade paper and canvases.

Baua Devi is doing Mithila art for almost 60 years. She was a teenager when she met a Mumbai artist, Bhaskar Kulkarni who encouraged her to work and took her works to the museum. Prime Minister Narendra Modi even gifted one of her paintings to Stefan Schosstok, the Mayor of Hanover. Her paintings include Lord Krishna, Ram, and Sita. She narrates mythological stories through her work and her themes include the wedding of Rama and Sita and scenes from the epics Mahabharata and Ramayana. She won the National Award in 1984 and received the Padma Shri by the Government of India in 2017.

3. Jangarh Singh Shyam

Left Image- Wikimedia, Right Image – Jean-Pierre Dalbéra/Flickr

Born in 1962, Jangarh Singh Shyam was an Indian artist whose work was exhibited broadly all over the world like Bhopal, Delhi, Tokyo, and New York. The Magiciens de la Terre in Paris in 1989 was one of his most notable exhibitions. He even painted the interiors of the Vidhan Bhavan, the Legislative Assembly of Madhya Pradesh, and one of the most prestigious tribal and contemporary Indian art museums, the dome of Bhopal’s Bharat Bhavan. He was a Gond Art Legend; Gonds are one of the oldest tribes of India known for their vibrant artworks.

Jangarh Singh Shyam was the flagbearer of Gond art and he is the person because of which this art form is popular today. He is also known as the first Adivasi artist who became so popular. He even created a new school of Indian art called the ‘Jangarh Kalam’. His famous paintings include leaping tigers, images of Gondi deities, birds and peacocks, etc. He died in mysterious circumstances in 2001.

4. Bhajju Shyam

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Bhajju Shyam or Bhajju Singh Shyam is an apprentice of renowned Gond artist, Jangarh Singh Shyam. Born in 1971, Bhajju Shyam has exhibited broadly in the Museum of London and the UK, Germany, Holland, Italy, and Russia tour. Like Jangarh Singh Shyam, Bhajju Shyam also belongs to the Gond-Pardhaan community of Madhya Pradesh and his artistic career began from Bharat Bhavan in Bhopal.

He received the Padma Shri in 2018. He even wrote his book on illustrations, The London Jungle Book in 2004, which was internationally recognized and made the Pardhaan Folk Art well-known. After this, he wrote many books like The Night Life of Trees in 2006, Alone in the Forest in 2013, and Creation in 2015. He mostly works on paper and canvas but can also work on a mural or three-dimensional objects. Bhajju Shyam is one of the most popular Gond artists.

5. Jivya Soma Mashe

Left Image – Wikimedia, Right Image – Jean-Pierre Dalbéra/Flickr

Born in 1934 in the state of Maharashtra, Jivya Soma Mashe was an Indian artist because of who the Warli tribal art form became popular. He painted his life, beliefs, customs, and rituals in simple drawings with sensitivity in every detail and strokes, lines, and a group of dots on the canvas. This made him a legendary Warli artist. He was internationally recognized. He met Bhaskar Kulkarni, an eminent artist who refined his raw artistic skills and talent.

Jivya’s first exhibition in 1975 at the Gallery Chemould, Jehangir Art Gallery in Mumbai was because of Bhaskar Kulkarni. After this, he did many national and international exhibitions. Jivya Soma Mashe was honored with the National Award in 1972, Shilp Guru Award in 2002, The Prince Claus Award in 2009, and the Padma Shri in 2011. He was felicitated with many awards in Paris, Berlin, London, and New York and was also featured in many books like “The Warlis’- Tribal Paintings and Legends” and “The Painted World of the Warli”. Jivya Soma Mashe passed away in 2018.

6. Ganga Devi

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One of the leading exponents of Madhubani painting tradition, Ganga Devi, an Indian painter, and artist was born in 1928 in Mithila, Bihar. She took up the traditional painting art form and specialized in kachni style which is the line drawing style. Her first brush was handed to her by her mother when she was just a child. The brush was made up of rice straw and a few threads taken from the hem of her sari. She used the soot scraped from the bottom of a pot or the chimney of a hurricane lantern as ink. She used to practice on a canvas which she made by sticking her school notebook pages onto a cloth as they didn’t have paper in their village.

Her notable works include the famous Indian epic, Ramayana, in a series of paintings, Manav Jivan (Life of Mankind) series in which she painted a detailed life cycle of a rural woman, and Artwork inspired from the USA in which she translated her travel experience and her observations into paintings. In her Ramayana series, she painted with a very controlled hand and used subtle colors. She died a violent death in 1991 by her stepson who possibly wanted her wealth.

7. Kalam Patua

Image Source – Kalam-Patua/FB

Kalam Patua is a self-taught artist and an exponent of Kalighat paintings. He was born in 1962 into the Patua community storytellers and scroll painters. As a postmaster in a rural post office, he is among the few artists that still paint in this style. He focuses on the elements of autobiography, myth, social issues, and currents affairs. His themes include dowry, deaths, and violence against women. He uses watercolors and even paints light and humorous paintings. He is the one who revived the dying tradition of Kalighat paintings. His works have been exhibited internationally in some museums.

His works include consumerism, dowry, feminism, sexuality, historical revolutions, a couple watching the 9/11 tragedy on television. He painted ‘Nirbhaya’ to commemorate Jyoti Singh Pandey, a young woman, was abducted and brutally raped by some men on a bus in 2012. She died from her injuries and so Kalam Patua created some paintings to honor her.

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