NEWS AND FEATURES

The Living Tradition of Folk and Tribal Art Forms.

How did the idea of photo-documenting various tribal art forms strike you?
In 1967, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan had invited me to deliver a paper, for a seminar on folk and tribal art traditions. But I felt that art objects, however visually appealing they might be, if cut off from their surroundings, would appear hollow. Beauty of these art objects lay in their indigenous ways. I suggested that we actually visit the tribal areas and photo-document them in their original environment. So, along with Bhupen Khakkar and Gulam Mohammad Sheikh,( both fellow artist colleagues) I set on this exciting journey. It continues till today.

Did you face any difficulty during your research?
My first impression, when I visited rural areas of Gujarat in 1967, was that many of the folk arts and crafts were slowly dying. The clothes, the lifestyle, the paintings on the walls were undergoing a metamorphosis. I felt the need and the urge to record the rich heritage before it was completely obliterated. I tried to find out the cultural implications of the alterations in the way of living of rural population and tribals. For conducting research, time was not a constraint. I could spare time from my teaching job at the M S University of Baroda to travel. Finance was my only concern, as I usually spent from my own pockets. My wife was very supportive & never complained about it, She knew the importance of my work.I faced some peculiar problems, while moving in the interiors. Women artists were scared of me. They were hesitant of talking to me. (Now, this doesn't happen because I have grown old.) Men even had pelted me with stones, thinking me to be a miscreant. All in all, it has been an eventful and action-packed experience. I have thoroughly enjoyed every bit of it.

Do you ever rue that you could not devote enough time to painting?
Not at all! It is difficult for me to evaluate my work as a painter or to state whether it will stand the test of time. This is certainly not the case with the art of the folk and the tribal artists, collected and preserved over generations. They did not receive any accolades still they pursued with their passion.
I don't think it has been a major sacrifice on my part to stop painting. Had I not done that, I would not have been able to record a vital link in our art history. We could not have afforded to lose it. I have no regrets about my decision.

What do you intend to do with thousands of slides you have collected? How will you preserve them for posterity?
Oh! That's the most painful part of my work. The mental torture I had faced in securing the slides has been more tiring than the physical efforts in collecting them. A few years ago, I handed over some of these slides to Lalit Kala Academy, Gujarat. When I wanted them back for a lecture series, the officials there told me that they had given the slides to a museum. The authorities at the museum told me that they have lost the slides. I was shocked by their callousness.
There is a need to great institutionalise this kind of work. An indiviual alone cannot take the financial and physical load of such a vast exercise. It's an ongoing work and I hope a few young researchers will come forward to take over. I had done whatever little I could in my endevour to preserve our artistic traditions. Now, my aging shoulders are looking for a helping hand.

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