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Wah! It's Warli

Increased awareness about Warli art has the middle class decorating walls with it



Warli art: plenty of takers — Photo: Sampath Kumar G.P.

EVEN AS us city-bred folk peruse coffee table tomes to find some theme that will give our homes a unique touch, there is a quiet tribe in Thane that covers entire walls with shapes and forms any professional would charge gold bricks for. Every member of the Warli tribe in north Maharashtra paints as a vital part of his/her day, living frugally and shunning contact with outsiders. But its pastoral art speaks volumes a way of life that can't be contained in the little single-room huts.

At the handicrafts exhibition at St. Joseph's High School grounds on M.G. Road are a few samples of this artistry. However, the conventionally white motifs are in yellow, red and fluorescent green, and the mud, charcoal and cow dung-treated surface replaced with tussar silk. And the paintings are framed and packed in polythene that ensures an ultra clean piece of art. Ah, consumerism hath swallowed another victim, you may frown. But think again.

Essentially a group of street-play enthusiasts, Srujana, an NGO, has been making these pieces inspired by Warli paintings for the past two years. At a time when funds were scarce, the increasing interest in the market for tribal arts was the perfect funding opportunity. Now it makes more than 7,000 frames per month and every 10-day exhibition rakes in at least Rs.1 lakh.

P.N. Suresh of Srujana explains that there were many art forms they could have chosen to make. "But if I start manufacturing Madhubani paintings or leather puppets (an art exclusive to north Karnataka) in large volumes, it will choke the livelihood of those artisans who know no other trade. The Warli tribe does not paint for a living... it is an art they pass on through generations." An artisan's earning comes primarily from the occasional premium purchase by a foreign tourist or an affluent connoisseur, restricting the awareness of such an art form to a niche group. "Most of the middle class does not know the difference between a zodiac sign and tribal art. I realised that producing these paintings on a mass scale enables us to sell them at prices the common man can afford. In what better way can I create awareness?"

At the exhibition, Sonia Narayanan, a freelance writer, purchased four paintings from the stall without a second thought. She did not think knowledge of the art form was necessary to make a place for it in her home. Most customers, initially warranting the paintings only a cursory glance, came away with at least one buy. Increased awareness about Warli art among the middle class has brought orders for entire walls to be decorated with it. Srujana charges Rs.125 per sq. ft. for such assignments and charters original members of the tribe to work their magic.

The exhibition is on till May 17. P.N. Suresh and Srujana can be contacted at 36818689 or 2292366.

ROHINI MOHAN

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