All of nature’s creations — trees, animals, fish, birds and humans — live symbiotically with one another. So close is their communion that they can fuse with one another’s bodies to form the most fantastic hybrids. Such is the vision of the celebrated Gond artist, Bhajju Shyam, whose works were exhibited at Aakriti Art Gallery in a show titled Van Katha curated by Uma Nair.
Contemporary Gond artists like Shyam may have moved away from the dense forests of Madhya Pradesh, where these indigenous people lived, and they may not use earth colours any longer, but they still retain their umbilical cords with nature, which is the source of their creativity. But Shyam has shifted from strictly traditional motifs and modes of expression as he extemporises on his canvas with acrylic colours and on paper with a rotring pen.
Bhajju Shyam’s uncle, Jangarh Singh Shyam, had taken his nephew, who was a guard at the studio of the Gond master, under his wing. Bhajju Shyam’s canvases are often a riot of colours but that is counterpoised by his delicate improvisations with ink when he gives free rein to his imagination.
The central motif of his creations is the tree that reaches out to the sky and where all living creatures, from humans to birds and beasts and even lowly worms, find sanctuary. The varicoloured trees teem with life. These trees sprout from the antlers of deer and the shell of a tortoise, their trunks are serpentine, and they strike roots in the animal world as well. The body of a noble animal like the elephant represents the ecosystem itself, of which the rich cultural world of the Gonds becomes a part. It’s an inclusive vision that covers all things big and small. The horse gains mythical status in Bhajju Shyam’s work. One of his finest works is of shoals of tiny fish that form arabesques against a larger piscine form (picture).