A collaboration between photographer Gauri Gill and Warli artist Rajesh Vangad, which takes you on a journey away from the urban complexities present in Mumbai, creating a dialogue between two people from different walks of life. This hybrid creation is solely done in a monochromatic palette, and is an amalgamation between photography and indigenous Warli painting. In 2013, Gill was invited to an Adivasi district in Maharashtra – Dahanu where she was to create works for a primary school. During her stay there, she was welcomed by Rajesh Vangad who let her reside at his place, and later on took her to various locations which had significance in terms of folklore and political activity.
As the duo moved from location to location, capturing different landscapes which speak volumes, Gill decided to place Vangad as the protagonist in each picture, trying to capture the sentiment of each location. However, the images were not simply of the Warli painter placed against the backdrop of a landscape, assuming a passive role. Instead, the images incorporated Vangad’s Warli inscriptions on top of each photograph, positioning the painter in a much more active space.
As a viewer, there are several elements which one must pay attention to. For instance, the monochromatic tones used in the photograph mimic the manner in which Warli paintings are traditionally done – white pigment used on a reddish-brown background.Furthermore, this monochromatic theme can be viewed as a way of acknowledging the art form.
If we also closely look at the painting-photographs, we see that the protagonist’s gaze never matches the viewer’s. To me, this mismatch of the gaze symbolises a sense of loss, desolation and alienation. In each of the images in the series, the painter seems to be positioned in a certain manner in the landscape, where he seems to be in engaged in deep thought, speculating over a series of events which had taken place in each respective landscape.There seems to be a sense of nostalgia which can be sensed through the body language of the artist present in the frame, reminiscing about a certain “there and then” as contrasted with a “here and now”. Perhaps, this sense of melancholy stems from the socio-political conditions which are inseparable from the environment.
The Adivasi village has been through series of political turmoil. During the 70s, the village was intruded by gangs and political parties, leaving the locals displaced, frightened and terrorised. Apart from the raids conducted by the mobs, the village has witnessed forest fires, landslides and other such natural calamities that could leave the protagonist who is also the member of the village in a grieved state.
As the technique of Warli paintings depict themes of harvest, fishsing, fertility, festivals, earthquakes, tsunamis and other events which impact the lives of the community members, the inscription of such themes in the pictorial frame brings a sense of life into the pictures. As a result, the pictures seem to have a narrative of their own, speaking volumes of a particular scene.
Thus, it is important to note that we must not just look at tribal art in isolation, and locate it in another time frame and render it as stagnant and static. We should acknowledge the art form as we acknowledge any other. This indigenous art form has navigated its way from inscriptions on manure coated walls to canvases. For instance, noted Warli artist — Jivya Soma Mashe, has showcased her work alongside artist Richard Long in Europe.