Bhuri Bai has cast a spell on international art connoisseurs with her works.
Bhopal: Bhuri Bai, a tribal woman of remote village of Pitola in Jhabua district of Madhya Pradesh, could hardly figure out that a multitude of dots rhythmically drawn on the canvas of mud walls in varied hues drawn in her childhood, would catapult her to fame and get her tribe, Bhil, international recognition.
Destiny has, perhaps, entrusted the ‘giggling girl of Pitola’, as she is still known, the taking her tribe's traditional painting outside her village’s periphery and on to international stage and cast a spell on the art connoisseurs across the world.
“I still feel romanticised when I recall the days when my works were first featured in an art exhibition in the United States three decades ago. The gorelog (the Amercians) surrounded me and started bombarding me with questions about my paintings when my works were displayed in the US. My narrative of the themes of my works seemed to have pleased them and all the while I just smiled; I did not understand what they were saying,” she recalled.
“All my paintings sold out in a span of just two days fetching me `four lakh,” Ms Bai, 50, (she does not remember her year of birth) told this newspaper at an art workshop in the state tribal museum here on Thursday.
With tribal innocence discernible in her, Ms Bai barely understands that she is an internationally acclaimed artist credited with taking Bhil traditional art to the international level.
“Her (Ms Bai) works have found place in many famous art galleries and museums in France, Germany, United Kingdom, Switzerland, Sweden and the United States,” Nidhi Chopra, an ethnologist serving as a guide in the state tribal museum, told this newspaper. “Bhil art got recognition at the national and global levels, because of her,” she added.
“I was enchanted since my childhood by myriad of mythological and folklore images adorning the walls and ceilings of our homes. I used to feel romanticised when a new plaster of ‘mittichitra’ (clay relief work) and paintings were applied to our homes on celebration of our New Year Day,” Ms Bai said.
“My imagination flew high inspiring me to brush themes of wild animals frolicking in the forest, village folks busy harvesting crops and then getting lost in singing and dancing on the canvas of the walls of our homes,” she said, with tattoos of dots shining in her face.
Her life took a new twist when she got married at the age of 12 years and was brought to Bhopal by her husband more than 30 years ago to work as a labourer earning `6 per day. Ms Bai worked at the Bharat Bhavan, which was being constructed then.
The bhavan's co-founder and painter J. Swaminathan had accidentally spotted Ms Bai and asked her to draw some paintings on a piece of paper.
“Earlier, we used to use red soil, leaves and flowers as colours and neem twigs as brushes. But Mr Swaminathan gave me brushes and colours to paint with. After many attempts, I could do some paintings which impressed Mr Swaminathan,” she said.
A couple of years later, she was employed in the state tribal museum as an artist and never looked back since. Her traditional tribal art works have been exhibited in almost all Indian cities. She had also participated in many art exhibitions in the West.
The state government conferred the Shikhar Samman on her in 1986-87. She also bagged the Devi Ahalya Bai Samman in 1998-99 and Rani Durgawati National award in 2009 for her contribution to tribal art.
Incidentally, her workshop faces her 70-feet-long and 12 ft wall painting of her in the state tribal museum. The wall painting in dots and vibrant colours depicted Ms Bai’s entire life — from her childhood to her marriage, working as a labourer in Bhopal and, as an artist in the Bharat Bhavan.
The painting also depicts her moment of glory when former prime minister Indira Gandhi presented her an award. Ms Gandhi was also seen fondly touching Ms Bai child’s chubby face. Finally, the artist was seen teaching her husband the nuances of Bhil painting.
“Dots are the distinct features of traditional Bhil tribal art, its lifestyle and the tribal deity Pithora mounted on a horse. Destiny has made Ms Bai connect the brush with the Bhil art and take it to international acclaim,” Ms Chopra said.