ECSAS 2023 – Turin 26-29 July

The Adivasi Picturebook: Crafting Bhajju Shyam’s Creation (2014)


Singhal Samarth - University of California, Riverside, English, Riverside, United States


38 – Adivasis and Adivasi Studies


 My project discusses the contemporary anglophone Indian picturebook, created in a collaboration between Pardhan Gond Adivasi artists and alternative publishers like Tara Books (Chennai). I investigate Adivasi artistic agency in Tara’s handcrafted picturebooks. In my interviews with the artists, publishers, and even gallery curators who exhibit Pardhan Gond art, what emerges is a painful complex of art labour, recognition, and exhibition. For ECSAS,I will discuss Bhajju Shyam’s 2014 Creation as an example of an agential Adivasi picturebook that presents itself as a self-aware and self-articulated story of Gond creation. It is a direct response to ethnographers like Shamrao Hivale and painters displayed at the Delhi NGMA like Mukul De and Haren Das. I think Adivasi artistic agency lies in this strategic usage of media to craft a future and a past. After Jangarh Singh Shyam, the art practice was popularized as “Gond painting”, when it should be called Pardhan Gond painting. The Pardhans have been the traditional singer storytellers, moving from Gond village to village, playing the sacred bana, performing a ceremonial cultural role. With Jangarh Singh Shyam’s move to J Swaminathan’s Bharat Bhawan in Bhopal, oral storytelling shifted to visual storytelling. Oils on canvas, silkscreen printing, book illustration, murals- the Pardhan Gond artists have imagined their stories via multiple media. I will discuss how this imagination is available in in the Indian picturebook.