Bhuri Bai

Bhuri Bai, the first woman artist from the Bhil community

Art and culture have always been an integral and foundational elements of all the nations in the world. They elaborate and glorify one’s culture like no one else, and India is yet another hub of artists and painters. With more than 10 distinct types of Indian artistry, India offers a tremendous opportunity for artists from all over the world to experience the visual art of the aboriginal inhabitants of India and their cultures.

Pithora is a ritualistic painting done on the walls by the Rathwa and Bhilala tribes. The fork art form is often done on mud walls to huge canvases or sheets of paper. Bhuri Bai is a tribal woman from the Bhil community of Madhya Pradesh, who had made a name for herself in the field of arts. She is the first woman from her community to paint on paper and canvas for which she was recently awarded Padma Shri, the fourth-highest civilian award of the Republic of India.

From being a laborer to a remarkable painter, her story is nothing less than inspirational.

Bhuri Bai was born in the  Pitol village that lies on the border of Madhya Pradesh and Gujarat. She belonged to the community of Bhils, the largest tribal group of India. The cultures and customs of the Bhil community keep women away from art and paintings in the house. The men of the community believe that the girls attaining puberty are impure and hence should stay away from the paintings that receive blessings of their deity, Dev Pithora.

Bhuri Bai

Bhuri Bai was yet another girl facing such restrictions. But her adamant interest in art never allowed her to stay away from colors and creativity. Since childhood, she would sit and watch the village priests and other male members of the community making colors from natural elements such as leaves, flowers, and seeds. She would notice them making diverse patterns and coiling designs based on the dot size of seeds of maize in centuries-old Pithora paintings. But no matter how interested she was in painting, her community never allowed her to make one and she continued tilling the village until she moved to Bhopal as a daily wage worker.

At Bhopal, she worked as a daily wage construction laborer at the Bharat Bhavan cultural center with a mere salary of INR 6 per day. This proved to be the turning point of her life, in Bhopal she was introduced to several traditional artists who inspired her to paint. Especially her encounter with Jagdish Swaminathan was a decisive moment of her life and she was inspired to paint traditional Pithora art on paper. She was just 17 years old. He provided her with poster paints, brushes, and brown packing paper, mediums, and materials that Bhuri Bai has never used or had touched before.

In the beginning, she was a bit hesitant, but as soon as she felt brushes in her hands, all her childhood memories reconciled and she pained her heart out on the thin sheets of paper. She usually painted scenes from her childhood, like the busy streets of the market, colorful festivals, architecture, forest, and culture. But soon she also started painting her daily life and converted everything thing she saw throughout the day into magnificent yet simple piece of paintings. This way, she transformed the traditional Pithora paintings into contemporary Bhil paintings.

A classic version of traditional paintings into more commercial and regular evolution of art established Bhuri Bai’s name in the field of arts. Though the ritualized Pithora paintings often depict the series of actions into the painting, the Bhil paintings on the other front made every scene into individual work of art, more like an autobiographical representation. Once her paintings started getting recognized, Bhuri Bai decided to go back to her village and started teaching young girls the art into a community that otherwise retain women from creativity.

Bhuri Bai

Bhuri Bai currently works as an artist with Adivasi Lok Kala Academy in Bhopal. Her works had received global recognition with her paintings being exhibited in galleries and museums of Europe, Australia, and the US. Bhuri Bai has also been awarded Shikhar Samman and Ahalya Samman by the Madhya Pradesh government, as well as invited on a presidential delegation to Australia for a workshop with Australian aboriginals and Indian tribal artists.

India recently awarded Padma Shri to Bhuri Bai, the first woman artist from the Bhil community to paint on paper. But painting isn’t everything Bai excelled in, Bhuri Bai is also adept at the skill of hut-making. She even constructed a mud house at Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Manav Sangrahalaya in Bhopal. Her work is nothing less than extraordinary in establishing the traditional Pithora art to survive beyond her and her community.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *