Friday, January 15, 2010

The Night Life of Trees

Folkart Books from India

Tara Books from Chennai (Tamil Nadu, India) very kindly sent me a few of their books, not for review, but as thanks following their contacting for some advice. After I saw the books, I asked - would have begged - if it was ok to scan some samples. Illustrations from three books appear below.

I'm afraid these images hardly do proper justice to the textural wonder of the handmade paper and crisp, silkscreened illustrations. The scans themselves could only have been improved by breaking the books which wasn't even a consideration: these glorious books are treasured works of art that I'll not be destroying or parting with in this lifetime.

The Night Life of Trees 007

The Tree of Intoxication
"Gonds make liquor from the flowers of the Mahua tree. If you take small amounts, and mix it with good herbs, it is a medicine for many ailments. If you drink a little more, it is pleasant. But if you drink too much, your very form can change, and depending on your character, you may become a mouse or a tiger, a pig or pigeon."

The Night Life of Trees 005

Snakes and Earth
"The earth is held in the coils of the snake goddess. And the roots of trees coil around the earth too, holding it in place. If you want to depict the earth, you can show it in the form of a snake. It is the same thing."

The Night Life of Trees 004

The Silkworm's Home
"There was a time when people used plain cloth and yarn. Then they discovered that the silkworm weaves wonderful thread, and took it from him to make clothes. Before he is found, the silkworm sits in the threads of his own making on the Bamur tree."

The Night Life of Trees 002

The Creation of Trees
"When Shankar Bhagwan, the creator, made the first man, there was no tree, no leaf on earth. The man said, 'Lord, what will I eat? How will I live?' The creator pulled three hairs from his own body, and from them made three great trees. Then the man said, 'But Lord, there are no fruit on these trees. Three will remain three, and the three must die one day.' Then Shankar Bhagwan took the ash coating his matted hair and sprinkled the trees with it, and they began to flower and fruit. So in the days before we knew how to grow grain, it was trees that filled our stomachs with their fruit."

The Night Life of Trees 001

The Departing Visitors
"Everyone knew that holy spirits live in the Sembar tree. As night falls, its daytime visitors depart - bees, a bird, and two chameleons."

'The Night Life of Trees' © Tara Books Pvt. Ltd. 2006
Art: Bhajju Shyam, Durga Bai and Ram Singh Urveti.
Design: Gita Wolf and Rathna Ramanathan.

"The Night Life of Trees was conceived when Tara brought Gond artists down to Chennai to work with them; the Gond live in the northern state of Madhya Pradesh, 600 kilometres from the city of Bhopal. 'We noticed there was a tree in every story they told – ask them to draw a person, they draw a person under a tree. Ask them for a river, they draw a river running past a tree. Ask them for a bird, and it's a bird sitting in a tree.' " [source]

Nurturing Walls - Animal Art by Meena Women b

Nurturing Walls - Animal Art by Meena Women a

Nurturing Walls - Animal Art by Meena Women

Meena women make mud wall

painted camel

'Nurturing Walls: Animal Art by Meena Women' © Tara Books Pvt. Ltd. 2008
Photographs and screenprinted illustrations by Madan Meena.
Design: Natasha Chandani.

"Madana [public painting] is practiced by different tribes and communities in parts of Rajashtan, Gujarat and Madyha Pradesh. [..]

Meena women create beautiful Madana designs on walls and floors of the houses especially on the occasion of the Diwali festival.

For these women artists, simple shapes like squares, circles, triangles and the like become the alphabets for an exercise in picture writing.

The themes of Mandana are a variety of birds, animals and plants, as well as exquisite decorative designs which are highlighted with dots and dashes. [..]

In Mandana paintings the women record their past as well as present experiences; so we see images of creatures and things that no longer exist in their present surroundings, but are part of their memory."

The London Jungle Book

When Two Times Meet
"I have combined the rooster, which is the symbol for time in Gond art, and Big Ben, which is the symbol of time for London. I have turned the dial of Big Ben into the eye of the rooster, because it seemed to me that Big Ben is like a big eye, forever watching over London, reminding people of the time. Symbols are the most important thing in Gond art, and every symbol is a story, standing in for something else. So this painting was the easiest for me to do, because it had two perfect symbols coming together."

The London Jungle Book 2

Loyal Friend Number 30
"Although I liked the underground very much, I still preferred to get to to work everyday by bus, because one stopped right outside my door. [..]

I have turned the Number 30 bus into a dog, because like a dog, it was a faithful and loyal friend to me. London buses look very friendly too, and fit in with the good spirit of the faithful dog."

The London Jungle Book 1 (flying elephant)

The Miracle of Flight
"The heaviest animal I have ever seen is an elephant. So that is the creature that came to mind when I painted the plane. A plane taking off is as much of a miracle as an elephant flying. I have put the trees upside down in the sky, and the clouds below, because flying turned my world upside down."

The London Jungle Book by Bhajju Shyam: duuude

"Everyone was a foreigner - all kinds of skin colours and all kinds of hair. I had seen foreigners before - some of them had visited my village to look at our paintings, but now I realized that something strange had happened. My colour was different, my language was taken away from me ... I myself had become a foreigner!"

'The London Jungle Book' © Tara Publishing 2004
(in association with The Museum of London)
Art: Bhajju Shyam
Text: Sirish Rao & Gita Wolf (from Bhajju's oral narration)
Design: Rathna Ramanathan*, Minus9 Design*
"Bhajju is a brilliant artist from the Gond tribe in central India, and this book is a visual travelogue of his impressions in London. With radical innocence and great sophistication, Bhajju brings the signs of the forest to bear on the city, turning London into an exotic jungle." [back cover blurb]


Susan said...

Absolutely fascinating. Thank you so much for this introduction to the Gond and Tara Books.

genevieve said...

They are marvellous. How lovely to see the work of artists who put trees in all their work, too. Thanks PK.

Will said...

Looking at Tara's website, I realize I have owned one of their books for a few years - An Ideal Boy: Charts from India. Seems to be out of stock, but it's a keeper.


Ally said...

These are fantastic illustrations...thank you for sharing them.... the flying elephant makes my heart sing *laughs*

Tejasplants said...

I found your blog through Blogs of Note. Just want to say thank you for this grand effort. This brings me so much joy!

Anonymous said...

Exquisite books from Tara. Thanks for this blog peacay, opened my eyes to an art form that I was not aware of. As a person born in Madras/Chennai I'm thrilled to access Tara Books too.This blog was shared by a friend.

SilkandBone said...

Beautiful! The tree illustrations and stories are especially interesting. Thank you for sharing these.

carorose said...

Wow! Straight to Amazon, just had to have them. Thanks heeps.

Anonymous said...


Carol said...

PK, these are just delightful. A wonderful find. Thanks, Carol

Laura Ottina said...

The London Jungle Book and The Night Life of Trees are two of my favorite books. I also definitely need to get Nurturing Walls!

ragwort said...

I've just found you and am in danger of
(1) becoming an addict
(2) grossly outspending my pension at Amazon.

Your site is wonderland indeed.

Anonymous said...

Thanks PK

Migdal said...

E' un antro delle meraviglie questo blog. Posso prendere qualche immagine?

peacay said...

Yes, but please credit Tara books!

Migdal said...

Certo. Grazie e buon lavoro.
Un saluto da Roma,

Alexandra said...

Beautiful illustrations. Thank you for sharing these images.

amybradley said...

Very inspiring illustrations, and such a lovely kind of art this culture has, amazing!

lotusgreen said...


The first one's my favorite.

Do you know the work of Betty LaDuke?

peacay said...

Thanks. I recognise LaDuke works when I see them although I didn't know her name It's of a genre: an outsider-y aboriginal traditionalist style.

lotusgreen said...

For decades, she's gone to various places and lived in communities of women there, learned their styles and symboligies and come home to pait them.

lotusgreen said...

I can't remember if I found her or if she found me, but in any case, one whole issue of my magazine was devoted to her work (each isue featured one artist). I've been entranced by her work since then.

Anonymous said...

Merci !

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