In the cultural capital of the Gujarat, India Robert Markey and I were invited by the Municipality and Sachin Kaluskar to participate in a project that has never been done before. Here in #Vadodara we have spent the last week painting together with five incredible Pithora artists, who have carried on their spiritual indigenous painting style for centuries. Pithora art is said to be a “dying art” because this beautiful art form has not been promoted, in fact few people here in India even know about it, and many painters are forced to take on hard-labor jobs to provide for their families. However, the strength of the human spirit glows in these five indigenous artists who are determined to share their masterpieces, for which transcend the ages, with modernity. “Every child already knows how to paint and I just help them understand color, shape and tradition,” artist Mansinhbhai Rathwa explained. He is the father of two of the artists, director of their composition, and could not have stated it better. Three of the five artists are illiterate and one can neither hear nor speak and yet their ability to paint with such soul and passion, combined with honor for their faith and their elders, can be a teacher for all of us.
After five FULL days of painting on six stories of scaffolding and a lift we are happy to say that this mural is the largest of Vadodra and it is most probable the largest Pithora painting in the world!!! It is time for the world to know about Pithora Art!!! The mural depicts Mansinhbhai of the Pithora artists riding a bull to represent the “bullish” Vodadara, the new symbol of the city that speaks of the cosmopolitan mentality and the push for equality and art for all. He is painting the Asiatic Lion that represents the courage and the pride of not only the state of Gujarat, but also all of India. It also represents the courage of the Pithora artists, and all artists, to stay true to their art form even when meeting our basic needs for survival gets difficult. The hawk feather hanging from the bull’s horn honors the indigenous in North America and the bridge between indigenous across the globe. The paintings by Robert Markey and myself were created to compliment the Pithora art, giving respect to our elders and the wisdom of humanity passed down from generation to generation. The Pithora artists covered the main section of the wall with their fascinating work, using color and figure to pay homage to their spirituality and way of life. While observing their method it was fascinating to watch them fuse creativity with the will of the wall. A story is painted with each image and the color is carefully selected to indicate the individual identity of each god, animal and plant, all designed to enhance the compositional formula of their ancestors. When I painted the realistic crocodile, as hundreds of wild crocodiles live at the riverside that run right through the center of the city, he looked a little scary, but then the Pithora artists painted a boy tickling his chin and the crocodile’s expression transformed into a playful, happy expression. It was brilliant. The Banyan tree painted by the elder represents Vadodra and the birds were painted by all of us side by side.
The cast system and skin tone still plays a very large role in India and this painting intends to plant seeds of change, as all men and women, all animals, all nature are created equal. In the west there are tanning beds to get darker and here there is a crème to get “whiter”… the grass is always greener on the other side until we water our own grass and love exactly who we are. When asked about this experience, the Pithora Artists shared that the most surprising part of this project is that Robert and I treated them like equals. In fact Robert and I were honored that they treated us like equals and what a team we made! They had thought that the western artists would be painting the main part of the wall and they would be painting a little section to compliment our work. When they learned that they were going to paint the majority of the wall and that we wanted to learn from them, they were shocked and really happy. The intention of this mural is to celebrate and share the purity, beauty and depth of the Pithora style. On the last day they asked to learn how to mix colors and create the three dimensional effect through shading. We taught them some techniques and then painted the hawk together side by side. In turn, they showed us how to paint their style of tree with free flowing curved brushstrokes and attention to every single leaf. Every grain of sand is as important as the next, so to speak. It is a dream come true to paint beside these artists and to be welcomed into a artistic tradition that is older than the country Robert and I come from.
I could continue writing on and on for hours, sitting here in this super hospitable hotel, provided by the municipality, but I will save some juice for the next post. I will soon post images of the Pithora art on canvas and Robert and I will be sharing this work with galleries in the United States to help promote this incredible jewel of humanity. Also, we can set up a way for people to order paintings where every single dime will go to the artists and their families. With so much love we thank the Pithora artists, Sachin,Dr-Nidhi Shendurnikar Tere (THank you for inviting us into your beautiful world… none of this would have happened without you!) and the municipality of Vadodra for this remarkable experience that we will never forget. A DREAM COME TRUE!!!
*I have found my new dentist… Dr. Tapan Pathak treated me four times this week, fixed three teeth and a root canal in the evenings after painting. He heard about my work and offered his services to help me remain healthy and continue spreading peace through art around the world. He is an amazing man and I have a new appreciation for dentistry… he is a true artist. GRATITUDE!!!
** FIVE PITHORA ARTISTS:
1. Desingbhai chiliyabhai Rathwa
Village : Rangpur
Dist: Chhota Udepur
2. Najrubhai cheklabhai Rathwa
Taluka and District : Chhota Udepur
3. Haribhai Mansingh Bhai Rathwa
Dist: Chhota Udepur
4. Mansinghbhai Dhanrajbhai Rathwa
Dist: Chhota Udepur
5. Fajlabhai Mansinghbhai Rathwa
Dist: Chhota Udepur