An interview with Tulika Kedia, one of the lone crusaders in the preservation of the indigenous tribal arts in India, through her initiative – the Must Art Gallery.
“We’ve all heard of Picasso and Da Vinci, but how much do we know about the arts and artists of our own country?”
Meet Tulika Kedia, whose single minded focus is to preserve the indigenous or tribal arts of India. I met her in Delhi at a gallery where she was presenting ‘Many Indias’ which brought together 12 genres of vibrant art works. Each genre highlights the diversity in India’s culture and is significant in its own special way.
As part of my campaign ‘Women in the Arts’ which is aimed at bringing forth stories and contributions of inspirational women involved in any form of art, I had the privilege of interviewing Tulika Kedia, Founder of Must Art Gallery.
Me: What were the influences in your life that got you interested in art?
Tulika Kedia: I actually grew up in Kolkata and my family has been patrons of the arts since I was a kid. So I got that exposure from a very early age. An uncle of mine who lives in Mumbai has been a patron of the arts as well. He has been a major influence too. I got married young and into a family that are also philanthropists and patrons. My husband, Naveen Kedia, had business interests in Madhya Pradesh, and that is where I came across my first exposure to indigenous art from that region.
Me: What was the point in your life when you realized that this is what you were meant to do?
Tulika Kedia: I further got exposure from the Bengal School. I found that art forms from the Gond Art concentrated in Madhya Pradesh was something which were completely different. The images literally sprang out from the canvases, enraptured me and I felt it needs a proper gallery to be able to showcase these artworks.
Over the years I bought a lot of work which was primarily for my personal collection. I already had a couple of works of Jangarh Singh Shyam. I read about his suicide and was extremely upset. Being a patriotic Indian, I felt why should an artist abroad not be allowed to return to his country? Are these artists facing such dilemmas frequently and intensely, that of tribal artists being exploited by foreign agencies? Not literate and hence exploited.
Me: What led to the creation of the Must Art Gallery in 2010?
Tulika Kedia: I felt a gallery in Delhi would give such artists the right platform, national and international visibility and that is when I got in touch with Dr. Alka Pande, an Art Historian. I thought I should do a show with her because she is very well versed with the arts and this would be the platform to channelize the arts in the right way.
When it is not a commercial venture, you need a strong academician on the arts to come on board and that was the best decision of my life. She knows how to document work and she taught me about archiving and its importance. She said we should start a museum in Delhi. After Must Art Gallery, I realised it is not just Gond Art – India has innumerable art forms. Some may have died out which we never even knew of.
Me: What made you venture into writing a book – Contemporary Expression: Art of the Jogi Family?
Tulika Kedia: The Honourable Chief Minister Vashundhara Raje visited the gallery and she spoke about launching a book on Jogi Art at the Jaipur Literature Festival.
The art of the Jogi family is an outcome of a fortuitous encounter in the 1980s of Ganesh Jogi and his wife Teju with the renowned artist and anthropologist Haku Shah. Ganesh and Teju used to earn their living by singing devotional songs and ballads until Haku Shah, the great champion of folk and village arts, encouraged Ganesh to draw.
Setting pen to paper and forging a fresh new narrative style, Ganesh was soon joined by Teju, and eventually their six children, in what soon became a family tradition. Their drawings on paper with a ballpoint pen employ a deceptively simple, childlike register of free flowing lines enclosing flattened, two-dimensional forms that are intricately filled with dots and individual patterns.
If this folkish naïveté is aesthetically pleasing, it also serves as a useful tool to reflect upon the varied hues of their lived experience, between the village and the city, between tradition and modernity, and articulating it as ‘Teju behan’ has, a vision for women’s freedom in an oppressively gendered society.
Me: What is your vision for the future?
Tulika Kedia: When I visited museums abroad, I came across a beautiful totem pole and felt why don’t we give this to one of our artists to do the same on conservation for animals? I am also looking at introducing India’s first sculpture trail – leads to Kanha Museum of Life and Art at the Singinawa Jungle Lodge in Madhya Pradesh – various installations about conservation of flora, fauna, animal life and the indigenous arts.
A snake mitigation project to bring about awareness of venomous and nonvenomous snakes. As many nonvenomous snakes are killed off, I will be working with the forest department toward this project.
At a school DPS Nagpur, which I run, we have murals painted by artists. Workshops at the British School and Stephens College (Delhi) last year for their art departments have helped create interest and exposure to Madhubani and Gond Art of which students are largely unaware. I feel interaction with young artists helps to revive and preserve our art forms to a large extent.
‘Many Indias’ brings to us exquisite forms of art from the secluded community of Baiga of MP, Bhil from central India, Gond Kalamkari from Andhra Pradesh, Kalighat style of paintings from Kolkata, Rogan from Kutch region of Gujarat, Saura tribe art from Orissa, Warli from Maharashtra and Gujarat, Patchitra from Bengal and Orissa and many more.
As the Director of the Must Art Gallery and Managing Director of the Singinawa Jungle Lodge, Tulika Kedia’s passion helps us to have a deeper connect and understanding of the arts from our motherland and to strive towards their preservation and appreciation.
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Image and video source: Tulika Kedia
Header image source: Tara Books, The Night Life of Trees. Painting by Bhajju Shyam.