Santal creation myth in “Painted Songs”: an exhibition and publication on Bengali picture-scroll traditions – Zurich (Switzerland)

Santal creation story (tortoise) – excerpt of a jadopatia-scroll by Premandanda Chitrakar (Majuramura, West Bengal)

  • Exhibition: “Rollenspiel und Bildgesang: Geschichte und Geschichten bengalischer Bildrollen” 1.9.2012 to 3.3.2013 – information in German
  • Painted Songs: Continuity and Change in an Indian Folk Art by Thomas Kaiser (192 pages, 22 x 30 cm, 196 mostly coloured illustrations). Stuttgart and Zürich 2012. ISBN 9783897903661. Note: A major chapter (pp. 88-123) consists of illustrations of the “Santal Creation Myth”. More information: ARNOLDSCHE Art Publishers

A wide range of themes, formats and techniques are covered both in the exhibition and an accompanying publication by Thomas Kaiser contains. The latter features excellent reproductions of scrolls and photographs of performers. The same can be said of the texts that are  valuable for anthropologists and art historians, yet equally readable for lay readers. Translations of  musical performances (also featured in the museum’s audiovisual presentations) were prepared jointly with the Santal linguist Ganesh Murmu (Ranchi University), the members of rural communities themselves, and other experts. An annotated bibliography, a glossary and two informative maps further add to the book’s value for scholars beyond the exhibition.

Santal Creation Myth

Among the themes covered in both, the exhibition and the publication, is the “Santal Creation Myth”. It provides the context for an in-depth exploration of the  relations between Santal and the Hindu and Muslim communities with whom they have more than just coexisted for centuries.

This collaboration is distinguished by the manner in which story tellers, artisans and artists are given an opportunity to convey their individual views on matters; notably two successful women performers and painters, Swarna Chitrakar and Manimala Chitrakar:

You have to learn how to read the picture scrolls to be able to appreciate them and to understand that in this case we are not in any sense dealing with an anachronistic rudiment of times long past. On the contrary, the picture scrolls seem like a nodal point linking countless strands of knowledge, forms of music, historical event timelines and improvisations adapted to the inclination of the audiences concerned. It is to the great credit of the men and women picture storytellers that they have preserved this cultural legacy to the present day.

– From the Foreword by Mareile Flitsch
Director, Ethnographic Museum

It should be noted here that this curatorial approach is in marked contrast to the anonymity generally – and all too often wrongly –  associated with India’s “classical” or “mainstream” artists; and taken for granted as far as folk performers and artisans are concerned. Such misconceptions were also addressed by the curators of a parallel exhibition on Adivasi bronzes, hosted by the Museum Rietberg in Zurich; and of an earlier exhibition in collaboration with the  Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York:

It is the person behind the painting whom we care for.”
– Read more in The Economist: Biographies in paint >>

In-depth information of special interest is provided in book chapters like “Indian Pictures and Picture Scrolls” and “Asian Picture Scroll Traditions”. These cover an enormous span in terms of history, geography and civilization:

For over 2000 years and until just a few decades ago artists travelled throughout India, using painted picture scrolls to spread stories from the great Indian epics Mahabharata and Ramayana, as well as a wealth of stories about regional Gods and heroes and moral tales, amongst the mostly illiterate rural population. These artists were the creators and bearers of an art form which spread from India across China to Japan, and westward to the Mediterranean region. In the hands of the painters and singers, the picture scrolls became a portable cinema, projection screens for mythical knowledge and an incentive to listen to the songs whilst looking at the scrolls. […]

In a chapter titled “Tradition and Change”, the recent loss of support from rural audiences is contrasted with a renewed interest in all kinds of “folk arts” among urban collectors and audiences, both within and outside India:

On the basis of around 160 scroll paintings, mostly from the second half of the twentieth century, this publication illustrates the transition of ‘patua’ art from its original function as a vehicle for oral art to a contemporary, visual form of art. It also commemorates the art of ‘jadopatia’, which is coming to an end.

The outcome of a collaboration of Swarna Chitrakar with German artist Simone Leto (facilitated by the Goethe Institute Kolkata), is another highlight in the context of “recent changes”.

Image credit: ARNOLDSCHE Art Publishers

Gods and demons, life and death, love and friendship are recurrent themes in the visually stunning and colourful vernacular picture scrolls performed by Indian painter-singers. For 2,000 years their myths and epics have been disseminated to the often illiterate rural populations. Two Bengali scroll-painting traditions carry on this art form up to the present day.

The exhibition “Rollenspiel und Bildgesang – Geschichte und Geschichten bengalischer Bildrollen” (1 September 2012 until 3 March 2013) at the Ethnographic Museum of the University of Zurich and the publication “Painted Songs. Continuity and Change in an Indian Folk Art” are dedicated to these traditions and their narrative art. Grounded scholarly knowledge is illustrated by numerous dazzling examples of scroll-painting artwork from a private collection hitherto inaccessible to the public.

Source: ARNOLDSCHE Art Publishers Online-Shop | News
Address : http://www.arnoldsche.com/index.php?lang=1&cl=news#b5fba0aa10e421507a34fb199aa92974
Date Visited: Mon Sep 10 2012 10:34:31 GMT+0200 (CEST)

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