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From painted walls to colour books

The West might have their Michelangelos to showcase their fresco art but in India we are blessed with a rich culture of different styles of painting done on walls and floors across the country’s length and breadth. And, it is usually the women of every household who create these free hand paintings with no form of learning apart from watching their mothers do it.


Sunita creating a Meena painting

Women in south use the decorative form of Kolam, made using a mixture of rice flour and water, where as in Maharashtra, the paintings of the Warli tribe are quite well-known. Another equally beautiful art of painting on walls is the Meena art form from Rajasthan.


Sunita creating a Meena painting

Women and the art form
Artist Sunita — who hails from the village of Datasooti in Rajasthan had earlier worked on an interactive session on with Chennai based publishers, Tara Books — is currently working on the art for a children’s book tentatively titled The Jackal and the Crane. On August 18, she was in the southern city to share a demonstration of the Meena style of painting for art enthusiasts. We caught up with her to tell us more about this art form.

The art gets its name from the Meena tribe, female members of whom practise this art. Hence, it is a tradition passed down from mother to daughter through generations.

“It is mainly during Diwali when we create these paintings, extensively, on the walls of our houses. The canvas is created by coating the walls of our houses with a mixture of cow dung and mud,” says Sunita. Though paintings are also made for other festivals such as Holi and Makar Sankranti, Sunita says that due to lesser work in the fields during Diwali, the women manage to devote more time to painting.

For white colour, they use what is known as khadiya (limestone). Some of the paintings also have red highlights. The khadiya is usually sourced from khadiya sellers in the village. Sunita informs us that in her village, the Meena art is created by Hindu and Muslim women.

Inborn identity
Sunita believes that this art is an inborn talent within most women who are part of the Meena tribe: “Young girls are given smaller and lesser seen sections of the house for practise and all they have to do is look at the elder women of the house and pick up the skill. You might go wrong the first two or three times but you pick it up later on.” The paintings are made both on the walls and the ‘aangan’ of the house. “For Diwali we start a month in advance as we cover almost the entire walls.

The women also have household chores to look after, so after alternating between work and the painting, it takes about a month to finish the paintings if they put in around two hours a day,” says Sunita. The common symbols used in the painting include sparrows, parrots and other different types of birds and animals. The paintings were initially made using cotton or fingers. However, women today use brushes as well for precision. The painting sessions help bonding as well as that’s when the women of the house come together to create the murals.

Read the lines
The art form however is on a decline today. “Most people want concrete houses and slowly most of the mud houses in the villages have been concretised. While you can paint on walls too, people feel that it will spoil the walls and hence they don’t do it now,” says Sunita.

Also, with the number of hours the women need to devote for the paintings, the women now feel it’s a waste of time. “People are getting educated today. Even for the women, education has become a criterion for marriage and hence women are not too keen to learn the art,” says Sunita, who has a son and a daughter whom she encourages to pick up the art. 

The book
Tara House first got in touch with Sunita when they had invited her for a session on decorative floor tiles in India. This soon led to Sunita providing the art work for the book The Jackal and Fox, which will be a visual book telling the age-old story with a twist. All the visuals for the book have been created by Sunita and the book is slated for a 2013 release.

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