An acclaimed filmmaker, Amit Dutta has chosen to record the brief life of Jangarh Singh Shyam (1962-2001), and his bizarre eath in a Japanese museum far removed from his comfort zone in his home village in India. A remarkable contemporary Indian artist from the Gond 'tribal' community and the creator of the Jangarh Kalam, his death is the culmination of a life that precariously inhabits the liminal world between the nation and the world, between modernity and tradition, and between high (maw) and vernacular (den) art. Dutta's aim is to offer a full account of Jangarh Singh's life through interviewing those who knew him including those closely involved with him, and documenting the responses of these individuals. What makes Dutta's account of Jangarh a compelling one is the intertwining of the Gond artist's life and work, with Dutta's own intellectual odyssey, from the Film Institute at Pune (1-T11), through the National Institute of Design (NID) in Ahmedabad, to his own career as an experimental filmmaker. The tribal artist, he confesses, forced him to rethink his entire approach to the question of contemporary art in India. Jangarh is no longer only a person for me, he writes, but also a symbol and entry point for broadening the definition of the self in a historical sense. Jangarh Singh Shyam stood apart from his community in showing remarkable imagination and a grasp of formal values in art. However, the mainspring of his art was the Pardhan tribal mythology that he had grown up with. He drew inspiration from Bada Dev, the foremost Gond deity who is also the essence of 'liana' - the musical instrument that stands for the Pardhan's bardic inheritance. Even the recurring tiger motifs of Jangarh may derive their vitality and energy from the archetypal Gond deity Baigasur, which transports us to a world of numinous presences. The leaping tiger, one cannot help noting, was among Jangarh's last completed works in Japan. The Gond artist was not unduly modest about his singular talent. When the English journalist Mark Tully asked him whether he had thought he would `learn more about art by going to Bhopal', he replied: "No . . . I don't take advice from any city artists. I also tell other tribals who come to Bhopal not to copy but do their own work. The point of going to the city is not to change your art but to sell it." Yet this candour underscores the fact that his arrival at Bharat Bhavan in Bhopal locked him into a dependent relationship as both a beneficiary and a victim of the market and of the elite who romanced the primitive. There is no doubt that Jagdish Swaminathan, Jyotindra Jain and Gulam Sheikh were deeply committed to his talent and did their best to publicize it. However, such asymmetrical relationship between the elite and the subaltern contains a certain inevitability that is indicative of the predicament of tribal artists faced with modernity. Swaminathan's attitude is quite revealing. Installing him among leading contemporary artists, he offers a decontextualised aesthetic appraisal of Jangarh. In short, there are always downsides to modernization. While Jangarh's experience of the market offered new and untold opportunities, it also exposed him to art in the capitalist system as a commodity. Jangarh Singh Shyam has found in Amit Dutta an ideal chronicler of the tortuous path the tragic Gond artist's brief life took. Dutta locates Jangarh's particular predicament within the wider historiographic framework, the uneven relationship between centre and periphery, between the West and the Rest, and between the elite and the underprivileged within global modernism — the concept of the periphery is not one of geography but of exclusion and inclusion. In the global arena, all Indian and other non-western artists suffer from a 'time lag', because their work is set against the `originary' discourse of western modernism. Externally, this hegemonic teleology of the western canon has been central to the anxiety of non-western modernism, and Indian modernism in particular. Internally, the rise of 'modern' Indian artists with their elevated social status consigned the traditional, popular, folk and tribal artist, the subaltern groups as it were, to the margins of Indian art. However, romantic primitivism of the 1920s, as part of the re-definition of the region and the village as the locus of the nation, drew the attention of elite artists to the children of the soil as well as the 'indigenous' (adivasi) communities that had co-existed within Hindu society since time immemorial. The new awareness of these hunter-gatherers and similar peoples was two sides to the same coin. Idealist activists sought to ameliorate their exploited status in the wake of relentless modernisation of India and improve their economic and social conditions. Elite artists such as Meera Mukherjee and Jagadish Swaminathan consciously sought to bring their art to the attention of the middle-class public. This was a heroic effort on their part, which must be admired. However, while the elite artist can go and live with them in a show of respect and solidarity, no tribal artist can readily penetrate the elite fold as an insider. Along with the admirable institutional effort to showcase tribal work at the international forum, such as Aditi at the Festival of India, or Magiciens de la Terre at the Centre Georges Pompidou in Paris, came the unwelcome attention of the art market, both the artist and their art being turned into saleable commodities. Secondly, the project of including these age-old communities as part of national integration inadvertently caused the disintegration of their age-old rites and customs. In short, the preservation of hunter-gatherers became problematic in the face of the relentless march of progress. Amit Duna accepts that losses suffered by less powerful communities are inevitable, given the fact of modernisation, who are forced to adopt majority values — to help them is to patronise them, but to leave them alone is even worse? The following pages of this engaging book seek to answer these urgent questions.
**Contents and Sample Pages**
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