The purpose of art is a question that has been debated over many centuries, causing a lasting furore in a myriad of settings - from lecture halls to dinner tables. Time bears testament to the fact that to this day, neither scholars nor artists themselves have succeeded in settling the matter once and for all. While some say it requires no purpose, others retort that aimless expression lacks value in society. In the artscape that we inhabit and work within today, one thing has become increasingly clear. The purpose of art - for the artist to become recognised - is simply to be marketable.
Historically, the world has glorified artists who fit perfectly within gallery walls, producing work that is either a reflection of society or a byproduct of it. In the general history of art criticism, therefore, a particular type of creative expression often escapes notice. Ritual art is born of the belief that art is auspicious, communal, and plays an important chord in the mysterious murmurings of the universe. In India today, the Warli tribe has garnered much acclaim for its sui generis style of ritual art. However, few know about the man who put the tribe on the global map by reinventing a style entrenched in primeval custom.
Jivya Soma Mashe (1934 - 2018) was a Warli artist belonging to Dhamangaon village in the Thane district of Maharashtra. In childhood itself, his unusual habits indicated a future immersed in the study of artistry. Mashe lost his mother at the tender age of seven, and the trauma rendered him temporarily mute. He chose to communicate by drawing pictures in the dust, which made him popular among the villagers of Dhamangaon. The pictures he drew reflected unbound imagination and a keen eye for detail, qualities that would go on to reinvent the face of Warli art. Even though the ritualistic art style was originally executed by women only, Mashe did not allow the obstacle to stand in the way of his talent.
Noticing the boy’s sensitivity towards his surroundings, clever compositions and stylistic fervour, Bhaskar Kulkarni - a Handloom Handicrafts Export Corporation officer - took him under his wing. Mashe emerged as a master artist unparalleled in both ingenuity and dexterity. He freed himself from the traditional constraints of painting on the wall, choosing instead to transfer his talent to paper and canvas. He transformed the stationary folk art, invigorating it with lively movements via stylistic strokes, dots and lines. He achieved this transformation while staying true to the depictions of Warli tribal life and legends.
Over the course of his life, Mashe went from displaying his art at Jehangir Art Gallery in Mumbai in 1975, to taking Warli art to an international platform in 1976. His first international exhibition took place at the Palais de Menton in France. His paintings were also exhibited at galleries of repute in Germany, Italy and the United States. In 2011, Mashe received the prestigious Padma Shri. On 15th May, 2018, Mashe passed away at his residence in Ganjad village, and was accorded a state funeral. Anil Vangad, the artist leading our Warli Masterclass, hails from the same village and fondly remembers Padma Shri Jivya Soma Mashe as an unparalleled teacher, mentor and artist.