Priscilla Kibbee

I love to travel all over the globe shopping for textiles to add to my wearable art. I have taught quilting to school children in Nepal, seminole patchwork to seamstresses in Thailand, and jackets and embellishment to quilters in Turkey where I also served as a judge at 2 of their International Quilt Shows. I have created garments for 5 Fairfield and Bernina Fashion Shows and teach classes on embellishment and wearable art. Lately I have been leaning more toward making art quilts.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Warli Paintings from India

I have been busy lately going through my collections and trying to get rid of a few things to make room for new acquisitions. I came upon these two Warli Paintings which I purchased at Mount Abu in Rajasthan in 2002. Since they are painted on fabric I really need to frame them and put them up. Then the dreaded question is ...where?

This photo is from the inside of a Warli House in India. The original drawings were mainly on the inside of houses.

All about Warli Paintings
The Warli art form is similar to the pre-historic cave paintings in its execution. These extremely rudimentary paintings use a very basic graphic vocabulary: a circle, a triangle and a square. The circle and triangle come from their observation of nature, the circle representing the sun and the moon, the triangle derived from mountains and pointed trees. Only the square seems to obey a different logic and seems to be a human invention, indicating a sacred enclosure or a piece of land. Human and animal bodies are represented by two triangles joined at the tip; the upper triangle depicts the trunk and the lower triangle the pelvis. While men and women are depicted in almost identical fashion, the only differentiator is the little knot of hair in the form of a bun, that indicates Warli women.

Stylistically, Warli Paintings can be recognized by the fact that they are painted on an austere mud base using one color, white, with occasional dots in red and yellow. The white pigment is a mixture of rice paste and water with gum as a binding agent. This sobriety is offset by the ebullience of their content. Traditionally, when painting the mud walls, the Warlis use a bamboo stick chewed at the end, to make it work like a paintbrush. Even now, when they paint on cloth, they use a narrow stick dipped in white rice flour paste.

The themes in Warli paintings are highly repetitive and symbolic. Many of the Warli paintings that represent Palghat, the god of marriage and fertility, often include a horse used by the bride and groom. The painting is sacred and without it, the marriage cannot take place.

In Warli paintings it is rare to see a straight line. A series of dots and dashes make one line.
Each painting is usually an entire scene that contains various elements of nature including people, animals, trees, hills etc. The thread that binds all these loose elements can be events like a marriage, a dance, sowing, harvesting or hunting. Different varieties of trees are drawn in detail forming intricate decorative patterns. Birds, squirrels, monkeys, snakes and other animals are also depicted, frequently in action. Other elements in nature like streams and rocks are also featured. The 'Tree of Life' and the 'Tarpa' dance are significant images often seen in Warli art. The Tarpa is a trumpet like instrument and many Warli paintings will have a tarpa player surrounded by drummers and dancing men and women.

The artists have recently started to draw straight lines in their paintings. These days, even men have taken to painting and they are often done on handmade paper incorporating traditional decorative Warli motifs with modern elements such as the bicycle etc.
Originally, Warlis were hunters and so the motifs in their paintings were based on hunting. Today, most of the tribals have shifted to cultivation and work according to the monsoon, and the themes in their paintings have changed. Traditionally, only women practiced this art form on the interior walls of their mud houses.

Although the Warlis live very close to Mumbai, India’s largest metropolis, they shun all influences of modern urbanization. Even though many paint for commercial gain today, they have continued to adhere to old themes and motifs that can only be appreciated by those who know and understand Warli culture.

Warlis worship nature in many forms – sun and moon, god of thunder, lightning, wind, rain etc. Different gods are worshipped in different seasons. In the coming of the first rice crop, they worship the god of rain in a festival called Naranadeva. In other festivals that follow, the Warlis worship the goddesses of fertility, household peace, harvest and many more.

For the Warlis, life is an eternal circle. At all occasions – birth, marriage, and death they draw circles, symbol of Mother Goddess. Death is not the end for them; rather it is a new beginning. Which is why circles best represent the art of Warli, which has neither an end nor a beginning.

Warli paintings were never originally intended to be used for commercial gains. However, after they were discovered twenty five years ago, they became instantly popular, probably because they evoked the trumpets, drumbeats and songs of the Warli tribe through their simple motifs. Soon the tribals realized that the sale of their paintings made economic sense. Today, Warli paintings on handmade paper and cloth have become very popular and are sold all over India.

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