Padmashree Jivya Soma Mashe, Warli art maestro, dies at 84

Prathmesh Patil
Wednesday, 16 May 2018

Pune: Mention tribal art and one of the most ubiquitous art form that will pop in your imagination is the Warli art style of the Warli tribes of Konkan lowlands and western Maharashtra. The art form has become the very identity of the Indian tribal arts, thanks to the relentless usage of the style from posters to household objects. The man who took this art form to its Zenith, died early on Tuesday morning.

Pune: Mention tribal art and one of the most ubiquitous art form that will pop in your imagination is the Warli art style of the Warli tribes of Konkan lowlands and western Maharashtra. The art form has become the very identity of the Indian tribal arts, thanks to the relentless usage of the style from posters to household objects. The man who took this art form to its Zenith, died early on Tuesday morning.

Jivya Soma Mashe, who lived in Kalambipada village in Dahanu, was awarded the Padmashree in 2011, but by then, he had carried the flag of indigenous arts for more than 4 decades. Born on June 1, 1934, Mashe is said to have stopped talking much after the shock of his mother’s death, communication only by drawing pictures in the mud. He soon picked up the religious ritual painting style and made it his own. In 1975, he was discovered by Bhaskar Kulkarni, who was a part of the campaign started by the Indira Gandhi government to highlight indigenous arts.  

“The Warlis draw the art as part of religious ceremonies. They don’t call it painting, they call it ‘Chowk Lihine’ (Writing the box). They first draw the box and then fill it up with depictions of tribal life and occasion with brilliant and minute observations,” said Kavita Mahajan, a Marathi novelist and artist who had interacted with Mashe. “Mashe drew with intricate detail and depiction that you would not find in any commercial art,” she added.

“Mashe’s work is not just important, it is highly original. Art nowadays focuses on posturing and presentation but you can see that his art is organic and natural. It has no pretentions,” said Chandramohan Kulkarni, an artist himself, adding, “Now, art is all about influences and marketing and selling, which hampers the naturalness of the artform. Mashe, fortunately, and courageously, stayed away from such influences and remained original till the very end.”

Mahajan said that it is infuriating how tribal art has been rampantly commercialised. “Warli was picked up by market easily. We made a market out of a religious ritual of the tribe. We put it on mugs, curtains, walls and bedsheets. It is ugly,” Mahajan said, adding, “The original tribal artists suffer indignity and anonymity while those who picked up their styles in urban markets earn money off it. Mashe himself struggled for a piece of land that was promised to him for almost two decades. These art forms are sold worldover, but our own government remain ignorant of them.” 

“My father was ailing with a foot injury after falling from his bed a few months ago. I am in a shock right now. He passed away at 4 am this morning,” said Somnath Mashe, Jivya Soma Mashe’s son, adding, ”He wanted to paint even when he couldn’t hold a brush. He used to ask for a painting space, but we refused as we wanted him to rest. His art meant everything to him.”

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