Reciting Tale and Painting: Biennale Hosts Gond Art Painting Workshop


As he sits before a circle of curious onlookers, Subhash Vyam recites a mythological tale his ancestors have passed down through generations as members of the Gond tribe. The students, mostly children, try to create images from the episode they just heard.

Giving colours with brush to folk stories is the essence of Gond art on which a workshop is on at the Kochi-Muziris Biennale. Vyam, into his middle age, is leading the three-day event at Fort Kochi’s Cabral Yard, a venue of the 108-day art festival.

The leafy locale has at its western side an ‘art room’, where a set of participants are busy making paint using natural pigments: red mitti (mud), turmeric and green plants. These are ingredients essential to Gond art that traces its history to ancient times and adivasis of central India. Vyam, along with his son Man Singh, also trains the students ways to make the paints.

Dikshitha V Sanoj, an upper-primary student with a local school, is fascinated by Vyam’s tale. “It is about a boy who fell in love with a fish,” she gushes, sharing her enthusiasm in making images of the gill-bearing creature.

“Well, hold your brush straight,” says Vyam to the children who are busy painting on paper. “It’s good to guide children with good degree of talent.”

On the first two days, Vyam recited the tales for the children. “On the third and final day, I am giving students a chance to recite stories themselves and paint,” he adds

The January 3-5 workshop is being organised by the Kochi Biennale Foundation as part of its program called ABC (Art By Children) that generally finds the participation by adults as well. Blaise Joseph, who heads the ABC programme, points out that Gond art is typically done on cloth, but the children at the workshop are being given paper because it is their familiar surface.

“Red stone, laterite stone, common turmeric, green leaves and the like goes into making of colours,” Blaise explains. “We have relied on local resources to get each of the material.”

Australian Pharan Dennis, who on his visit to Kochi and the Biennale, was among the early trainees at the workshop. “Quite a surprise…this indigenous style,” shrugs the visitor, who teaches art in a primary school Down Under.

Ganga Nair, a homemaker and mural artist, too tried her hand. “I am planning to teach this art to kids around my house,” she adds.