Fortunately, in the early-1980s, Jagdish Swaminathan (1928-1994) – then director of Bhopal’s newly founded cultural centre Bharat Bhavan – sent talent scouts into rural Madhya Pradesh, where one of them spotted the artistic talents of Jangarh Singh Shyam in the remote village of Patangarh. Swaminathan recognised Jangarh’s genius, encouraging him to become an artist; since then many other Pardhan Gonds have followed in Jangarh’s footsteps. Thus Pardhan songs and oral traditions, which had for centuries been recited to accompany performances on the bana (a sacred fiddle), also began to be depicted on paper and canvas, as well as in prominent mural commissions – such as on the facade of Madhya Pradesh’s legislative assembly building, and the domes of Bharat Bhavan. Jangarh’s art works have traveled from Patangarh via Bhopal to Delhi, Kolkata, Japan and the Pompidou Centre in Paris, and are now being exhibited in the United States. At the Bharat Bhavan itself, Swaminathan ensured that the art works by Pardhan Gonds occupied pride of place alongside the best creations of non-tribal, professional urban artists.
In 2001, Jangarh tragically committed suicide while working as an artist-in-residence at a museum in Niigata, rural Japan. By then he had already brought to Bhopal’s Professors Colony a wide array of Gond artists, among whom was the married couple Durgabai Vyam and Subhash Vyam. They in turn encouraged other Gonds from their village and urban communities to seek a livelihood as professional visual artists, and have continued to generously offer guidance and informal instruction from their modest home and workplace in Bhopal. Sukhnandi Vyam is one of Subhash’s nephews and former apprentices. As an eight-year old, Sukhnandi attended a 1991 workshop on art and craft conducted by Bhopal’s Indira Gandhi Rashtriya Manav Sangrahalaya. His terracotta sculptures created at that workshop were impressive. In 1997, Sukhnandi permanently settled in Bhopal and, after apprenticing as a sculptor for a few years under Subhash, charted his own path.
Sukhnandi has worked in many media – including clay, canvas, metal and wood – but it is his wood sculptures that have brought him the highest acclaim. In 2002, he won the Madhya Pradesh State Government award for an unusually elaborate wood-carved ritual mangrohi wedding totem, and his wooden sculptures were extensively featured in Udayan Vajpeyi’s authoritative book Jangarh Kalam (produced by Vanya Prakashan of the Madhya Pradesh Tribal Welfare Department). Notable in this age of industrially manufactured art, Sukhnandi has wrought his magic using the most basic of tools, under a blue tarpaulin-sheet studio outside a two-room home shared with his extended family.
This exhibition by Sukhnandi happens at a time when few Pardhan Gonds continue to work in wood. His teacher and mentor Subhash Vyam gave up sculpting many years ago; seeing his wife Durgabai’s career soar – from the success of her paintings on paper and canvas, and her illustrations for children’s books – Subhash also moved into painting on canvas. The problems Pardhan Go