I chose to research Indian art and discovered Madhubani, a prominent Indian art style that I found fascinating. The style originated in Bihar, India and is distinguishable by its intricate lines, patterns, and contrasts. Madhubani paintings are traditionally done by women on the walls of their homes. Traditional subjects of Madhubani paintings are Hindu gods and goddesses. Madhubani artists have been encouraged by the government and other institutions to create their art on paper instead so that the art can be sold. For some families the traditional paintings are now a source of income.
The first piece I chose to spotlight is by Pushpa Kumari. This small drawing, measuring at less than 9 x 12 inches, shows a woman’s leg kicking the stomach of another woman until the fetus falls out of the womb. Kumari’s Madhubani art is unique because she focuses on political and social issues while using the traditional style of Madhubani art. India has one of the highest female infanticide rates in the world. One source I found clocked the daily average of sex-selective abortion at 2,332. The preference of male children contributes greatly to this statistic.
While the subject matter is not traditional, the technique is. The line work and contrasting patterns are characteristic of Madhubani art. There are a few pops of color to add intensity, but the line work is done in black against a pale piece of paper. I was fascinated by how simple the drawing looks, but the closer you look at it, the clearer it is that the kind of details that make the figures are so meticulous.
The second Madhubani painting that stood out to me is Naina-jogin by Ganga Devi. Devi is considered a pioneer of Madhubani art because she was one of few artists who welcomed the change of painting on paper instead of interior home walls. Devi, unable to conceive a child, was left by her husband for another woman. She was struggling to create a life for herself after she lost everything when her husband left her. She caught a lucky break when an art collector asked her to create her art on paper. As a result, Devi was able to financially support herself by selling her art. Devi’s artistic endeavors helped create the demand and popularity of Madhubani paintings.
This painting is characterized by Devi’s use of lines, open space, and color. Her intricate line work creates patterns throughout the woman’s figure. Naina-jogin is unique because there is no background behind her, just open space. Traditional Madhubani art has backgrounds that are as intricate as the subject of the painting, but this woman stands alone. The intense reds create a pop of color that catches the eye as it stands out against the black and white line work. The red circles are my favorite part of this piece because they remind me of those little peppermint candy wheels that you could buy at the grocery store for a quarter.
The third piece I chose to spotlight is the Birth of Siddhartha by Malvika Raj. Raj has rejected some of the traditional subjects of Madhubani paintings and instead paints scenes from Buddha’s life. This is especially contentious because Raj is a Dalit, an “untouchable” in the traditional Hindu social structure. It is already controversial that she take part in Madhubani art despite her stylistic idiosyncrasies and subject matter changes.
The Birth of Siddhartha is a scene from the story of Queen Mayadevi and King Shuddhodana’s son being born and named “Siddhartha.” After the birth, a seer was invited to predict the future of the little prince. The Brahmin seer told King Shuddhodana that the boy would become a Buddha. As part of the Madhubani tradition, Raj’s art tells a story. However, Raj departs from tradition by using a solid black background, much more color, and less line work. Her paintings have been criticized for not adhering to the traditions of tonal uniformity and depictions of Hindu gods and folk tales.
Alagarsamy, Hamsadhwani. “In Conversation With Malvika Raj: Dalit Madhubani Artist.” Feminism in India. January 22, 2019. Web. Accessed April 20, 2019. https://feminisminindia.com/2019/01/22/malvika-raj-dalit-madhubani-artist/
DTE Staff. “India witnesses one of the highest female infanticide incidents in the world: study.” Down to Earth. September 19, 2018. Web. Accessed April 20, 2019. https://www.downtoearth.org.in/news/health/india-witnesses-one-of-the-highest-female-infanticide-incidents-in-the-world-54803
“Madhubani Painting.” Know India. Web. Accessed April 20, 2019. https://knowindia.gov.in/culture-and-heritage/folk-and-tribal-art/madhubani-painting.php
“Riding the Rollercoaster with Ganga Devi.” 50 Watts. February 2010. Web. Accessed April 20, 2019. http://50watts.com/Riding-the-Rollercoaster-with-Ganga-Devi
Rothstein, Scott. “Pushpa Kumari and the Tulsi Drawing.” Escape Into Life. Web. Accessed April 20, 2019. https://www.escapeintolife.com/art-reviews/pushpa-kumari-and-the-tulsi-drawing/