Meet the Artists Who Live Among the Baiga Tribals and Depict Their Rich Culture in Art

The Baiga Trails, an art exhibition that will take place in Pune from November 24 to November 26, will bring to light the culture of the ancient tribal community of the Baigas through the work of two artists.

Artists are often the harbingers of social change when their art is steeped in deep social consciousness. This is indeed the case with painter Ashish Kachhwaha and wood sculptor Manoj Dwivedi, who will display their work in the exhibition The Baiga Trails.

The artist duo lives in Kanha National Park and Tiger Reserve and their work has been inspired by the rich culture of the Baiga tribe residing in the heart of the forest.

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A painting by Ashish Kachhwaha

Their work reflects many shades of the Baigas’ way of life – their tattooing patterns, their lifestyle and their customs.

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“The one thing that attracted me to this community was their harmonious coexistence with nature. They have embraced nature like one of their own – they nurture it, there’s no harm to nature in their practices. Through the years, they have tried to stick to the knowledge of their ancestors,” says Ashish.


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Manoj, on the other hand, talks about the people from an anthropological perspective.

“What interests me personally is the fact that in today’s world we can call them more civilised than us. You know, the aadi maanav (tribal/ancient man) decided to become a sabhya manav (civilised man) at some point. These Baigas are proof of that transition; they’re at that juncture where they’re tribals yet they’re civilised,” he says.

The Baiga community shares a deep, meditative bond with the forest. Their entire existence lies at the very heart of the jungle and that’s the reason they have remained unseen by the outside world for so long. The community is found in the largest numbers in the districts Mandla, Dindori, Balaghjat, and Seoni in Madhya Pradesh.

Both Manoj and Ashish were born and brought up in small villages of Mandla district and, therefore, have been closely associated with Baigan culture since childhood.

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Manoj Dwivedi (left) and Ashish Kachhwaha

The self-taught artists’ work has been recognised at the national level and both have showcased their art in numerous exhibitions across the country. Ashish’s work is currently on display in a show called The Lair at the Egg Art Studio in Delhi.

The talented artists could have easily moved out of the forest and settled down in metro cities to pursue their art. However, a love of nature and their deep connection with the Baiga tribe made them stay back in their land of birth. Manoj and Ashish have been collaborating with each other for the past 17 years.

At Kanha, they help the Baigas find alternative livelihood opportunities and also work as wildlife rescuers. Aside from being associated with several NGOs working in the area, they also brought together local artisans and craftsmen to form a group called Mudra.

Their social consciousness is reflected in their work.

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A painting by Ashish Kachhwaha

For instance, a painting by Ashish shows a shabby parcel of wrinkled newspaper tied with a piece of string. The tiger skin wrapped inside is visible from one end of the parcel. Ironically, the news printed on the broadsheet wrapping is about the Kanha Tiger Reserve being given an award for its active stance against illegal tiger poaching.

The Baiga Trails has been organised by Footloose Journeys, a Pune-based travel venture devoted to responsible and sustainable tourism.

Paresh Deshmukh, the founder of Footloose Journeys, says, “We believe there should be an exchange between the culturally diverse communities in the country. And our goal is to connect different communities through tourism. So we have organised this festival, which will help Puneites understand and experience the rich Baigan culture through the artwork of Ashish and Manoj.”

Check out some of their work here. 

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A portrait of a Baiga child by Ashish Kachhwaha

 

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A wood sculpture of a Baiga woman by Manoj Dwivedi

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A painting by Ashish Kachhwaha

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A wood sculpture by Manoj Dwivedi

To know more about The Baiga Trails, visit the official Facebook event here, or visit the Facebook page of Footloose Journeys here.


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