Celebrating the work of unknown artists

This wonderful painting makes an otherwise dull wall come alive at the Valley School near Bangalore

This wonderful painting makes an otherwise dull wall come alive at the Valley School near Bangalore

A couple of days ago I posted an item about the book “Hope is a Girl Selling Fruit” (April 30th 2014) Several people have since commented to me about the beautiful illustrations in this book and where they may see further examples of Indian tribal art. I have to begin by telling them that I am no expert in this area, and that any knowledge I have is largely superficial. We do have, hanging on a wall here in our home a beautiful example of this Mithila art form given to me by kind friends in India, it depicts two birds with their brood of young surrounded by images from the forest, but apart from this and seeing examples in various parts of India, my knowledge of the artists who create this work is limited. What I do know is that I find many of these images quite remarkable for their closeness to nature, the freedom of expression and the use of colour.

I suppose that my first real exposure to this kind of art came on one of my many visits to the Valley School near Bangalore where my dear friend Satish Inamdar has often made myself, Sara and several friends, colleagues and students very welcome since I first visited him there in 2000. At this remarkable school they have created an art village where they often invite artists from across India and sometimes from other parts of the world, to come and interact with their pupils whilst setting up their studios and workshops. Whenever I have visited the Valley School this art village has drawn me like a magnet, knowing that there will always be interesting people to meet, events to enjoy and children engaged in creative activity. The last time I was there various musicians were running workshops for children, some practicing tabla and pakhavaj drums and others learning the intricate skills of dhrupad, a form of classical Indian singing. At other times I have seen children being taught pottery or engaged in spinning or weaving activities. The focus is upon learning by doing and through enjoyment.

Whilst I have never been fortunate enough to meet the artists who produce tribal paintings around the school, their work is in evidence on many of the buildings. A fine example can be seen on the home page of this blog – a large colourful painting located near the school offices. When I look at the illustrations in “Hope is a Girl Selling Fruit” I can see how Amrita Das has taken the style of these tribal works and developed them for the purpose of telling her story. She has learned from previous generations of artists, but like all good learners she has reflected on their work and developed her own style and means of expression.

Several people have commented to me that they see similarities in this artwork to that produced by tribal peoples from Australia and parts of Africa. These countries too, have maintained traditions of celebrating the creatures of the land and the everyday lives of people through their art. As so many friends and colleagues have been discussing the work of these largely unknown and uncelebrated artists over the past two days, I thought it appropriate to post a number of images from the Valley School near Bangalore simply for your enjoyment and as a celebration of the work of these talented individuals. How could children and adults working surrounded by this art fail to be inspired?

To learn more about the Art Village at the Valley School go to the following link:


I hope you enjoy the pictures – do let me know what you think (If you click on each picture it will be enlarged)

16 Valley School

13 Valley School

14 Valley School

Gaining hope from a girl selling fruit


If you have time to read only one book this year, make it this one

If you have time to read only one book this year, make it this one

“Hope is a Girl Selling Fruit” is one of the most remarkable books I have read for some time. Written by a young artist from Bihar named Amrita Das the book tells the story of a journey by train to Chennai that is both simple and profound. If that may seem like a contradictory statement then I would recommend that you read the book and consider the voyage made by Amrita Das, and the observations that she makes along the way. The simplicity of the text, which in its entirety takes no more than twenty minutes to read is balanced by a thought provoking series of questions about the lives of women and in particular those who come from some of the poorer regions of India.

Without giving too much away, Amrita Das tells of her observations of a girl whilst making a long train journey to Chennai. She watches this young woman and wonders about her existence, the reasons for her travels and the kind of life she may lead. The story is immersed in empathy as the author reflects upon her own life and relates it to that of her young travelling companion. At the beginning of the book Das says “life is strange – you never know what awaits you” and so it is with this book where turning each page brings a new revelation and a shift in the thinking of the reader.

How can such a simple text be so profound? Part of the mystery of this book lies in the beautiful use of illustration. Amrita Das is an artist steeped in the Mithila tradition. Mithila was an ancient kingdom located in the Eastern Gangetic Plains of northern India, an area which today is located within the State of Bihar and originally extended into Nepal. In this area women traditionally learned how to paint images that adorned many of the village buildings. Many of these pictures represented images of local nature and some possessed a deep symbolic meaning. In the twentieth century some women began to transfer these images to paper and this is the path taken by Amrita Das. Whilst the text of this beautiful book can be read in minutes, each page can hold the attention for far longer in order to explore the complexities of the images, the rhythm of the shapes and the intricacies of pattern.

Writing of herself Amrita Das says:

“I started out not knowing much, certainly not about the outside world. I could paint, but apart from that there was not much I could do.”

This statement made me wonder just how little the artist’s talent may have been appreciated prior to the publication of “Hope is a Girl Selling Fruit.” There must have been a danger that the talent of this young woman could have remained hidden from the world, had it not been for those individuals in Chennai who encouraged her to produce this book. Her assertion that all she could do was paint should be of concern to every teacher. To have such a talent is surely something we would wish of all our students.

There are indicators throughout this work of the kind of life that Amrita Das experienced when she was growing up and that lead her to reflect on the life of a fellow train passenger. Expressions such as “my girlhood passed even before I knew it,” and “the rich go their way, and are what they are. I don’t really care to know them. I’m not drawn to them,” suggest that the opportunities she had when growing up were limited. Possibly most telling of all is a brief passage where she says of her childhood, “If you dream for a moment you’re asked why you are twiddling your thumbs.”

Fortunately Amrita Das has found an opportunity to dream, and in so doing she has provided us with a book that will surely endure and will be treasured by all who come to read it and enjoy her beautiful illustrations. I hope that you will make the time to obtain and read this magical text and especially to reflect upon the experiences that enabled the author to provide us with such a rich story.

“Hope is  Girl Selling Fruit” written and illustrated by Amrita Das is published by Tara Books. ISBN: 978-93-83145-02-7


This illustration from Hope is a Girl Selling Fruit has been developed by Amrita Das from the traditional Mithila painting of her home state.

This illustration from Hope is a Girl Selling Fruit has been developed by Amrita Das from the traditional Mithila painting of her home state.