A Gandhi topi, a traditional Nigerian riga robe, a Baluchi turban,
Inuit (Eskimo) stone sculptures from northern Canada, Bengal's "pata
chitra" and rare snapshots of historic Delhi are some of the
highlights of the collective soft power of Commonwealth arts and
culture on display in the capital.
Experts and artists from Commonwealth countries, now in the
capital to take part in the exchanges, said while points of
similarities driving artistic expressions in these countries still
remain rooted in the family, community, spirituality and
traditional literary forms, the alien legacies bequeathed by the
erstwhile colonial masters have made each genre distinct from the
"It is also soft power at its best. Art and culture are the
easiest way to reach out to the soul and mind because one
discovers universality of emotions behind artistic movements
across nations," Anupa Pandey, head of the department of history
of art at the National Museum, told IANS.
"Motifs uniting the art of Commonwealth stem from respective
traditions, family, religions, innovations and reactions to
colonial rule," Pandey said.
An indigenous Eskimo art expose, "Sanaugavut: Inuit Art from
Canadian Arctic", at the National Musuem has brought rare
figurative sculptures from the Canadian Arctic.
The art thrives on its animistic myths of sea spirits, animals,
shamans, folklores and grind of everyday existence.
"The Inuits or Eskimos who have inhabited the tundra and taiga
regions for 4,000 years were ivory and bone carvers. But beginning
1940, a generation of Inuits who spent their lives in the wild
moved to permanent government settlements," Christine Lalonde,
associate curator of Indigenous Art at the National Gallery of
"Fearing that their traditions would die, they took to stone
sculpting to capture elements of a changing lifestyle and
identity," she said.
"Their art finds resonance in Indian art through the value
system," said Lalonde, curator of the Inuit art show.
The Inuit sensibilities are shared by tribal Gond artists from
Madhya Pradesh whose art reflects totemism, village life,
nature-inspired myths and post-colonial influence.
Tribal artists Shubhas Vyam and his wife Durgabai from Bhopal in
Madhya Pradesh, who shared space with artists from the
Commonwealth nations and students in the capital, said they
"switched to paper and acrylic after relocating to Bhopal from
Dindori district of the state 20 years ago".
"Earlier, I crafted solid figures in mud in my village while Durga
painted on walls," Vyam said.
The duo was introduced to modern western techniques by eminent
tribal artist, late Jangarh Singh Shyam.
Traditional 'pata chitra' artists Montu and Jaba Chitrakar from
West Bengal's Midnapore district are now "glocal" - sporting a mix
of global and local issues - in content. Their art is on display
at the Crafts Musuem.
"Only 10 percent of our art portrays Vedic myths and scenes from
the epics 'Ramayana' and 'Mahabharata'. The rest speaks of
contemporary issues," Montu Chitrakar said.
The panel art of colourful 'pata chitra' dates back to 7th century
Indigenous Canadian artist William White from British Columbia
weaves "raven motifs, sea creatures and starfish crests" with
cedar bark, mountain goat and marino sheep wool on his traditional
dancing aprons and woollen ceremonial robes.
His works are on display at an exhibition, "Power Cloths of
Commonwealth" at the Crafts Museum.
The exhibition has brought apparel worn by Commonwealth leaders
like Mahatma Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Jawaharlal Nehru and Queen
Victoria to the capital - as well as ethnic and heritage crafts
from member nations.
"I think the Commonwealth cultural exposes are finally giving
traditional arts proper respect by taking them out of the 'crafty
and curiosity section' to the forefront of mainstream art," White
Australian aboriginal artists Vicki Couzens and Marie Clarke of
the Koorie Heritage in Melbourne felt "new Commonwealth art
addresses similar issues like government protection, dis-possession
of people and breaking down of cultures and families".