Artist Madan Meena puts spotlight on tribes of Rajasthan through his contemporary miniature-style paintings

Born in Narayanpur village, the artist belongs to the Meena tribe of eastern Rajasthan’s Sawai Madhopur district

author_img Madhura Mukherjee Published :  20th November 2022 07:50 PM   |   Published :   |  20th November 2022 07:50 PM


Nayak’ and ‘nayika’ appear in a garden of roses, a monkey is lost in a heap of bananas, a bike moves through a maze of red patakhas (crackers), a thirsty crow is just about to drink water from an earthen pot. Rooted in Rajasthani folklore, artist Madan Meena’s minimalist works that borrow from the everyday lives of tribal women in the state, the spirit of its festive villages, and the varied flora and fauna of the wild regions of Ranthambore, were part of an exhibition, Wandering Connections, earlier this month in Delhi.

Born in Narayanpur village, the artist belongs to the Meena tribe of eastern Rajasthan’s Sawai Madhopur district. Having grown up with an immersive understanding of its culture, his works reflect an insider’s perspective on the community, and the geography surrounding it.

“Since my childhood, I have watched my mother and aunts decorate the house on every festive occasion and sing morning hymns (Ramjee-ke-geet) while grinding flour,” says 48-year-old Meena, fondly recollecting memories that visibly seep into his art.

His colourful wall paintings of the Meena women, featuring the oral traditions of the agrarian and nomadic communities in the region, done in the traditional Kota-bundi miniature style are replete with motifs borrowed from nature, manifesting in the form of maps and lines.

His series, “Barahamasa”, for instance, interprets the 12 months as metaphors for the emotions of the ‘nayak’ and ‘nayika’. Just as seasons and emotions change, so do his motifs, taking viewers on a journey of the artist’s discoveries across Rajasthan’s cultural landscape captured on canvas over the span of an entire year. While chillies from Mathania (a village in Rajasthan) depict the harvest season in the months of February and March, the festival of Teej in September is brought to life through images of Lehriya sari-clad spirited women. October is represented through the motif of Durga, symbolic of the Navaratri season. The artist’s long-standing romance with Ranthambore, which comes to life through the repetitive use of the tiger motif, was also part of the show that featured a total of 35 paintings.

Meena’s creative process is as unique as his subjects. He combines the technique of serigraphy (silkscreen painting) with hand-painting in natural pigments. To lend his works a touch of the miniature-style painting, he collaborated with local artists Lukman and Waseem from Kota, giving the final pieces a quirky contemporary outlook that evokes a feeling of fun and intrigue. The faded backdrops, intermittent use of bright colours and strong contrasts, make the works immersive in depth—both literally and metaphorically.

“I plan the layout and background digitally, develop the images in layers and screen-print them. In the print, I leave gaps where the subject needs to be filled in and painted by the two miniature artists. It takes two-three months to finish a single work,” says Meena, who is also the Honorary Director of the Adivasi Academy at Tejgadh in Gujarat.

A folklore researcher shuttling between Delhi and Kota, his diverse repertoire includes exploration of the Tejaji ballad sung by the gardener community the Jogis of Rajasthan as well as decoding the secret language of denotified nomadic tribes and languishing craft traditions.

An extension of Meena’s research is his Ajrakh series, which was also part of the exhibition. It juxtaposes the intense labour and generational passion that goes into the making of the traditional craft from the region. “The complex process, the meticulous details and the skilled craftsmen who are proudly holding the fort of this deteriorating cultural treasure trove have always captivated me,” the artist says. To convey more with less is a challenge, but Meena manages to encapsulate the enriching cultural fabric of tribal Rajasthan in a collection of paintings quite successfully.