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India's unsung masters

Adivasi art at the Musée du Quai Branly

Paris's Musée du Quai Branly presents an exhibition of art and craftwork by India's adivasi peoples.

Fondation d'Entreprise Hermès - India's unsung masters
© musée du quai Branly/Patrick Gries

Clay tombs from Rajasthan, wall paintings from Gujarat, polychrome wooden sculptures sculptures from Nicobar… Works such as these testify to the traditions of India's indigenous tribes, the Adivasi (or "first people" in Sanskrit), as recorded in the 1950 census heralding the Constitution of the sovereign, democratic Republic of India.

Spread across the entire sub-continent, the Adivasi uphold their distinctive traditions, in dialogue with the mainstream population. "India's Hindu caste system prevents the adivasi from integrating socially, " explains Jyotindra Jain, co-curator of the exhibiton with Jean-Pierre Mohen. "But they have been hugely influential nonetheless, both in terms of their material and artistic culture, their religion, and their mythology."

The exhibition presents traditional, religious and everyday objects, including antiquities and contemporary work. The museum has also commissioned Adivasi craftsmen to create a wooden Bastar float and ten monumental terracotta sculptures of animals and human figures. The exhibition ends with monographic works by two acclaimed contemporary painters – Jangarh Singh Shyam and Jivya Soma Mashe, respectively of the Gond and Warli tribes.

The Fondation d’entreprise Hermès supports this major exploration of a little-known aspect of traditional, popular culture, and its links to modern Indian society.

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Curators : Jyotindra Jain (India), Jean-Pierre Mohen (France)

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