Jothi F Xavier

Arts Research and Documentation

Grant Period: Over one year

Jothi Xavier is an independent art historian based in Baroda. This grant will enable Jothi to build a theoretical framework for writing and curating tribal art in India. The Warli tribe in Thane is spread out across the villages of Dahanu, Talasari, Mokhada, Vada, and Palghara among others. The traditional visual arts practice of this region is commonly known as Warli art, painted on mud, charcoal and cow dung-based surfaces with white paint, and decorated with red and yellow dots. As per scholars/historians, the genesis of Warli art can be traced back to pre-historic times. Usually paintings are done during marriage ceremonies, and considered sacred. The people of Warli worshiped their paintings and had never thought of commodifying them until they were discovered by scholars and art lovers. Animals, trees, birds, houses, and people are found to be depicted in Warli paintings.

Jothi’s interest in Warli Art deepened when he had an opportunity to organize a workshop with Warli artists back in 2008. This brought him in contact with the new generation of Warli artists in the Talasari mission. Jothi, thorough this project is looking to critique the existing framework and develop a new theoretical structure for writing and curating tribal art in India. Jothi argues that the current discourse and curatorial practices around tribal art have been dominated by the mainstream discourse on Art History and Neo-colonial Anthropology, thereby limiting Warli art in a time warp. Understanding and analysing the assumptions dictated by the hegemonic colonial anthropological discourse limiting the dynamics and growth of tribal art in India, is going to be the first segment of Jothi’s work. The second part of the project will be to build an archive of the Warli art as a useful resource to the artists.

The impact of Christianisation on a group of young Warli artists is a significant part of this project. Jothi remarks, “The theology of acculturation (enculturation) enabled the clerical church in the Talasari mission to forge a dialogue with the Warli Christian artists to visualise and execute biblical murals in churches and institutions.” Jothi seeks to study the work of the young Warli artists and the development of Warli art in this context. During the course of documenting their work and conducting the workshop with the Warli artists, Jothi will frame his curatorial vision for the exhibition through which he will look at how the new generation of artists are responding to the changing contexts of their work. The workshop will also be a platform for artists to come together and share their experiences with each other. The alternative framework of curating and writing about tribal art that the researcher proposes to undertake will open up enormous avenues for tribal art. The research will lead to a two part monograph-length essay on young Warli artists and the study of murals of the Talasari Mission that will highlight the existing Warli art heritage in the Christian context; and a curated exhibition at the end.