Pardhan Gonds sometimes created terracotta reliefs on the walls of their huts, but it was not until 1981, when a young man called Jangarh Singh Shyam was discovered in his home village, Patangarh, by a team of visiting talent scouts from Bhopal, that Gond art began translate onto paper and canvas. Over the course of two decades Jangarh evolved various styles in different media, ranging from simple pen and ink drawings to small terracotta figures, acrylic paintings on canvas, silkscreen prints and large scale murals. By this point he had moved to Bhopal, the capital of Madhya Pradesh, and with so many commissions he started taking help from his community, and young assistants would come from the village and stay with him. Jangarh committed suicide in 2001 but he left behind an enduring legacy and there are now at least 50 successors from his community.
Producer/Director Leslie Mackenzie established West Highland Animation in 1988 in Scotland with the aim of promoting Gaelic language and culture to a wider audience through the medium of animation and interactivity. By 2002 she had converted most of the Gaelic folktales into animation films in workshops with Scottish schoolchildren and she was interested in finding out more about minority cultures in other parts of the world. She hadseensome small Pardhan Gond paintings in a craft fair on a visit to India, she had done some initial research on the internet, and she felt that their art would translate well for the animation medium. In 2003 she made a visit to Patangarh and to Bhopal with a small research team and made contact with the Pardhan Gond artists. She identified a Gond folktale, “Best of the Best” in “Myths of Middle India”, a collection made by Dr. Verrier Elwin, and she engaged a script writer, Peter Hynes to help adapt the story for a short animation film for a collection of animated folktales from Central India, “The Tallest Story Competition”. In 2004 she returned to Bhopal with a vast amount of artwork for the film prepared by young animators at her studio in Scotland, and she organised a ten day workshop for a group of the Gond artists to paint the designs onto acetate sheets using their signature styles of patterning.
When she returned to Scotland this artwork was scanned and animated by her team of art college graduates using 2D animation software. “The Tallest Story Competition” animation series was completed in 2006, with short films from Chhattisgarh, Orissa, Maharashtra and Jharkhand, as well as the Gond story from Madhya Pradesh. The films were dubbed into five tribal languages in addition to the original Gaelic, English and Hindi, and they were screened to 15,000 school children in India and in the United Kingdom, who voted to choose “Best of the Best” as their favorite story in the series.
In 2007 two tribal artists were invited to visit Scotland to receive a Trophy at the Inverness Film Festival on behalf of the winning film. Since then, several Gond artists have travelled abroad for exhibitions and Pardhan Gond painting has gained popularity in the mainstream art market.
Tara Douglas was one of the team involved in the production of “The Tallest Story Competition” films. In 2007 she established the Adivasi Arts Trust to distribute the tribal animation films and inspired by the terrific response received, she is now working on a new series, “Tales of the Tribes” that focuses on tribal folktales and art styles of the northeast region of India, while also providing the Pardhan Gond artists an opportunity to be more involved in animating their next film.
Preproduction for the next Gond animation film will take place in September at a three week workshop at the National Institute of Design. Tara will be coordinating a team of 14 Post Graduate animation students and a group of Pardhan Gond artists to begin work on the animation film. It will be the first Gond animation film to be produced in India, and this time the artists will also have directorial inputs in the film. Senior Pardhan Gond artists Venkat Raman Singh Shyam and Rajendra Shyam, who were part of the artistic team for the first Gond animation film, will be leading several younger Gond artists in the artistic requirements for the animation film. The artwork will then be brought to life by the talented team of young Indian animators. This innovative project explores a new way of producing animation in India, where production is currently dominated by the commercial industry.