From wall art to bags: Pithora paintings get a new canvas

Aishwarya Mohanty

Paresh Rathwa with his artwork. (Express photo by Bhupendra Rana)

Last December, Paresh Rathwa, 51, an artist of Pithora paintings from Chhota Udepur, Gujarat, conducted his first-ever workshop on the art form for students from over 45 schools in Delhi.

Rathwa now wants to take his workshops to schools across Gujarat and other states, a dream that has taken wings thanks to an initiative by a few officers in the district administration who have decided to revive, promote and popularise the “dying” tribal art.

The paintings, traditionally done on walls, are characterised by seven horses representing the seven hills that surround the area bordering Gujarat and Madhya Pradesh, which is home to the Rathwa community that makes these paintings. The paintings are rich with imagery from their everyday life - elephants, men, women, arms and musical instruments, besides weddings, festivals and celebrations.

In 2019, officers of the district administration, led by Assistant Collector on probation Shivani Goyal, started an online campaign to promote the art. As part of their campaign, a Facebook page dedicated to Pithora artists was launched and an official email ID created to welcome inquiries, with a website now under construction. It was through one of these that Rathwa got a chance to visit Delhi and conduct a workshop with the students.

Goyal, who started the initiative, says, “Whenever we talk about tribal art, we talk of Madhubani and Warli, which are well known, but these art forms too should be popularised. The first step is to make people aware of its existence, which we started doing through social media. Secondly, we are trying to motivate the artists to shift their canvas from walls to items that can be sold.”

Goyal, along with other administrative officers from various departments including skill development, labour and IT have pitched in to create the website, provide raw materials like bags on which the artists can paint, make short documentaries with the artists, etc.

So far, they have approached around 10 artists from the district to push the art form further. Through them, they plan to network with other artists and motivate children and youngsters to learn the art form.