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The French connection of a Maharashtra villager

Last updated on: October 15, 2010 10:30 IST

Taking Maharashtra's Warli art to the world

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A Warli artist from a Maharashtra village has written a book in German and is travelling to Paris to raise awareness about global warming via his tribal art, finds out N Ganesh

As I near a tribal home in Kondan village in Maharashtra, nearly 100 km from Mumbai, I can hear snatches of German. When 39-year-old artist Madhukar Vadu welcomes me inside his house, I realise that the TV is switched on to a German channel, currently broadcasting a news show. 

Vadu, who has not studied beyond class ten, watches German channels whenever time permits. He is not only fluent in the language; he can read and write German as well. He has even written a book on the tribal art of Warli paintings, titled Unter Dim Regan Bogan.

"The book was published in Luxemburg in 2003 and the title means 'Under the Rainbow'," says Vadu. The book is a collection of Warli paintings created by Vadu and a narrative describing the stories depicted in the nuanced works of art.

Warli paintings, which tribal communities in Maharashtra have been practicing since 2500-3000 BC, use simple geometrical symbols such as triangle squares, circles and lines to depict various activities of life.


Image: Madhukar Vadu with his painting

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Vadu's tryst with German began in 1989, when he purchased a book from a store in Nashik where he had gone for an exhibition. He decided to teach himself the language, but it took him four years to learn to read and write German.

"I could read and write. I was not able to speak as my pronunciation was based on English letters and words. A year later, I met a Dutch man called Jaap Huurman who was proficient in German and had come to Palghar (in Thane district, Maharashtra). He taught me the basics of pronouncing German letters and words," said Vadu.

Five years later, Vadu bought the Worldwide German Dictionary during another trip to Pune.

Another turning point in his life was a meeting with Professor Rita Webber Frelinden during an exhibition in 1985 in Mumbai. "She had purchased my Warli painted cards and said that they were very unique," said Vadu.

Vadu had taken to Warli painting since his childhood, thanks to his aunt Yamuna Bhoir, who taught him the intricacies of the ancient art. Frelinden, a professor of art in Cologne, Germany, also sent him an audio cassette to help him further master the language.


Image: The dictionary that helped Vadu learn German

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Taking Maharashtra's Warli art to the world

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Four years later, when they met again at another exhibition in Pune, Professor Frelinden urged him to send Warli paintings to Germany, where she would sell them for him. His first assignment that was sold abroad fetched him a handsome amount of Rs 3,500.

Vadu soon realised that German art connoisseurs were looking for a story in his paintings. "Mere depiction of random symbols of Warli will not do. This put me on the path of researching stories that could be depicted using traditional Warli paintings," said Vadu.

His extensive research in the tribal way of life soon landed him a German book deal. It was Professor Signe Rutters from Heidelberg, Germany who motivated him to write the book. Vadu had met the art professor at one of his exhibitions.

"My German is not refined. I had submitted the draft for the book in the crude form, which was edited by Professor Rutters," said Vadu.


Image: One of Vadu's paintings

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Taking Maharashtra's Warli art to the world

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But Vadu has a tough time keeping up with his international fan following. For access to a computer, Vadu has to travel to the nearest town of Palghar, a 30-minute commute in a state transport bus.

Besides Maharashtra, Vadu has held exhibitions of his work in Kerala, Tamil Nadu, Andhra Pradesh, Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata. Ironically, though his work is widely appreciated internationally, he has never traveled beyond Indian shores.

But Vadu will soon get a chance to visit two foreign countries. He will visit China to hold an exhibition of his paintings, and is currently awaiting his visa. And he also has an assignment in Paris in his kitty. He is all set to paint a mural on a three-storied building in Paris to highlight the issues of environment degradation and global warming through Warli paintings.

"The French assignment is still in its initial stages as it requires a large amount of funds. I have already made the canvas size template for the assignment and am waiting for them to get back to me. Whenever it happens, it will truly be a monumental work," says Vadu.

Image: Another of Vadu's paintings

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