Bhajju Shyam

by Ekatmata Sharma
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Bhajju Shyam is a master Gond artist who has illustrated more than ten books, which have been translated into four languages. His best known book, “London Jungle Book” has alone sold more than 30,000 copies. He has many awards to his credit: In 2001, he received a state award for Best Indigenous Artist (Madhya Pradesh), CRESCER Magazine 30 Best Children’s Book Award Brazil in 2011 and the Ojas Art Award in 2015.
Bhajju Shyam (3)
Tell us about your journey in the field of art?
I was born in Pattangarh, Madhya Pradesh in 1971. When I was 16, I left my village and came to Bhopal in search of work. I found work as a night watchman, until my uncle Jangarh Singh Shyam, a brilliant Gond artist asked me to become his apprentice. As my mentor, he encouraged me to strike out on my own. In childhood, I helped my mother paint at home. But, I was never thought of becoming an artist.
How has art shaped you as a person?
I never imagined that I will be painting at this level and this has certainly helped me evolve and grow in many ways which not many from my world can imagine. My art has taken me to many places, I have travelled and met many artists, which has made me learn and experiment with a lot of ideas to implement in my traditional method of Gond art. Travel has not only widened my horizon but has helped me ideate and work as a constant inspiration for my work and life on the whole.
Bhajju Shyam (4)
You have gained International recognition with your Gond art, what do you think appeals the viewers most in your art? 
I think it’s the simple ideas based on the harmony shared between nature and all the creatures that appeals the viewers. My first international exposure came in 1998 when I was part of a group exhibition at the Musee des Arts Decoratifs in Paris. Since then my work has been shown in the UK, Germany, Holland and Russia.
Please share your style and technique of Gond art?
My style is simple drawings with details in ink with rotering pen and acrylic paint. I use easy storytelling style with my perceptions of the modern world along with my tribe’s unique visual language. I use inherited forms in very current and expressive ways, while experimenting with innovative subjects and new ideas.
Bhajju Shyam (6)
Tell us about your most selling book ‘London Jungle Book’?
I have written ten books and the best selling is ‘The London Jungle Book’. The book has sold more than 30,000 copies. It is a visual travelogue of my 2002 visit to London, where I went to paint the interior of an up-market Indian restaurant. The book, published by Tara Books and the Museum of London, was released in November 2004, along with a three-month exhibition at the Museum. My books have sold nearly a 100,000 copies, worldwide and have been made available in multiple languages.
Which is your most memorable work and why?
My most memorable work is ‘Jalaharin Mata’. It depicts a famous Gond legend relating the story of creation of earth and his folklore is passed from generations after generations.
Bhajju Shyam (7)
What is the inspiration behind ‘Maa Matre’, your first solo in India?
‘Maa Matre’ is dedicated to my first teacher, my mother who I used to paint with me. When my sisters were married off and there was no one to help her with all the decorations at home, an essential part of our community. ‘Maa Matre’ artworks revolve around nature, a subject closest to my heart. I have portrayed fruit laden trees, a host of animals and birds, deer with multiple horns, detailed single colour and single colour ink works in black and a special series of works in grey, something that I have attempted for the first time. I have made many books, and my works have been shown in museums and institutions in India and abroad, but a first solo show in India is special.

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