In Conversation With Bhajju Shyam - Internationally Acclaimed Gond Artist

Posted on 8 December, 2015 by Team Wishberry

Gond-art Most of us don’t even know that there exists an indigenous tribe called the Gond Tribe in Madhya Pradesh. And yet, from here comes a book so precious and beautifully childlike, it has captured hearts of readers around the world. We’re talking about The London Jungle Book, Gond artist Bhajju Shyam’s internationally acclaimed and heart-melting book of the artists first ever travel outside the country. Amidst exhibitions and other works, we managed to catch up with the artist and tell us about his journey so far!

Tell us about your journey to becoming an artist?

Bhajju: So, I belong to an extremely poor family. My parents are farmers and I grew up in a household with three brothers. I haven’t even studied a lot. My eldest sister married off when I was very young, so I’d help my mother with activities like decorating the walls of our house with paint (something all women in the village of Patangarh do). That was my first experience with colours and art. Later, I moved to Bhopal in search of a job, as I had friends there who were working as a watchman and an electrician. I tried my hand at both the professions and eventually ended up at my uncle - Jangrah Singh Shyam’s studio. He was a renowned Gond artist and I used to help fill colours in the fine patterns made by him. I used to join him to travel to different locations in the city; wherever the art took him I followed. One day, he asked me to set up my own studio and start working on my own personal art. I made around 5 pieces on my own and to my surprise they all did sell, and it felt amazing to get appreciated for it. That was the beginning of my journey. Bhajju Shyaam London Jungle Book

London Jungle Book is a beautifully unique journey through childlike eyes. What brought about the inspiration?

Bhajju: To put it simply, if you ask a person who hasn’t received an education, someone who has been brought up in a village, who travels by bus to travel to another country in an airplane- he’s bound to be struck by wonder. The same thing happened to me! I was so much in awe of everything around me- right from the aircraft to the sights and sounds; it was like a child is seeing the big world for the first time. In that light, my journey to London was an adventure- it made my imagination take flight. And that’s how The London Jungle Book started.  

The book happened after your first ever flight out of the country- how was the experience, what were the things running through your head?

Bhajju: The first time experiencing an airport, filling a form, getting my visa done etc.- I was scared! My blood pressure also shot up before taking off. It all seemed unreal to me, the structures and the number of people over there, it overwhelmed me. Once I got back I compared the London life to my simple village life and put it all in paint. The people during rush hour attacking a mobile food truck were compared the numerous bats that inhabit a tree. The Big Ben that tells the time was compared to a rooster who tells us our time in the village. Bhajju Shyaam London Jungle Book-4  

What challenges did you face while making this book?

Bhajju: None, fortunately. When I began my artwork for this journal I didn’t plan it to be a major selling piece. I created it as a book filled with my personal experiences. I had no clue that it would reach so many people. So, I simply poured my heart out while completing the journal. However, the publisher (Tara Books) and the designer advised me to not use a few of my paintings as they felt repetitive, and I agreed.  

What has been the highlight of this journey so far?

Bhajju: When my book was being published in English, I was worried that the book won’t exactly say what I wanted it to say. But when it was translated to Hindi and I read my exact words, I was over the moon. That’s a feeling that has stayed with me. Bhajju Shyaam London Jungle Book-5

What have you been up to since London Jungle Book?

Bhajju: After The London Jungle Book, I’ve worked on a few other books like Alone in the Forest, The Flight Of The Mermaid, That’s How I See Things which has half animals and half other aspects of nature, and The Night Life of Trees. Now my new book has been launched called Creation, it is my personal book. Most of my books have the story of other writers whose works I relate to. I only work with thoughts that resonate with my ideas. As I need to understand and feel the depths of what I’m working on, I can’t do what people tell me to do.

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