Mangla Bai, Acrylic on Canvas, 27.5 x 19 inches
The Baiga community in Madhya Pradesh follows the popular tradition of ‘godna’ or tattoo art- in the contemporary nomenclature- as an essential practice in the tribe, mostly by women. The patterns have remained unchanged over the years and would prevail all over the body as a marker of belonging so much so that the women would feel incomplete without it. For a female, these markers were to etch important events in her life, starting at the forehead when she turned 9 years old, moving to the arms, legs and chest between puberty, marriage and child birth. The process used to occur amongst the women in the recesses of the forest for privacy and use kajal to ink, bamboo sticks and needles to etch and warm water and cow dung to heal. Decades ago this was a necessary practice, but it has dissolved over time.
Shanti Devi was amongst the in the community to reappropriate the practice and safeguard it on other media like paper and canvas. She would draw a silhouette of a body and transfer the patterns in a monochromatic, indigenous way. Her daughter, Mangla Bai Marawi takes after her to carry the tradition forward and bring it to notice in the world. Newer approaches in recent times including synthetic colours, paint brushes and cloth, have influenced the contemporary renditions of this art practice