Folk art inspirations

By Gillian Valladares Castellino

Some paintings grab you by the throat and force you to return to them again and again. For me the painting by  Mirza Mohamed (below) provoked that kind of visceral reaction. I used it as a screen saver and tried to rationalize where its hypnotic appeal lay. Sure, it reminded me of work by Marc Chagall, but the profusion/confusion of colour and movement was distinctly sub-continental (Mirza Mohamed is an artist of Pakistani origin). No amount of analysis could dispel a growing feeling that I should perhaps use it as a starting point to interrogate my own feelings about my country of origin.
Here is the painting by Mirza Mohamed:
Painting by Pakistani Artist: Mirza Mohamed

After determined attempts at ignoring the feeling, on Easter Monday, I found myself leafing through a book on   Indian folk motifs, fishing out my brushes and painting paraphernalia and printing out a copy of Mirza's painting for inspiration. I wound up 'borrowing' one of Mirza's images as well - see if you can spot it in my painting. I decided to stick to motifs which I associate with Mumbai, the home of my youth and the city of my ancestors.

The first image to suggest itself was that of the woman in the top left hand corner. She is based on a sepia photograph of a Kamati construction worker, taken during the first Indian census. Given that Bombay was and is being built on the backs of people such as her, I felt it appropriate to honour her memory in the painting. Somehow fish materialized around her - fisher-folk or kolis were the first inhabitants of Bombay and it made sense to remember them symbolically as well. Then the process took on a life of its own and I stopped trying to rationalize what was 'coming though'. First came the deity Ganesh, the remover of obstacles, then the image of the mosque, followed by a hawker and his 'sleight of hand'-scales, the dhobi (washerman), a 'sunny' folk doll, an elephant and a foot - ubiquitous images in Indian folk art, horse puppets and bird mobiles a throwback to childhood toys and village fairs; the auspicious, coconut- topped earthenware container, against a backdrop of vibrant green and brilliant yellow - speckled with dust? flowers? memories? The medium is acrylic on canvas.

I followed my usual method of painting - no plan just let it evolve. At the end I felt strangely exhilarated. It vindicated my belief that when working on a piece of art, one should focus not on the end product but on the process. To be even more specific, one should not get overly involved in the technical aspects of picture creation, but zone in on one's feelings and ideas - the highs and lows, the little a-ha moments which happen deep inside as the work progresses. When the painting is finally finished, it could be treated like a dream and asked - what does my reaction to the symbolic language in the painting tell me about myself? If the work is truly worthwhile the answer will make one feel 'healed' at some level.


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