A Tribute to Warli Painting artist Jivya Soma Mashe

  • Padma Shri Awardee Jivya Soma Mashe is one of the most widely recognised names in the world of Warli style painting. He transformed a centuries-old cultural language into an artistic practice. His artwork is proudly chosen by art lovers, collectors and investors across the world. Since has gave up his body recently this article is a tribute to his work.

The Warlis community live in the Thane district of Maharashtra. They are artists with a twelve hundred year old painting tradition.


Born in Dhamangaon village of Maharashtra’s Thane district Jivya Soma Mashe had a very difficult childhood. After losing his mother at the age of seven Jivya was so traumatized that he stopped speaking for several years. Later young Jivya began communicating but by drawing pictures in the dust. This made him popular in the nearby villages. Inspite of numerous challenges he was on his way to become a legendary Warli artist.


A field worker of a crafts board Bhaskar Kulkarni saw his paintings, was impressed with his artistic abilities and realized Jivya’s potential. Therefore, he supported and cultivated Jivya as a Warli artist.


First a bit about Warli art. According to this article in Paramparik Karigar, “Traditionally the women of the tribe created the wall paintings on their chowks during marriages and festivals. These paintings were greatly influenced by the surroundings and day-to-day life of the Warli Tribe. To prepare the background for the paintings the walls of the huts were coated firstly with cow-dung, then with the mud and finally with the Gerua (terracotta paste). Powdered rice was made into a paste to draw the paintings and thin reed like sticks from the Baharu tree were used as pens. The paintings are made by drawing geometric shapes like circles, triangles and squares.


Ironically today it is the men folk who practice this art form. For commercial reasons the paintings are drawn with white rice paste on a paper that is thinly smeared with cow-dung paste. The paintings have semi abstract figures spread over the surface in an easy narrative flow. They have evolved from restricted ritual drawings on mud-walled huts into a pictorial repository of folk tales, humour and myths. The paintings are made without the prop of colour and with a remarkable economy of detail.”


Conventionally tribal Warli women used rice paste on the mud walls as part of their local tradition. Mashe sensed the demand for Warli art so he started painting on canvas as well. Paper and canvas gave him the liberty to transform the rough look of ritualistic art into a free and intensely sensitive art form.


Jivya’s sensitivity and extraordinarily powerful imagination is a consequence of the time he went silent after his mother’s death. Soon Mashe started painting and tracing his motifs on canvas and paper, for commercial purposes.


Till early seventies, this art form was restricted to the rituals and festivities of the Warli tribe. With Mashe’s talent Warli art found a new horizon. It eventually evolved from ritual drawings on mud-walls into an illustrative repository of folk tales and humour.

His Warli paintings are visual representations of lifestyle and culture of tribal society. Strokes, lines and dots all group together to create brilliant artwork which emphasize and celebrates life and movement. These unique paintings have recurring themes be it from tribal life or Warli folklore.  


He used circles for sun and moon, triangles for mountains and trees and squares to denote an area of land. Humans are represented by two triangles joined at the tip.


Jivya experimented with the simple act of observation. Instead of creating an idealized rendition of the subject, he portrayed people and situations without any prejudice. His objective was to advance the practices and ideas of Warli art and to most accurately convey his sense of life and movement. The most striking part of Jivya Soma Mashe’s paintings is the "movement". The accuracy of details, simplicity and precision in his artwork are worth mentioning.


Through his paintings Jivya promoted Warli tribal life by stressing the significance of local forms of knowledge.


Mashe is recognised as the father of modern Warli paintings; he invented his own unique style in response to the socio-economic changes in the society. One of the most delightful art works of Mashe is the fishing net. He presented the complexity of the world around him in the form of Warli customs using rhythmic and simplified patterns.


Jivya and his sons Sadashiv and Bal helped this art emerge from a cocooned world into the global arena. It is due to their persistent efforts that Warli art is exhibited in galleries and exhibitions around the world.


Jivya’s art is highly original, pure & raw. It does not focus on posturing and presentation. Mashe painted with intricate details that are not easily found in other commercial art. Unfortunately, in today’s world, art is all about selling due to which the naturalness of the art is disappearing. However, Mashe maintained purity in work till the very end.


His work was recognised through numerous awards. The first was National Award in 1972, Shilp Guru Award in 2002, The Prince Claus Award in 2009 and The Padma Shri Award in 2011.


Jivya Mashe was felicitated with awards in Paris, Berlin, London and New York. He was featured in books like “The Warlis’- Tribal Paintings and Legends" and "The Painted World of the Warli " by a renowned art-historian Yashodhara Dalmia.


International exhibitions like Magiciens de la terre and Centre Pompidou brought global recognition and fame. Naturally this success encouraged fellow Warli artists to follow Mashe’s footsteps. His work also contributed to the development and culture of the Warli tribe.


In spite of awards and recognition Jivya Mashe continued to lead a simple life in his village. He lived in his native land, close to nature and mountains, called himself an artist cum farmer and avoided media glare.


It was due to Jivya Mashe that Warli art evolved from ritual drawings on mud-walls into an illustrative repository of folk tales and humour. Warli art form has steadily gained popularity over the years. It is seen almost everywhere these days - on decorative items, saris, mugs and t-shirts.


At the age of 84, Jivya Soma Mashe passed away after a prolonged illness at his home in Dahanu taluka. Om Shanti Shanti Shanti.


Also read

1. Jivya Soma Mashe Blog

2. Pichwai Art Rajasthan

3. Gond Paintings

4. Warli and Madhubani Paintings

5. Pattachitra Paintings Raghurajpur Odisha

6. Bundi Fort Paintings Rajasthan

7. Nagaur Fort Paintings Rajasthan

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