NOTED WARLI artist Jivya Soma Mashe, who is credited with universalising the artform and broadening its scope from limitations of tribal ceremonies and rituals, passed away at the age of 84 in Ganjad village of Palghar district, Maharashtra, in the early hours of Tuesday.
Mashe, who was awarded a Padma Shri award in 2011, had to his credit several national and international exhibitions, including solo and collaborations with artists of various genres. The artist is survived by his wife, three sons, two daughters and grandchildren. His eldest son, Sadashiv, is also a Warli artist. “He was not suffering from any ailment but had become very weak. His appetite, too, had reduced and from the last few months. He had not been able to paint. A week ago, he told me that he wanted to paint a lot but was very sad that he could not. I have lost my father, who was also my guru,” said Sadashiv.
Rahul Sarang, the sub-divisional officer of Dahanu, said,”Jivya Soma Mashe breathed his last at his home in Ganjad about 4 am. His last rites were performed with full government honours at 2.30 pm.”
Mashe, who had lost his mother at an early age, started assisting his father in painting… Sadishiv said his father first had the chance to showcase his art when Bhaskar Kulkarni, a maverick artist from Mumbai, took Mashe to Delhi in 1973 for an exhibition at Pragati Maidan. Before that, and even some time after his first exhibition, Mashe worked as a labourer at a farm before taking up full-time painting.
Traditionally done with rice paste on an earthen background, Mashe painted his Warlis on a cloth using permanent colours. Warli paintings display intricate scenes of tribal ceremonies, dances, hunting scenes and natural surroundings. Human figures, animals, insects and natural elements are drawn with lines, dots, triangles, circles and squares.
Mashe’s first solo exhibition was held at Gallery Chemould in Mumbai in 1975 and his first international exhibition was held in France in 1976, which was followed by another major one in 1989. He had a joint exhibition with British artist Richard Long in Germany in 2003, and in Milan in 2004. These were followed by exhibitions in the US in 2006.
Delhi-based art historian and curator Yashodhara Dalmia, who has written a book titled ‘The Painted World of the Warlis’ (1988), said, “Mashe was not only a talented artist who built himself up from nothing, he also had the vision to bring in modern consciousness into the art. He has left behind a great artistic thought. We see Warli art almost everywhere these days — on our walls, saris and many other things. The man who introduced the world to this art, lived a simple life and has left behind a great legacy. His contribution to the language of art is immense.”
In an interview to The Indian Express in 2013, Mashe had narrated the folk legend behind a painting depicting hundreds of ants in circular paths. “This is a bhon. It is an ant dwelling. When Pralay (catastrophe) arrives, everything will be submerged and all the plants will be washed away. Then we will have to go to the ants as they store the seeds of all the plants in their bhon. The ants will help us farm and resume our lives. Our lives cannot be painted without the lives of animals, trees and insects,” he had stated.