Potter of Creation, Bhajju Shyam

Genesis 1: 26 – Then God said, “Let us make humankind in our image according to our likeness; and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth.”

Potter of Creation, Bhajju Shyam, 2015

The Potter of Creation grounds this artwork on humanity’s relationship to the earth’s soil using skillful marks and color. From a Christian perspective, it evokes the Creation narrative of the Hebrew Bible as found in Genesis 1-2. In Genesis, Adam and Eve are responsible for tilling and keeping the land (Genesis 2:15) and exercising dominion over all created things (Genesis 1:29). This artwork enables a Gondh understanding of ecology and religion. In conversation with the Hebrew scripture, this piece lends itself to interfaith dialogue on humanity’s role in caring for the earth.

The concentric pattern in the background draws your attention to a circular path creating the illusion of a repetitive circular motion resembling the action of a chakki. A chakki is a traditional hand-driven millstone used to grind rice grains. Following the same line of action is a giant earthworm coiled around an earthen pot. The body of the earthworm is segmented with very distinct eyes. What appears to be sticking out of the earthworm is the handle of the chakki.

Interestingly this handle is also segmented just like the earthworm but is colored in a shade of brown that is different from the mustardy brown of the earthworm. The larger-than-life earthworm surrounds a traditional spherical clay pot with a short neck. The pot is painted in an orangish shade of brown and placed in the center of this piece. On the clay pot is a white winding path which can be interpreted in two ways. One is that it represents the burrow created by the earthworm; the second possible interpretation is that it represents the rice flour from the chakki. Either way, the white path stands out in contrast to the shades of brown that color the pot, the chakki, and the earthworm.

Additionally, three types of strokes govern this artwork. The first type of mark is dots; many small distinct black dots mark the white path using a technic called stippling. The high density of the dots along the borders decreases in the middle, creating a smooth 3-dimensional effect to the earthworm’s burrow or the path of heaped ground rice flour. The second type of mark is the solid black lines that outline the pot, the earthworm, and the handle of the chakki. And finally, the third type of mark appears as tiny elliptical shapes connected to one another by small lines. These shapes represent rice grains. The chain of oval shapes fills the chakki, the earthworm, and the earthen pot. The crescent-shaped gap between the earthworm and the base of the pot reveals the partially ground grains or the grains with the husk in the chakki. 

           Artistically, Bhajju Shyam, the Pradhan[1] painter, depicts the interrelatedness of all created things. All the elements in this artwork are related to the ground of the earth. The chakki and the pot are made of clay, and the earthworm is what makes the clay pliable and valuable in many ways.[2] The idea of creating and co-creating for the sake of others evokes humanity’s commission in Genesis. Humanity (Adamah) is created to have dominion over all created things (Genesis 1:28), for the care and keeping of it (Genesis 2:15) because in doing so we are fruitful.

[1] The Pradhans are the guardians of the religious traditions of the Gondh tribe. In Sanskrit, Pradhan means minister or agent. Ironically, they are not part of the Gondh tribe, but they play a crucial role in keeping the tribal traditions alive. The Pradhans are artists, who perform rituals while reciting and singing about the origins and history of the clan.

Christoph von Furer- Haimendorf, “Pardhans – The Bards of the Gonds,” in The Gonds of Andra Pradesh: Tradition and Change in an Indian Tribe, ed. Elizabeth von Furer -Haimendorf (New Delhi, Haryana: Vikas Publishing House, 1979), pp. 153-155. [1] Earthworm waste is called casting which is more nutrient-rich than the soil it first consumed. They keep the ground healthy by consuming pests, breaking down the soil and its burrows

Published by Sujatha

Wife to a highly creative man, Uday Balasundaram who is passionately in love with Jesus and a mother to 2 precious little ones, Nadira and Aradhya.

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