The Inner Eye: The Art of Ganesh Jogi and Teju Ben
by Minhazz Majumdar
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The Inner Eye, ever perceiving conscious and unconscious impressions of the world around, beyond language, beyond learning.
The heart’s song, often unsung and unheard, yet still a pervasive beat to which one moves in life.
The mind, always in a dialogue, with the Self and the Other, sometimes deliberate and at other times, involuntary.
The fingers, compelled to move, create, destroy and recreate in an unceasing cycle of being and becoming.
And so it is also, for Ganesh Jogi and Teju Ben, true "Outsider"artists in India, a country spilling over with a plethora of folk art forms and traditions. Unschooled but learned in the intuitive play of form and color, unlettered but creators of a highly sophisticated visual vocabulary, Ganesh and Teju are one-of-a-kind artists, their art inspired by truly personal perceptions, their works colored by individual assimilations of life’s multiple experiences. Totally self-taught with no tradition of art to follow, Ganesh and Teju have created their own pictorial idiom, each unique and beautiful. Accompanied by the sarangi, a string instrument, Ganesh and Teju also sing ballads, folk songs, prayers and invocations. Their foray into art is extraordinary; the story of their lives, a compelling saga of enduring hope and tragic heartbreak, shaped by hardship, poverty and the will to survive and create.
Born into the Jogi caste, Ganesh and Teju, like that of their fathers before, practice a profession that is customary in their village of Rajasthan, in Western India. In the early hours of the morning, they moved through the streets singing devotional songs to wake people up. In exchange they were given grains, clothes and occasionally money. A severe drought and changing times, however, forced the family to move to the neighboring state of Gujarat. Homeless and penniless, Ganesh and Teju reached the capital city, Ahmedabad, and worked as manual laborers for a few rupees a day to quench the fire in their empty bellies, their mellifluous tunes all but forgotten.
A chance encounter in the early 1980s with Haku Shah, the eminent artist, writer, cultural anthropologist and sensitive Gandhian, was soon to be a turning point in their lives. Entranced by Ganesh’s singing, Haku Bhai encouraged him to sing for a living, helping him to get a job performing in the evenings at a well-known restaurant.
One fateful day, Haku Bhai handed Ganesh a pen and some paper. Ganesh hesitated, afraid that he would break the pen for he had never held one before and was unsure of what to do next. Haku Bhai asked him to draw whatever he wished. Ganesh put pen to paper and, as he says, "began drawing from his heart, his memories, his imagination."
From his first diffident drawings, Ganesh soon moved on to depicting life in his village, their move to the city and their lives there. He even drew several images of himself working on his drawing and singing. His illustrations became increasingly detailed, converting all stimulation (including alphabets on shop signs in languages he did not know) into sure, firm strokes and geometric forms. The manifest and the unborn, the palpable and the tentative – all are present in his works.
Teju, whose name means "radiating light," hid behind her voluminous odhni (veil) for the first 30 years of her life, accompanying her husband and singing songs but never talking to strangers or showing her face. Her deep, metallic voice is powerful, a surprise emanating as it does from her tiny, delicate body. In May 1986, several years after Ganesh had started drawing, Haku Bhai asked Teju to draw something. She took to drawing immediately, at ease with the new tools, and evolving her own iconography. Within a few months, she was executing large murals. "Painting, like singing, gives me pleasure. I feel elevated," she said.
Teju is an intuitive artist who works quickly to fill the space, be it a sheet of paper or a wall. While Ganesh prefers to draw with a pen and do black and white sketches, Teju is versatile. Working with color pencils, pen and ink, acrylic and poster colors, Teju fashions her own paintbrushes with bamboo twigs and old cotton rags. She depicts women in her own image, while the men in her works are all representations of her beloved husband, Ganesh.
Of their ten children, six have survived and are following in their parents’ footsteps. They are emerging as artists, too, each with an individual artistic style.
The eldest son, Prakash, in his early 30s, is the master of energetic lines. His work is full of a raw vitality.
Somi, the second-born, in her late 20s, returned to her maternal home with her daughter after the breakup of a bad marriage to an alcoholic. She expressed her deep feelings in her art, seeking order and perfection and yet depicting a crowded, chaotic world.
Govind, 26, creates delicate works. His drawings are filled with minuscule dots and gentle undulating lines. They are serene poetic visual narratives.
The younger children, sons Vijay and Mahesh and daughter Sangita, are still evolving as artists. Sangita shows great promise, filling up pages with colorful naVve images as befits a 15 year-old girl.
In their unique, powerful and evocative works, these amazing artists reflect the innate human urge to create. In their art, one finds the enchanted forests of the imagination, the folk heroes of the past, the rhythms of rural life and impressions of an era gone by.
Ganesh and Teju are special people. Their powerful singing voices stir some deep primordial memory, evoking tears, even if the words are not understood. Calling upon their intuitive faculties, each member of this talented family animates an impression of his or her existence or imagination on paper, imbuing the drawings with varying shades of each individual personality.
MINHAZZ MAJUMDAR is a writer and designer engaged in the documentation and promotion of folk art and craft forms in India. For more than a decade, she has been working with artists and craft communities across India, presenting India’s finest traditional practitioners to audiences worldwide.
As seen in:
[#65] Vol. 18, No. 2, Winter 2006$15.00 ppd