“Our tribes are one of our first people, they’re basically power banks of culture and oral history”, says Trisha Bose. An illustrator and a digital artist, Trisha’s recent reinterpretation of indigenous tribes of India is not to be missed. From the rice-beer sipping Bonda tribe of Odisha, to the camel breeding nomad Jats of Kutch, this photo series is both charming and powerful. But as any good artist, she uses her work as a tool of storytelling – often empowering the tribe’s narrative and expressing their tale. With her work she aims to bring to fore the unfortunate circumstances these tribes currently endure and thus evoke empathy and mindfulness in her audience. Here is her story!
What made you do an art project on indigenous tribes of India?
Ans: Contrary to the cheerful vibe of the project, it was honestly a very bitter realisation that made me start work on it. I’m not naïve, I know that our tribes are not considered the most stimulating topic of conversation by many, but it was still extremely jarring when, after John Chau was executed in the North Sentinel Islands, the Sentinelese were all people suddenly seemed to be talking about. Our tribes are also one of our first people, they’re basically power banks of culture and oral history, and what more – they’ve been in the news for various reasons all through our lives. Be it displacement, poverty, health and sanitation, there are so many reasons to look into the lives of our indigenous people. It shouldn’t have taken an American man’s unfortunate demise to get Indians to finally start reading up on their own citizens. And this is shockingly, in spite of how many millenials now work in the development sector.
So my page aims at positively bridging the gap between people, and the issues they might not consider ‘sexy.’ I take topics I sincerely feel require coverage, like ‘unbelongingness’ amongst asylum seekers, or in this instance, the indigenous tribes of India; I present a bit of data and imagery in an attractive package, and I hope I manage to impact at least a handful of minds.
Why did you select these particular tribes?
Ans: Firstly, I wanted to cover all of India; the North, South, East and West. Within these domains, as an artist, I obviously felt a nascent inclination towards certain aesthetics. I also know that while most of the tribes I’ve covered, primarily depend upon agriculture and livestock rearing for sustainence, most of them also hope to earn more through their alternate sources of income, such as craft, weaving, jewellery making, woodcraft etc. This opened a keen door of opportunity in my mind. I thought that with so many millenials switching to ethical clothing and investing in tribal prints, home décor, and accents - just visually showcasing brilliant jewellery (the Dhaneta Jats, the Bonda tribe, the Paniya Tribe,) or the bold prints donned by the Angami Naga and the Todas, the headdresses worn by the Brokpa – might inspire more new ideas for ethical brands, and create more job opportinities for, not just the tribes I’ve covered, but hundreds more, depending on individual research and needs. It’s a complete longshot, I know, but I still wanted to try, and not just through one project of course. This is just the start, I have so many more initiatives in mind.
What were some of the interesting things you discovered while doing your research on these tribes?
Ans: This country is as diverse as her people, and the interesting things I found were so sundry and miscellenous, that its hard to even pinpoint what makes for the most wholesome conversation. I got to know some absolutely crazy bits of information. The Brokpa, for instance, are a tribe in Ladakh, who’re said to be descendents of Alexander’s army, and whats more, before civilation went all prudent on them, they were supposed to be huge advocates of PDA, and free and open sex! Another interesting, yet sad tidbit is that, while they were all initially vegan, most of them are now having to make a switch, because of the adverse effects of global warming on agriculture. Something else I didn’t know was that the Wancho tribe from Arunachal Pradesh, were traditionally skilled gunmakers, who have a 200 year old gunpowder recipe that is exclusively theirs. Also, I really shouldn’t get started on origin stories, because they are all so fascinating, but while I knew that the Old Testament and the Quran have very similar narratives, I did not know that the Todas from Tamil Nadu, share the same story as Adam and Eve, or Adam and Hawwa.
There is a stylistic uniformity in these images. What was the thought behind your creative choices in representing these tribes?
Ans: I just wanted to create a bright and friendly visual to accompany the information. Like I said, our tribes are not a very hot topic of conversation, in spite of so many of us working in the development sector. With conversation and discussion, comes opportunities for initiatives, and if not that, atleast there’s a sureshot rise in awareness. I feel like if our textbooks came with more engaging illustrations, our students would be a lot more interested in the lives of people outside the little bubbles their parents raise them in. I’m simply applying the same logic to adults.
What do you think we can do as a society to empower these tribes and their narrative?
And: A lot of us create a sense of ‘otherness’ when it comes to tribes, and I think its about time we did away with that. Which is why I’m extremely thankful to authors like Arundhati Roy, for highliting their plight, and would love it, if it became ‘normalised’ for our tribes to be depicted in Bollywood, popular fiction, and most definitely, our up and coming hip hop movement. Instead of waiting on the government, and other CSR initiatives, it’d be amazing if more eco friendly and organic entrepreneurs could provide more jobs to tribes, for whom activities like weaving, embroidery, crafting etc are second nature. It would be brilliant if we could take a more active stand - be it on social media, or be it literally standing at protests - when it comes to protecting Adivasi land that our tribes consistently get displaced from. Most importantly, our generation should take it upon ourselves, to discard classism and casteism, because most of us are still unbearable ugly like that, and at the same time respect the space, environment, privacy that our indigenous people enjoy.
If you liked Trisha’s work, check her out on Instagram.
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