Jodhaiya Bai Baiga – The tribal mural artist from Madhya Pradesh
Jodhaiya Bai Baiga is an artist and a tribal mural painter from Madhya Pradesh, who was honoured with Nari Shakti Puraskar in 2022 and Padma Shri in 2023, for her contributions towards art. She got into painting only in her late 60s after she found her guru in 2007-08, and her artistic style has been compared to Jangarh Singh Shyam. Initially started painting on canvas and paper, now she paints on other media such as clay, metal and curved wood. Her paintings have been exhibited in Bhopal, Delhi, Milan and Paris. Jodhaiya Bai is a live example to prove, nothing is late in life.
Jodhaiya Bai Baiga belongs to an underprivileged family
Jodhaiya Bai hails from Lorha village, in Umaria district, Madhya Pradesh, and was born in the year 1939. She belongs to Baiga community, an ethnic group and is uneducated. She lost her parents during childhood. She got married to a labourer and had three children. She used to sell compost, firewood and nuts from the forest to earn a living, before she turned an artist. She lost her husband at the age of 40. She used to sell wood and cow-dung cakes to earn a living.
She was never inclined towards art until she started learning
She was initially guided and mentioned by Ashish Swami, who encouraged her to use paper, brushes and paint were all free to use for anyone. A construction labourer back then, when Jodhaiya Bai joined the art classes of Ashish Swami along with her family and friends at the age of 69 (around 2007-2008), her talent was spotted by her teacher. She was initiated towards painting when Ashish Swami, 20 years junior to her, offered free teaching to villagers through Jangan Tasveer Khana, a studio space.
He first met her when he set up studio in her village, and asked her tribe to sell stove and cow dung for smearing the floor. One day Jodhaiya Bai came with cow dung and Ashish Swami expressed shock seeing her doing hard labour at her age getting menial earnings. She told him about her struggles and he convinced her to design a rangoli on the floor so that she can take away money and earn some art different.
Then she started learning the art. Though she was ever interested in painting before, she stuck the right chord with the art form right from beginning. From the first day itself she identified her passion. He asked her to draw on floor first followed by dried gourds, plough, basil pot and wood. Jodhaiya Bai who was initially the less confident, moved towards handmade paper, metal, clay and canvas. Her guru passed away in May 2021 following covid pandemic. By that time, she had already made her international debut in 2019, making her guru proud.
She loves painting trees
She got her destination goal at her retirement age and she got fully concentrated on it. Her life is a true inspiration. She loves trees, and she holds mahua tree closest to her heart. Many of her paintings are dedicated to Lord Shiva and she enjoys painting the rituals and legends of the Baiga tribe. The tiger—Bageswar, or the tiger god which protects them and their lands from wild boars and wolves is very often featured in her works. Through her efforts, she has kept the disappearing tribal art work alive.
Started with small paintings on paper, she has now progressed to big canvases and her works are being exhibited in several big cities of India, and also done in Paris. Her works are strikingly original, a remarkable authenticity and exhibits a powerful artistic vision. Her remarkable story has made headlines over the past few years and she was honoured with Nari Shakti Puraskar in 2022 by PM Narendra Modi. Later she was honoured with Padma Shree in year 2023 at the age of 84.
Jodhaiya Bai Baiga – Some interesting and less-known facts
1. She spent over 5 decades as a labourer, before getting a big break as an artist. She started loving the art only after she started learning.
2. She has been a construction worker, even sold country-made liquor in between, to earn a living.
3. A great artist and Padma award winner, she is still in wait for a pucca house. She lives in a mud-and-asbestos home in Lorha village of Madhya Pradesh’s Umaria district.
4. Both her sons still work as labourers. She has one daughter too.
5. Her worked has been compared to Jangarh Singh Shyam, the creator of a new school of Indian art called Jangarh Kalam. Her work features incredible use of colour, and is rooted in the forests that surround her village.
6. She made her international debut as a painter in 2019 at the age of 80. Her paintings were showcased at Milan, which is a global capital of fashion.
7. She is not intimidated by scale. Her canvas ranges from small-scale to 7x7feet works.
8. She is short and is just 4 feet in height.
9. Jodhaiya has inspired many within the Baiga community to pursue art and both her daughter-in-laws have started painting. Her grandson carves masks that Jodhaiya Bai paints on.