Thursday, October 24, 2013

Cave Art

Written by: Vishaka Chanchani
Published by: Tulika Books
Year Published: 2013

This review comes from guest contributor, Rachna Maneesh-Dhir.

The information on the jacket of this 40 page book, recommended for ages 6+, is intriguing: “How did art begin? Where did colour come from, before paints in tubes and bottles? ... Arising more from artistic imagination than archaeology, this story of art unfolds with photographs of the ancient paintings at the Bhimbetka Caves in Madhya Pradesh alongside creative reproductions of rock art.” I have often wondered what the concept of “art appreciation” actually means and this book provided a clue with one simple sentence “…perhaps all art….becomes great when it has this vibrancy, this capacity to stir us deeply.”

In the West, most museums have special books for children’s tours, so they do not get bored while their parents and other adults go "ooh" and "aah" admiring the masterpieces. Saffron Tree's very own choxbox had conducted a treasure hunt at a Bangalore gallery a few years ago, using Tulika's earlier titles in the "Looking at Art" series.

Cave Art, the latest book in this series, does a fabulous job of not just sharing historical facts, but also touching upon several related topics such as the origins of art, sociology, communication, religion and belief and the ever amazing human imagination. “In art galleries and all around us today, there are visuals of every kind. And yet, why do we feel such a sense of thrill and awe when we come upon the strokes of these early painters on their first canvases?” was what prompted Vishakha to write this book. As the pages unfold, she effortlessly takes us back to the Stone Age where we meet Cavemen and see their world through their work.

Vishaka Chanchani, according to the publisher’s website, “is an artistic explorer. With a Masters in illustration from MS University, Vadodara, she has written and illustrated books for children and been an art educator and workshop facilitator in Bengaluru for over 25 years.” In the world of children’s books, we have writers and we have illustrators. We rarely have writers who also lend visuals to their own written work. Vishakha falls in this rare category.

The book follows an unusual story telling style that can be compared to the reader undertaking a journey of interesting discoveries, along with the author, artist and photographer, rolled into one. The best part is that the question and answer format has a very encouraging, collaborative tone throughout the book. Never does the author pretend to be an expert and that makes the script so much more credible.

The coloured visuals, some effectively spanning two pages, beautifully complement the text - which is free of jargon and not burdened by information. The book is bound to be reread by older children and the younger ones will, in all probability, have many, many questions leading to great discussions and further research to satiate their curiosity.

The “Looking at cave paintings” section at the end of the book is unlike anything I have ever seen - it flows straight from Vishakha’s heart and I was personally most moved by her observation, “Today, we are spoilt by the variety of stationery available in the market – papers, colours, brushes – But ultimately what makes art come alive is the intensity and genuineness of the artist’s explorations.”
As you and your students and children read the book, I would highly recommend getting a glimpse of how the book came to be, by following this link :

Thank you Tulika for the Looking at Art Series and thank you Vishakha for raising the bar for Indian children’s books’ quality so high through your contribution yet again, this time in the form of “The Cave Art”. Hopefully, many families and class rooms will relook at art and history and teaching and learning with a brand new mindset.


sandhya said...

Great review, Rachna. Putting this book on my 'to buy' list. With my interest in human anthropology and history, I must pick this up.

I have a question for Vishaka - if she would answer. For so many years, cave paintings were supposed to have been made by the hunters. Recent research has suggested that the artists were women, not the men who brought in their kill.

What do you think?

vishakha said...

hi sandhya, thanks for that note, and the question. to confess, i am not updated on the research as i ought to be - having come up with this script!! but strange as it sounds, there is some synchronicity happening here. and your question comes at the right time!
i have just returned from a trip to a school in Dahanu, a school in the Thane dist of Maharashtra. we have been looking at reintroducing warli art and stories to the children of that school, many of whom are children of warli tribals. it is interesting to note that today, it is the warli men that paint. Yashodra Dalmia has done a lot of research and documentation of warli art and culture, including their stories and rituals, and in one of her books you discover beautiful, fairly uneven and tentative lines, all the original warli diagrams being drawn by the women in the family. i guess, as warli art came to be known to the urban world, it was the men who took it over as a proffession, and evolved a more finer line, and began to use contemporary material like paintbrushes and paper to cater to the art market.
as i was just musing to myself on how the warli transition happened, it occured to me quite instinctively, to question my assumption on cave art being practised by cave men. what if it were the women who had made some those first pictures of animals on the uneven walls?
seemed quite possible...just as it may be that some of the warli people might have had their ancestral roots in cave art...
sandhya, you will discover, i am truly a layperson in these matters. you probably can share more of your understanding, and the historical perspective! but how nice to now know, that possibly, so many things could have begun with women.
thanks, for making me think some more about those mystery artists....
warm regards

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