The Artists behind Tara Books

Tara Books is one of my absolute favorite publishers of picture books. Founded in 1994, this fiercely independent publisher out of  Chennai, India, has been killing it with their limited edition screen printed books along with sourcing traditional artists to do the artwork for these books. Two of my favorites include:

Waterlife features “Mithila art, a vibrant and delicate form of folk painting from Bihar in eastern India. The artist Rambharos Jha grew up on the banks of the legendary river Ganga, and surrounded by lush fields and ponds, developed a fascination for water and water life. In this visually stunning book, artist Rambharos Jha creates an unusual artist’s journal, adapting the motifs of the Mithila style to express his own vision. He frames his art with a playful text that evokes both childhood memory and folk legend.” (As described by Tara Books)

Rambharos Jha. The Octopus at Home. 2011. Screenprint on Handmade Paper.
Rambharos Jha. The Octopus at Home. 2011. Screenprint on Handmade Paper.
Rambharos Jha. The Lobster. 2011. Screenprint on Handmade Paper.
Rambharos Jha. The Lobster. 2011. Screenprint on Handmade Paper.

The Nightlife of Trees features “intricately drawn visions of trees fill the pages of this sumptuous book of art and folklore from the Gond tribe in central India. In Gond belief, trees stand in the middle of life, and the spirit of many things lie in them. They are busy all day, giving shade and support and shelter and food to all. Only when night falls can they find rest for themselves, and then, under quiet dark skies, the spirits that live in them are revealed. Recreated from original art by Ram Singh Urveti, Bhajju Shyam and Durga Bai, three of the finest living artists of the Gond tradition, The Night Life of Trees is a tribute to the majesty of trees, and to old ways of relating to the natural world. Each painting is accompanied by its own poetic tale, myth or lore – narrated by the artists themselves recreating the familiarity and awe with which the Gond people view the cosmos.” (As described by Tara Books)

Tara books. Mahua Tree (From The Nightlife of Trees). 2006.
Tara books. Mahua Tree (From The Nightlife of Trees). 2006.

“Gonds make liquor from the flowers of the Mahua tree. If you take small amounts, and mix it with good herbs, it is a medicine for many ailments. If you drink a little more, it is pleasant. But if you drink too much, your very form can change, and depending on your character, you may become a mouse or a tiger, a pig or pigeon.”

Tara books. The Silkworm's Home (From The Nightlife of Trees). 2006.
Tara books. The Silkworm’s Home (From The Nightlife of Trees). 2006.

“There was a time when people used plain cloth and yarn. Then they discovered that the silkworm weaves wonderful thread, and took it from him to make clothes. Before he is found, the silkworm sits in the threads of his own making on the Bamur tree.”

Tara books. The Nagphani Tree (From The Nightlife of Trees). 2006.
Tara books. The Nagphani Tree (From The Nightlife of Trees). 2006.

The Nagphani tree seems to bite, for its branches are full of thorns and its leaves are shaped like the hood of a snake. It has great strength and healing powers. Its wood is hard enough to be used as a crowbar, or to carry a heavy bridal palanquin. And its healing is so gentle and quick that a bullock with sore eyes needs only the sap from the Nagphani mixed with a little bit of water to cure it.

They recently launched an exhibition: ‘Floor to Book: Women’s Everyday Art Traditions.’ and released this video.

It brought back memories of all the South Indian ladies making Kolam in front of their homes first thing in the AM. They would sweep their patio, and yard. Splash water, and scrub the floor with a broom made out of stiff twigs. Dry the floor and start making these amazing geometric patterns using rice powder.

I also remember my grandma making Alponaa (the Bengali version of floor designs) every morning in her puja room using rice “paint” (rice flour mixed with water to a dripping consistency). She would then dip a piece of muslin cloth in the rice paint, and start squeezing the fabric so that the paint would drip down her little finger while supporting the elbow of her  drawing arm with the fingers of her other one, as she moved quickly across the floor making these elaborate patterns.

Every time Narendra Modi and his henchmen make me feel utterly ashamed of the atrocities they have inflicted in my home country, Tara Books reminds me of its amazing traditions and lifts me up from the political cynicism that I sink into. For that, and keeping dying traditions alive, I thank you, Tara Books!

Tara Books on Brain Pickings.

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