15 Jun THE MYSTERY OF KOND STATUES
by Renzo Freschi
The Kond are part of those various tribal groups which live in India from time immemorial, even before the invasions of the Arians in the 2nd millennium BCE, and for this reason were called Adivasi (adi: the first, vasi: inhabitants). In the first half of the 19th century the Kond people were discovered by the English anthropologists. When the English saw that the Kond made human sacrifices, they forced them to utilize buffalos for the rituals to propitiate abundance of the harvest; and this still takes place today. As Kond’s artistic production struck the English scholars, at the end of 1800s some metal statues were shown at exhibitions in England and then acquired by the Victoria & Albert Museum. Only in the latest decades of 20th century the art of Adivasi, of Kond in particular, was rediscovered and presented in exhibitions which have highlighted their cultural significance and aesthetic value.
Their subjects are images of animals, birds – totemic symbols of the clans forming a tribe- images of the Mother Goddess, and the ancestors in various different often mysterious forms. The figures of real and religious life are represented in such an unrestricted way making it difficult to identify as their names could differ from one village to another.
The meaning of this statue is mysterious as well. The woman could be a Mother Goddess, an ancestor, or simply a woman going to or coming from the well of her village.
The ancestors’ figures are collected in a basket kept close to the fireside, the very real and symbolic heart of the family. It is the smoke from the fireside that covers the figures with the typical black patina of all Kond statues. Sometimes Kond people created figures and animals also for the dowry.
A typical element of Kond and other Adivasi pieces is the so-called “lost wax” method. The figure, in clay or other material, is completely covered with thin threads of a special wax forming a sort of tissue. Then the piece is wrapped into the clay with some holes at the two ends and put on the fire. The metal poured into the upper holes takes the place of the heated wax that comes out from the lower holes.
One of the most unusual aspects of these bronzes is that they are not made by the Kond people who only devote themselves to agriculture, but by the “untouchable” Hindu artisans who live around the village borders. Despite the proximity of the two groups they never assimilated because social taboo does not allow them to mix. Ironically, these out-caste Hindus have become the interpreters of the Kond culture due to a sort of empathy.
This statue is an important example of Kond style. Measuring 48 centimeters high, it is one of the biggest ever seen, versus the generally 25-centimeter high figures. Her body, divided into two parts, is made of simple superimposed geometrical forms, where anatomic elements are just sketched: knees, breast, umbilicus, the loincloth, the tight collars around the thin neck and the chignon of the hair. The arms are simple filaments that link up the body with the water pot and the bowl for drinking it. The feet are formed from a thin metal sheet, underscoring that this body is born and fed directly from the earth.
A special naturalistic research is somewhat evident: the prominent gluteus and the strong shoulders show that life is not easy at all even though the statue is transfigured by simple essential features. The result is a timeless image whose joyful spontaneity goes beyond the “where, how, when”, all categories that are unimportant when compared to its prompt evocative power.
When I saw this Kond statue, my heart skipped a beat. How many times, in India, have I seen women coming back from the well wearing the full water pot on top of the head, a raised hand to steady it. They were walking with a dancer’s agility, combining their innocent but evident sensuality with the grace of a feline. Their hips moved against the light of sunrise or sunset like the steady back-and-forth movement of a swing swaying. But India is not only the sensuality of the classical “Loving Couples” of Khajuraho. There is another India, I mean the tribal one, which even today is able to create images that are the absolute synthesis between millenniums of history and modernity, like a graffito on a prehistoric cave or the cut on a Fontana painting. I see all this in this Kond statue.