The Warli or Varli are an indigenous tribe of western India. I became aware of their paintings at an exhibition by Usha Dapur Kar, exploring her heritage, animism and storytelling. Usha told me that she has obtained funding to travel to India to learn more about Warli painting that is thought to originate from 3000BC.
Warli artists – mostly women – use the interior of their clay huts as the canvas for paintings. Like many of the “outsider” artists I am interested in, walls are an obvious and accessible space on which to create. For many women artists, the confines of the interior domestic domain was often the only space they could claim for themselves.
Like Rangoli painting, Warli painting is mostly a collective activity of two to ten women, but instead of the bright colours of Rangoli, Warli paintings are created from a paste of rice flour and water, with gum to bind, and are therefore always white. Sometimes the process is very ritualised with many requisites see here, and other times it is simply for depicting everyday life scenes.
Taking Warli painting as inspiration, I painted squares of canvas in various earth shades for participants to choose from. They used white acrylic paint pens for detail and acrylic paint to fill larger areas. Participants agreed that being restricted to this limited palette was liberating as it took away the pressure to choose colours and just concentrate on the design.
The Warli use many geometric shapes to symbolise nature: the sun and moon, and the Mother Goddess. The Warlis believe the eternal process of birth and death is contained within the womb of the woman and the pot – the boundless container of life,. The Goddess Palghat stands for the pot overflowing with vegetation and life.
One of the group members had recently lost her beloved dog so I suggested that she use the canvas to create a tribute. She captured a memory of her dog smelling the bluebells on one of their last walks. It is a lovely example of how creative sessions can be adapted in the moment to respond to individual experiences.
Participants’ paintings, inspired by Warli art.