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Streetparade of the gods

BRONZE WORKS OF ART FROM THE VILLAGES OF INDIA
  • ueberblick_v2_312px.jpg

    Parade of the gods
    India, Bastar region, 20th century
    Copper alloy
    Museum Rietberg
    Donated by Heidi and Hans Kaufmann, Dorothea and Jean-Pierre Zehnder, Janine Magnenat Ferguson
    © Museum Rietberg

  • Overview

    The exhibition stages a parade of some 300 figurines, deities, horsemen, animals and dancers in a state of trance. They are all from Bastar, an old princely state about the size of Switzerland located in today’s Indian State of Chhattisgarh. Approximately two thirds of Bastar’s population are members of one of the registered Indian tribes, the so-called “First Settlers” (adivasi). Their works of art are therefore called “tribal bronzes”.

    The inhabitants of the Dandakaranya region worship an almost inconceivably large number of deities, mainly goddesses. Oftentimes a certain deity would appear to an ancestor of a particular family and demand to be venerated in their house. The head of the family would then commission the local metal caster to create a cult figurine of the god, and would leave it up to the imagination of the experienced artist to choose the appropriate attributes and decorations.
    Most of the bronze figurines on display here were donated to the shrine of a particular deity to give thanks to the god for granting a wish. Such bronze figurines used to be sold in the many farmers markets and at large annual festive processions. Metal casters would come from all corners of the region to sell their wares, and each of them had their own characteristic style. Their creative power and technical skill gave rise to such a huge variety of depictions of the same deity.

    With their vivid expressions and meaningfully placed ornaments these bronze figures clearly set themselves apart from those of so-called “classical” Indian art. On one hand they were not made until the early 20th century, and on the other they display their own unique aesthetics: their rugged faces are male in appearance, and their unusual attributes and dynamic postures radiate extraordinary power and energy. The key to understanding these artistic traditions, of which very little is known to date, lies in the function and status of these bronze figurines within the religious and social lives of the people.

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