Contemporary art

Jogi art: The folk form developed and practised by a single family

The art form was created when a couple was encouraged to draw the stories they were narrating in their devotional songs.

Ganesh Jogi and his wife Teju Jogi were nomadic bards who made a living by moving from neighbourhood to neighbourhood, singing traditional, devotional folk songs in the morning. In return they got grain, clothes and money. In the 1970s, Indian artist and cultural anthropologist Haku Shah came across the natives of Chittorgarh, Rajasthan, and insisted that they draw their songs to give the stories a visual vocabulary.

Thus was born the folk art form named after the couple who created it – Jogi art.

Scenes from a city.
Scenes from a city.

An exhibition of the art works created by the couple, their six children and their spouses, will go on display in Thimphu, Bhutan, at the end of August as part of the Mountain Echoes literary and cultural festival. An initiative of the India-Bhutan Foundation, the festival, now in its seventh edition, is a confluence of art, music and literature from both countries.

The Jogi family is the only clan that exclusively practices Jogi art. New members who enter the family through marriage also take up the genre, and together they propagate this unique school of art. Soni Jogi, who married into the family, has met success by creating artworks inspired by village life, birds and animals in a contemporary style. Plus, she experiments with mediums, even using a single grass reed with the tip wrapped in cotton.

Four animals march amid trees, protecting their territory. Their role as the guardians is emphasised by the large prominent eyes that serve as a talisman against evil.
Four animals march amid trees, protecting their territory. Their role as the guardians is emphasised by the large prominent eyes that serve as a talisman against evil.
Buffaloes bathe in the village pond, while herders keep a watch over them. The scene is completed by idyllic rural elements children playing in the water with the buffaloes, women returning home with firewood and dogs lazing around.
Buffaloes bathe in the village pond, while herders keep a watch over them. The scene is completed by idyllic rural elements children playing in the water with the buffaloes, women returning home with firewood and dogs lazing around.
The lion intimidating its prey. The emphasis on and detailing of the mane is a technique to reinforce the lion's position as the king of the jungle.
The lion intimidating its prey. The emphasis on and detailing of the mane is a technique to reinforce the lion's position as the king of the jungle.

Comprised of dots and lines, Jogi art is incredibly detailed and combines contemporary expression with a simple style. The family draws from its experiences to create art works that depict a rural village scene or a bustling city. Some images have fashionable ladies among flowers as tall as them.

“Jogi art is an expression of a family’s unique exploration of their lives in a visual form,” said Tulika Kedia, curator of the Thimphu exhibition and author of a book on the art form. “Its origin is firmly attached to the Jogi family. Geographically, it can be identified with the regions of Rajasthan and neighbouring Gujarat. On an artistic level, the themes go much beyond these geographical boundaries, given the Jogi family’s national and international exposure over the recent years.”

A group of women cyclists.
A group of women cyclists.

According to Kedia, over the decades, the repertoire of themes that Jogi art encapsulates has expanded, with each family member contributing to the plethora of subjects and its visual representation. Ganesh Jogi and Teju Jogi used to draw inspiration from their time as travelling bards, the folklore and songs finding their way into their art, their rural heritage and simple lives.

“The Jogi family’s progressive artistic merit can be gauged through the inclusion of contemporary lifestyles and its many engagements, which also finds equal place in their oeuvre,” said Kedia. “The balance of traditional themes and modern concerns marks Jogi art’s relevant role in today’s art milieu.” In the recent past, the Rajasthan government commissioned the Jogi family to paint murals at the Jaipur Railway Station and some bus stops to promote this lesser explored genre.

Fashionable women from the city.
Fashionable women from the city.
A hunting scene.
A hunting scene.

Initially, Ganesh Jogi and Teju Jogi would draw with simple, easily accessible materials – a ballpoint pen and paper. But as they developed the genre, they began experimenting with other mediums, like cloth, canvas, acrylic paints and water colours. In fact, it was Teju Jogi who first began incorporating the use of colour in her creations. Jogi art is characterised by well-defined pen strokes and fine detailing to bring out the richness of the scene, whether it is nature or the chaos of the city.

Contemporary Expressions: Art of the Jogi Family will be on display from August 25 to August 28 at the Mountain Echoes festival in Thampu, Bhutan.

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